A pile of books for the New Year!

A little squiz at what I plan on reading first thing this year.

From the top:

Michelle de Kretser on Shirley Hazzard - Anyone who knows me will know that I am a huge fan of Michelle de Kretser, and I can't believe I have waited so long to read this one. I  think in part because I have only ever read one book by Shirley Hazzard, and that was an obscure one about Graham Greene, so I don't feel I know her at all as a writer.  I  trust Michelle's judgement completely, however, and I am pretty certain that once I finish this one I will be reading all of Hazzard's books.

The Memory Pool by Therese Spruhan - I have followed Therese's exquisite portraits of suburban swimming pools on Instagram for a long time, and loved the sound of this book as soon as I heard about it.

The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham - Back in the days when I worked in a New Age bookshop, Sophy Burnham's angel book was one of our megasellers, and continued to sell strongly for years. This seems like a fascinating and inspiring book, and I look forward to doing a little spiritual work.

God On Your Own by Joseph Dispenza - Following on from the previous theme. I must admit I have had this book for years but now seems exactly the time for me to read it as I unpacked it from a long neglected box of books (we moved house two years ago and I am still  going) and it seemed to call to me. His book  The Way of the Traveler is one I read almost every year and has a permanent place on my bedside table.

Mae West: It Ain't No Sin by Simon Louvish - At the end of this month I am giving a two-hour lecture on Miss West so I am reading this one cover to cover. I have read several books both by Miss West and about her.

Gertrude Lawrence by Sheridan Morley - More research. I have for years given lectures about Noel Coward, and Miss Lawrence is an essential part of his story. I have found that people often come up to me with questions or stories about her, and so I finally decided I would put together a talk about her. It premieres at WEA Sydney on February 21, 2020, and tickets are still available.

9 Favourite Towns in Vietnam

If you've read my book Destination Saigon you would know that I have travelled all over Vietnam in the past 26 years - including to some pretty obscure places. People often ask me what are my favourite places to visit there, and I am hesitant to tell them because I know that if you are on a quick holiday a lot of the best places are probably not worth the time it takes to get there, and when you do get there they are often quite laid-back, noteworthy more for the vibe than for things to do. But for what it's worth, here are my 9 favourite towns in Vietnam (for obvious reasons I have left off Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as everyone who visits Vietnam will eventually end up in both of these):

  1. Tay Ninh - A day-trip from Ho Chi Minh City, Tay Ninh is the home of Cao Dai, Vietnam's fascinating indigenous religion. I've spent quite a lot of time in Tay Ninh, and it really is a fascinating place. As well as being the Holy City of Cao Dai, it is right near Nui Ba Den, a mystical holy mountain that locals believe is home to a Goddess. Nui Ba Den has become a kind of fun fair that is very popular with local tourists,. I love catching the cable car up the mountain and spending  time on the cool top, especially sitting inside the shrine to the Ba Den herself, which is cool and dark and carved into the rock. In colonial days (according to Milton Osborne in  his superb book on The Mekong) the French connected Saigon to Laos with a road through Tay Ninh called Colonial Route 13. I have no idea whether or not this route is still in operation - but it would make a terrific trip if it was. 

2. Quy Nhon - Purely by chance I made many friends in Quy Nhon when I was a young man, and now I visit it every time I go to Vietnam. It is a beautiful coastal city in South-Central Vietnam, quiet, clean and cool, and in many ways it is the powerhouse of Vietnamese Buddhism. It is home to many ancient Buddhist temples, and also was the site of the even more ancient Kingdom of Champa, the rulers of which were Hindu. Hence the presence of many antique Hindu temples in the surrounding hills.
(Photo @treasuresofvietnam.blogspot.com)
3. Vinh Long - The great Southern Vietnamese religious leader Minh Dang Quang established his Buddhist sect in Vinh Long, and it is still home to many great Buddhist temples important to his sect, including the original temple he established. It is also just a beautiful little Mekong Delta town which possesses its own Temple of Literature.

4. Dong Ha - The capital of Quang Tri province, the poorest in all Vietnam, I was expecting Dong Ha to be a horrible place but it turns out to be an enchanting little city in Central Vietnam about two or three hours from Hue. It is peppered with groovy little cafes and the people are extraordinarily beautiful, though they speak an incomprehensible dialect which even most Vietnamese find difficult to understand. Take a boat from the centre of town down the river (can someone tell me what it's called?) and visit one of the many picturesque villages that dot the river's banks. It is also close to the old DMZ and the holy Catholic Shrine of La Vang, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

5. Mui Ne - The real success story of Vietnamese tourism, Mui Ne is the beachside destination of choice for the wealthy elites of Ho Chi Minh City. Until just a few years ago a sleepy fishing village, Mui Ne now has a decidedly international feel, and the beachside hotels, resorts and guesthouses are a cut above the usual Vietnamese offerings. In Destination Saigon I write about my riotous nights there in the company of a gang of fishermen, and Mui Ne really is becoming a kind of "fun central" for Vietnam, with great bars and restaurants. Of course, some don't like it precisely because of its "international" vibe, but I figure what the hell, mix things up a little. Close to Phan Thiet and the Big Buddha Mountain.

(Photo @Find the Light on Flickr)
6. Ben Tre - This is the hometown of my beloved partner, and in many ways it is the quintessence of the Mekong Delta. Famous for bananas and coconuts, it is remarkable how many of the people you meet in Saigon actually hail from Ben Tre. It was the home of the famous Coconut Monk, who attempted to unify Buddhism with Christianity. It was hard hit during the Vietnam War, being the place that the American army famously declared they had to destroy in order to save.

7. Can Tho - Being the third-largest city in Vietnam, Can Tho is one of those places that comes as a surprise to tourists. Way down in the Delta (and the boat trip from Saigon to Can Tho is one of the things I recommend EVERYONE should do), it is steamy and beautifully situated along the river. Wealthy and open-hearted, it has the reputation of being something of a sin city - it has a thriving gay community, and the women of Can Tho are notorious for their forwardness. Can Tho is known as the city that saved the ao dai, the beautiful, elegant and surprisingly provocative national costume of Vietnam. It has a big university and a big bridge, for those who are into such things. There is also a large community of Khmer people, and there is an old Khmer temple in the heart of town.

8. Nha Trang - Until Mui Ne eclipsed it, Nha Trang was the great hope of Vietnamese tourism. It probably suffered by being championed in a more rigidly controlled age, when the central government was trying to keep a tight rein on tourism and the army was responsible for constructing hotels and restaurants. This gives Nha Trang still a very 1980s Communist feel, especially along the beach front. That said, it is a wonderful city, with great food, great nightlife and a very nice beach. I've always enjoyed myself whenever I've visited Nha Trang - it is considerably cleaner and better kept than most Vietnamese cities.

9. Tra Vinh - When I was studying Vietnamese at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University back in the late 90s I really became interested in the Khmer culture and people that make up a big minority in southern Vietnam. I would visit the Khmer Buddhist temples in Ho Chi Minh City almost daily, and I met and made friends with many of the monks there. A number of them hailed from Tra Vinh, a place I'd never even heard of before. Eventually they took me there and I discovered one of the most fascinating parts of Vietnam. In Tra Vinh the Khmer population is quite dominant, and you hear Khmer spoken on the streets and broadcast on the radio and TV. Theravadin Buddhist temples are the norm, and the rich and ancient Khmer culture is said to be lived there more authentically than in Cambodia itself, for obvious historical reasons.

So there you have it - my nine favourite towns in Vietnam!
If you have any more you'd like listed, please comment and tell us about it!

You should also follow me on Twitter @walterm
Incidentally, there is another excellent post I recommend you check out over at Your RV Lifestyle called Best Things to Do in Vietnam and it is filled with lots of great info!

A journey into the world of Oliver Twist at Waverley Library - July 28, 2019

I am so excited to be the  guest speaker for the Friends of Waverley Library this month, talking all about Dickens, Oliver Twist and 19th century ideas of the child.

It will be a fascinating afternoon, and everyone is welcome.


FOWL presents: What the Dickens!

28 Jul 2019 2:00 pm   -   28th Jul 2019
Sunday 28 July
2pm in the Library Theatrette
Cost: $5
The Friends of Waverley Library invite you to accompany Walter Mason on a journey into the world of Oliver Twist, a world so different from the world of children today.
Walter is the Vice President of the NSW Dickens Society as well as a renowned speaker and author.

$5 entry charge includes light refreshments

Please book by emailing: fowlcontact@gmail.com

I'm leading a writing tour to Vietnam in April 2019 - and I want you to come!

14th - 24th April, 2019, Vietnam

Starting at Hanoi in the North, you will travel by buses and boats and planes all the way down to Can Tho, the lushly tropical heart of the Mekong Delta, where everyone lives on the water.

This is a precious opportunity for writers to see a country with a fellow writer who is passionate about the place and whose enthusiastic love for Vietnamese culture, literature, cuisine and life is unbounded.


Walter Mason, author of Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia, has been in love with Vietnam for most of his lifetime, and has been travelling and studying there since 1994.

Walter has studied Buddhism with some of Vietnam’s great masters and was a student at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University in Saigon studying the Vietnamese language.

He is the Vice President of the NSW Dickens Society and a well-known travel writer and speaker.

Walter is also a popular teacher of writing, mindfulness and creativity.

As well as leading tours to Vietnam, Walter teaches Cambodian, Vietnamese and Buddhist history.


    Daily writing workshops where you can work on one project, ideas for new projects or an account of what you experience during the trip.

    An overnight cruise through the exquisite Halong Bay, sailing around eerie limestone formations said to have been scattered by dragons.

    Sailing down the Perfume River in Hue to visit the elaborate tombs of past kings of the Nguyen Dynasty.

    Overnight in Hoi An, one of the most beloved and picturesque sites in Vietnam, filled with untouched old-world charm.

    Experience what it’s like to live as a local in Ho Chi Minh City as we visit Walter’s own little neighbourhood.

    Following in the footsteps of some of the most interesting writers on Vietnam, including Nguyen Du, Thich Nhat Hanh, Graham Greene and Marguerite Duras.


As well as seeing the entire country from top to bottom, you will also have an opportunity to work on your writing and ideas during daily writing workshops conducted by Walter at various places. Any kind of writer will experience a transformative shift in their work during this tour, even if they are only starting out or have just a few ideas.


single occupancy


twin share
View Tour Brochure

“Fairy-born and human-bred” - the Brontes and 19th century fairy lore. My talk at the Australian Bronte Association, March 9, 2019

I am very privileged to have been asked to speak to the Australian Bronte Association in 2019.

When asked to nominate a topic I immediately thought of something that had fascinated me for  years: the Brontes and fairies.

There are a couple of mentions of fairy-folk in Jane Eyre, and I notice them every time I re-read it (it is a book I love).

So in March I will be teasing out the connections between the fairies and the work of the Brontes.

Fairy-born and human-bred” – the Brontes and Nineteenth century Fairy Lore

The nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in traditional mythology around fairies and all kinds of mythical little-people. Walter Mason will talk about the times that fairies and nature spirits pop up in the writings of the Brontes and how these mentions might relate to the broader social history of the fairy folk. From Oscar Wilde’s father through W. B. Yeats and the Celtic revival and on to Conan Doyle, sprites, pixies, brownies and elves have proven remarkably resilient presences in the world of literature.

March 9, 2019 at 10.30 am.

Non-members most welcome.

The Australian Brontë Association meets in Sydney at the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel (near Town Hall Station) at 10:30am.

There is a meeting charge of $5 (members and non-members).

169 Castlereagh St, Sydney NSW 2000

Favourite Books: 2018

I suppose I should start with my usual caveat: This is not a list of books that came out in 2018 (though some of them did). It is my usual list of the books I really enjoyed reading this year. Some old, some new, some in-between.

1. You've Got to Read This Book by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks - quite an old one, and quite meta - a book about reading books. But it is filled with interesting people talking about the books that inspired them, and I just love this kind of thing. The stories about the books were fascinating, and I noted a number of books from it that I haven't read or sometimes haven't even heard of. If you are wanting to put together a reading list for 2019, this will really help you

2. Depends What You Mean by Extremist by John Safran - I love Safran's strange, meandering works of gonzo journalism, and this one was fantastic. It's one of those books where you want to put off doing other things so that you can get back to it. An examination of Australian extremists from all sides.

3. The Memoir Book by Patti Miller - this is actually the second time I have read it, that's how good it is. This time I came away convinced that I need to write another memoir. Patti's style is engaging and entertaining, and the whole message of the book is incredibly inspiring and empowering. One for the budding writer in your life.

4. Our Paris: Sketches from Memory by Edmund White and Hubert Sorin - I have had a very Parisian year this year, reading-wise. This book has been in my library for ages, and when my partner had run out of something to read on the train I gave him this. He couldn't get past the first couple of pages because they were too sad. But he picked it up again and loved it. When I took it back from him I decided to have a look through it, and then I had to finish it (it IS a very slim book) there and then. When White writes like this nobody can beat him. One that you can enjoy in one sitting. A lovely and personal look at Paris written just after White's French lover of many years had died.

5. Mr. Eternity by Roy Williams (with Elizabeth Meyers) - a lovely, lovely little look at a part of Sydney's metaphysical and artistic history. And one you can read - and enjoy - even if you are not a Sydneysider. Roy is writing from an evangelical Christian perspective, but it is a perfectly valid one in this case because Arthur Stace, the man who spent decades wandering around Sydney writing the word 'Eternity' on the footpath, was a devout Baptist and evangelist. Roy's deep understanding of this mindset shifts this book to a whole new level, making it a thoroughly unusual, and unexpectedly fascinating, thing. A story beautifully told, and a terrific piece of popular history.

6. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles - always a thrill to read a book in which Sydney is the star. And a surprisingly rare occurrence. Castles' totally bewitching story set on Sydney's Northern beaches is engaging right from the start, and is quite cinematic in its storytelling. A fantastic easy read with many secret depths. This is the second of Belinda's books that I have read and loved - she is a rare talent.

7. The Miracle Club by Mitch Horowitz - and even rarer, a book that treats the spiritual tradition of New Thought seriously! Mitch's book is a practical and white-knuckled path to self-improvement, and he pulls no punches. Horowitz has been a serious student of American spiritual traditions for many years, and is himself a publisher of material that falls into  the genre (for TarcherPerigee). This book encouraged me to take myself and my dreams much more seriously. AND it gave me a blueprint for working towards them realistically.

8. How to be Your Own Genie by Radleigh Valentine - ok, another self-help book, but this one was so completely charming that I just couldn't resist. Radleigh was Doreen Virtue's long-time collaborator, but after her life took an unexpected turn it seems that he has stepped into  the void at Hay House and is finding his own solo voice. And that voice is abundantly clear in this cosy, friendly book about leading a more magical life based on his own brand of hokey folk-wisdom. It's rare that I fall in love with an author reading their books, but I did this one.

9. Homing by Shevaun Cooley - I am always trying to read more poetry, and I love the work  that Giramondo does in publishing Australian poets and introducing them to whole new audiences. I think this was my favourite collection of the year, the poems sparse little meditations on nature and literature. I have found myself returning to it all year, and it is quite an inspiring read for any writer, encouraging slow reading and reflection.

10. Alice: The Wonderland Oracle by Lucy Cavendish (artwork by Jasmine Beckett-Griffith) - ok, not a book,  but still a literary object. I am going to stop making excuses for including a card deck every year. This one, clearly, is a literary curiosity, and lovely and uplifting deck for anyone interested in literature. Also a great thing for younger readers to use - Jasmine Beckett-Griffith's amazing pictures speak to anyone's imagination, and Lucy Cavendish's ideas, words and meditations always seem spot on. A lovely way to inspire you to start each day - just take one the cards from the deck and see what the Universe might be wanting to tell you.

Martin Chuzzlewit and the lure of America - a talk by Walter Mason at Ashfield Library, 2 November 2018

Do come along and hear me talk about one of Dickens' most intriguing novels in November a Ashfield Library!


Speaker Series: Martin Chuzzlewit and the lure of America with Walter Mason



Walter Mason, Vice-President of the NSW Dickens Society, talks about one of the least discussed of Charles Dickens' novels, The Life and Times of Martin Chuzzlewit. It is a novel which Walter thinks is his best.
Walter Mason looks at Dickens’ relationship to America and the ways in which it was portrayed by his peers in English literature.

Date and Time


Ashfield Library
Level 3, 260 Liverpool Road
Ashfield, NSW 2131


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