Australian author Justin Sheedy on success, restlessness and being a productive writer

Justin Sheedy

 Father's Day is coming up in Australia, and everyone knows that one of the best gifts for dad is a great book. It so happens that my old pal Justin Sheedy has written two books that would be the perfect gift for any father: his Australian World War 2 novels Ghosts of the Empire and Nor the Years Condemn. I thought I would take this opportunity to chat with Justin about indie success, youth and creative discipline:

I think you are one of the first Australian writers to really succeed at indie publishing. What made you decide to go that route, and who are your inspirations?
Walter, I am delighted and reassured that a widely cherished and respected Australian author like yourself should see my own writing and publishing efforts as ‘a success’ and I warmly thank you. My decision to charge down the path of indie publishing was born of simple necessity: Though major Australian publishing companies have shown interest in all of my 3 books since my first in 2009, their hesitancy proved a dead-end. To my relief, they have been proven wrong by reader response to my books ever since, both here in Australia and internationally. My inspiration is my readers, one of my favourite moments being a late middle-aged lady tapping me on the shoulder at one of my in-store book-signings, saying (of my Australian World War Two historical fiction Nor the Years Condemn), ‘I was at your last event, you signed your book for me and I just wanted to tell you I’ve since read it and loved it from start to finish.’ Moments like that are my rich reward.

We knew each other when we were both young and restless. I had no idea then that I would be a writer. When did you decide you were really going to make a life as a serious writer?

I’m STILL young and restless, Walter, and I know you are too. Though perhaps the crystalizing moment for me as a future author came for me in high school when an inspirational English teacher asked me to read out one of my stories in front of the class. It was the story of an Australian downhill skier from GO to finish-line in a Swiss World Cup ski race event where he is considered the likely wooden-spooner. He proves the world’s best wrong to the rapture of the seasoned crowd urging him on. When I’d finished my story, my English teacher faced the class and asked, ‘Now, boys. How did that make you feel?’ One boy put up his hand and breathed, ‘I felt like I was flying.’ I feature this moment in my upcoming book, Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer, which, as my 1980s teenage portrait, also features YOU, dear Walter.

You’ve been quite prolific over a short time. What is the secret of your productivity?

People often ask me how I maintain the ‘discipline’ to be an author and be as productive as I seem to be. I say to them I can’t NOT write. Your passion can’t NOT come out. And it also happens to be what engages readers and what sells books: a male bookstore customer at one of my recent book-signings said, ‘Mate, I’ll buy your book; I can see your passion.’

Can you tell us about some of the books that have inspired you?

A long list that would be but in the context of my first book, Goodbye Crackernight, my childhood ‘shared memoir’ of growing up in 1970s Australia, I’d have to nominate Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs along with Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid. In the context of my latest two, Nor the Years Condemn and Ghosts of the Empire, I’d have to say Ken Follett for his gripping World War Two historical fictions and, massively, Kate Grenville’s emotive Australian historical fictions, especially The Secret River. Also, Roald Dahl’s Going Solo for the way he captures the ‘adult world’ as if with the involuntary perfection of the ‘child’s eye’.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who really wants to get serious about their writing?
Come up with a great idea, then re-write it 20 times until it ends up the piece of work it deserves to be. When it IS, then your troubles really start: Publishing is a tough, unfair and often chaotic business. Learn never to take 'No' for an answer but do it in the nicest way possible. Industry people say no only because it’s easier than saying yes. Persistence is the key. Your persistence will be fuelled by your passion. And your passion to write is your passion to share.


Pop along to Berkelouw Books Leichhardt this Saturday the 30th August at 10am to meet Justin Sheedy. Justin will be in store signing his books Nor the Years Condemn and Ghosts of the Empire. Perfect gift ideas for Fathers Day!

My Shelf - A Reading project

I have been quite fascinated by Phyllis Rose's book The Shelf, in which she selected a shelf of books at a library and read every single one of them. For some time I have been meaning to emulate the experiment, becasue it sounds like fun and such a fascinating way to read books you  might otherwise never know about.

So I have bitten the bullet and selected my very own shelf at the Whitlam Library in Cabramatta - my local. Naturally I chose the self-help shelf, because that is my area of greatest interest and the field of my academic research.

Here is my shelf:

I don't know how long it is going to take me, but I shall do my best to apply myself and to provide you with details of the books I check out.

So today I started with the first book on the shelf: Fix Your Life with NLP by Alicia Eaton. Now, I have never really studied NLP before. I did do a one-day course in NLP for weight loss years ago, but it had no effect. Interesting that I get this one now because my personal trainer has just done a full NLP course and says he will be applying its techniques on me. Maybe once I read this book I can outwit him? Let's just see if my life is fixed at the end....

Rosie Shalhoub on great ideas, focus and keeping your dreams in sight

Rosie Shalhoub

Rosie Shalhoub is a legendary Sydney retailer, a psychic and a visionary whose incredible energy and insight have made her shop Embrace at Miranda a destination for all spiritually-minded Sydneysiders. Most recently Rosie has become the motivating force behind the Festival of Dreams, a Spiritual Expo which is on this month in Sydney at the Hordern Pavilion - August 23 and 24.

One of the little guys at Embrace, Miranda - Rosie's shop

I had a chat with Rosie about spirituality and not giving in to defeat:

How do you think we can keep our dreams in mind, and not g ive ourselves up to defeat, negativity or procrastination?

There have been many times I have given in to defeat and procrastination. It always seems the easier thing to do. Sometimes it may last for a day sometimes only for a few minutes. I think you need those times to recover, recoup and get your head back into focus. It really is a normal part of the process of living. But not staying in that element is the hardest part. As a single mother of 8 year old twins, for the first 6 years of their little lives they have been my driving force. Having major deadlines is always a killer for me because I do tend to leave things to the last minute - I work best under the pressure. Besides, my partner Ross, who I swear has ADHD, doesn’t let me stop for a moment!

Where do you get your energy and ideas from?

I have always received my great ideas in my sleep through my dreams. Sometimes I have a lady that will come to visit me and show me an idea or tell me how to do something. I have no idea who this lady is but she always has the energy of the Mother Mary, but dressed in modern clothing. Even as a child in school I always had an active imagination which won me many writing awards throughout my school years.

Energy is a hard thing for me. I have Crohn’s Disease, which can slow me down quite a bit although I have been in remission for many years. I am also anaemic due to being a vegetarian. I tend to like my sleep a lot and when I’m tired I just cannot function. I find my peak hours of the day and I work to my maximum then. I am blessed to have great staff at Embrace which enables me to also take a lot of time off from working at the shop in order to get my work done.

When I work I always like to have a candle lit, do a good meditation beforehand and have a great cup of coffee! Silence is my virtue. I cannot work with the television or radio on. I function best in complete silence. I love that sound.

Is there a quote that has really inspired you in your life?

I know this might sound like a bit of a cliché but I have always loved the quote from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream”!  It has always inspired me, just as it offers hope to so many others.

You are a deeply spiritual person, but I am sure you must have people in your life who are not that way, who take a completely material view of life. What do you say to them? Try to convince them, or let them follow their own path?

My partner! He is the love of my life but is not spiritual.
I let them live their path and I maintain the spiritual practice that is important to me… prayer, silence and love time.

In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013

I am absolutely intrigued by Roy Williams' new book In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013. The eccentric religious lives of Australia's political leaders has interested me ever since I stumbled upon Al Gabay's utterly fascinating The Mystic Life of Alfred Deakin in the mid 1990s. Deakin was a Theosophist, Spirtualist and occultist, part of a thriving alternative religious scene in Nineteenth Century Australia.

Roy Williams will be at Ashfield Library in August to talk about the book, and I am sure it will be a fascinating lecture. He will also be selling and signing copies.


Authors at Ashfield: Roy Williams

Thursday August 28, 2014 - 1:00pm
Roy Williams talks about and signs copies of his new book In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013.
Book for sale and signing
Level 6 Ashfield Civic Centre

This is a free event.

Please come, and bring some friends. 

7 Day No Complaining Challenge

Only a flower-strewn path for me for the next week

 I'm not really a whinger. I was never really encouraged to be, as a child. Complaints and grumbles were met with a stark diapproval by parents and grandparents. So in adulthood I manage to maintain a reasonably sunny exterior and try to avoid giving voice to the multitudinous mutterings of discontent that go on in my head 24/7.

In spite of all that, I still think I waste a lot of my time, and my happiness, with complaints voiced and unvoiced. I gossip, I whinge, I condemn others and I find fault. And on reflection not once have those miserable thoughts improved my life. On the contrary I have lost hours and days to dark moods inspired by the emotional and psychological energy I gave to my perceived slights and problems.

I have over the years learned to channel this energy of complaint into more productive and useful outcomes. If there is something that is genuinely bothering me I attempt to bring it to the attention of someone in power who can actually change it. I also do this in a pleasant and casual way. If something has made me angry, or I am expecting a particular outcome, I have learned to give voice to that expectation to the person who can actually make it happen. This helps make matters clearer, and I am always pleased by the outcome. If people know what you want they have a tendency to give it to you. I don't raise my voice or become involved in pointless conflicts and I always choose my battles wisely. I don't do online arguments or Twitter wars. I allow others the right to their own opinions, and I have surrendered the need to constantly prove myself right.

I also do my level best not to tell people when I am feeling ill (I fail regularly at this), and I have stopped telling people I am sooo busy when they ask how I am. Complaint is rarely charming and often boring, and I do still feel the need to please others with my presence. 

But STILL I grumble. I get together with friends and bitch, I save up juicy stories of outrage and wrongdoing for when my partner gets home, I wish someone would close that damn door.  I recognise, also, that complaints can be directed quite irrationally at particular people, whatever scapegoats we have selected for our own fury. This is unhealthy and unbecoming, and when I indulge in it I always end up feeling so disappointed in myself.

Some years ago I read a fascinating book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen and I was most taken with it. His idea was that, every time we complained about something, we should move a rubber bracelet from one wrist to another, so making ourselves conscious of just how often we do it. I tried this, but by mid-moring my wrists were red-raw and all the hair on my forearms had been torn out by the constant tugging off of rubber bracelets. So I gave up and kept on with my complaining ways.

Now, I have been motivated by the wonderful Simple Life Habits podcast I just heard on giving up complaints for a week. So, from now and on through the next 7 days I am giving up comlaints. Not a word of ill-content will pass my lips for 7 whole days. Let's see how I go.

Festival of Dreams - Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 August - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

I am the official Ambassador for August's Festival of Dreams at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion, and I am so excited. I'll be chatting to some fabulous healers, psychics and spiritual practitioners live on stage, as well as wandering around and meeting and greeting some of Australia's most  fascinating people  -  you!

The Festival is the brainchild of Rosie Shalhoub, legendary proprietor of Embrace, the exquisite New Age store in Miranda. The Festival is headlined by renowned International psychic Lisa Williams and a number of local luminaries including Lia Scallon, Alana Fairchild, Stacey Demarco and many others.

Rosie Shalhoub, Festival of Dreams founder

Psychic, teacher, retailer and entrepreneur Rosie felt that there was something missing in a world where spirituality and love was meant to prevail. She decided to take matters into her own hands, to help provide that missing link.

Lisa Williams

Festival of Dreams was created as a result of a strong need in our spiritual market for a gathering of like-minded individuals who work with integrity, ethics and strong spiritual values.

Sound therapist and spiritual teacher Lia Scallon

The primary goal of Festival of Dreams is to be a catalyst for spirituality, personal transformation, wellbeing, health, fitness, self-empowerment, education, community, love and togetherness.

Fabulous, positive, empowered and inspirational, the Festival of Dreams will create a space where people can explore a variety of practices and beliefs presented by professional and true-to-form experts who have been selectively hand picked.

Fuelled by a desire to help people discover the spirit within, and open themselves up to possibilities previously only dreamed of, Festival of Dreams is that open doorway where you can nourish your soul, believe in magic, love your life and be who you truly are!

Festival of Dreams details:

August 23 and  August 24, 2014


    Horden Pavilion
    1 Driver Ave, Moore Park, Sydney, NSW Australia

Networking books: great guides to meaningful connection

The age of social media has proved that many of us ache for connection, and that the “virtual” world provides an opportunity for people to meet and communicate in ways that weren’t possible even six or seven years ago. We can reach out and be in instant contact with people we have admired for years, including authors, notable teachers and entertainers. And while Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and all the others can be misused, I think that, on balance, their influence on the world has been tremendously positive. Never have so many people been able to stay in touch with people from all over the world ad from all points on their life journey. May it all continue, I say.

Social media has also caused us to think more carefully about that dirty word ‘networking’. Just saying it conjurers up images of forced business meetings and the frantic exchange of cards while craning over the person’s shoulder to see if there is anyone more important standing behind them. But I think the social net has changed that, and the way that people think about ‘strategic relationships.’ It’s possible that we have ushered in a new, more democratic age in which people are interested in others in really profound ways, ways that reject the usual social measurements of status, success and perceived power.

In a time in which many people are interested in cultivating, ad being part of a tribe of 1,000 true fans, social media guru Guy Kawasaki has talked about the death of social climbing. Nobodies, he says, are the new somebodies, and now is the time we took an interest in everyone we encounter.

I do crave meaningful connection with others, and I appreciate the new and interesting people I meet online. Perhaps I will never meet many of them in real life, but I have established some lovely virtual friendships with genuinely interesting and engaging people – you know who you are! The World Wide Web has enabled me to make meaningful links with readers, peers, people from my past, famous authors and even, crucial for the freelance writer, editors.

And I have begun to think more deeply and more strategically about that old fashioned idea of networking. I learn slowly that supporting others and making yourself available to them is essential and helps to build stronger relationships. That is why I would like to let you in on a little secret. I want to share with you three books that have changed my world enormously and are the three I insist people read who come to me for advice about establishing a writing career.

Some of the language in these books can seem a bit cheesy, especially for Australian readers – remember they are addressing a mainstream business community, for the most part. But be forgiving, and be alert, because each of them contains a tremendous amount of wisdom and good advice. I literally use the three of them constantly, and as soon as I finish I go straight back to the beginning and start again.
I can honestly say that these books and their techniques for community building have improved my life, my career, my friendships and even my wellbeing. I urge you to read them with an open mind.

1.    Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi – This is the book that many say changed the face of modern networking. The impossibly energetic Ferrazzi explains how he changed his life through the careful building of strategic relationships. He concentrates on establishing mentors and incorporating the important people in your life into all aspects of your life, no matter where they might fall on the work-friendship-family-social spectrum. He encourages people to become involved in t heir community, to support the work and goals of others and to introduce friends to each other. My main takeaway? Never waste a spare moment – get out your phone and start sending messages to people who haven’t heard from you in a while.

2.    Platform by Michael Hyatt – Hyatt was a publishing legend who struck out on his own. This book is the one I think that every creative professional must read. Indeed, anyone who is seeking to establish a name for themselves in their chosen work could afford to put some of his advice into action. Intensely practical, Platform goes through, chapter by chapter, all of the things you need to do to “build your platform” (a wonderfully archaic idea that has been revived) and start attracting people’s attention. Read my full review here.

3.    Guerrilla Networking by Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann – No joke, applying the techniques from this book has given me more work and helped me establish more important relationships than any other. It deserves to be better known and, though it was written before the age of social media, its techniques are even more useful and applicable now. It teaches us to share info about our projects and what we are going to do, to be daring and willing to try new things and to build influence through solving other people’s problems (something Keith Ferrazzi also teaches a lot).  My main takeaway? Create a fabulous reputation for yourself so that people seek you out, rather than you chasing after people.
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