An Inspiring Conversation with Modern Witch Stacey Demarco at Ultimo Library

I am launching a brand new project in 2013 - a series of Inspirational Conversations with some of Sydney's most fascinating and creative people.
The Conversations, organised in conjunction with the City of Sydney Libraries, will be held at Ultimo Library on the final Wednesday evening of each month.
The very first Conversation for the year will be with the inspiring and absolutely amazing Stacey Demarco.

The fabulous Stacey Demarco

We'll be talking about how to get inspired, how to stay inspired and how to use the power of thought to drive us forward in our creative projects.
Stacey Demarco is a Modern Witch and the author several books on the subject of witchcraft and personal development.

She is an expert in Moon Lore, and publishes an annual Lunar Diary. She has also produced two exquisite decks of  oracle cards: Gods & Titans and Goddesses and Sirens. She also created the world's first iPhone app for casting spells!

I know you will agree that Stacey will be a fascinating person to hear, and she will offer a truly unique insight into how to get inspired.
Just click through here to book your place at this free event.


Inspirational Conversations: Maintaining Your Passion

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM (EST)

Ultimo Library
Level 1, 40 William Henry Street
Sydney, New South Wales 2007


In the 1970s Druids were big. English chidren's television, which became Australian children's  television through the agency of the ABC, was filled with supernatural stories based on Druids and Druidic mysteries. I remember a particularly terrifying series based at Stonehenge where Druids turned out to be space aliens (I have no idea what this was called - I would love it if someone could indentify it for me), and of course one of my favourite shows was that almost-perfect series about a time-travelling Druid, Catweazle.

Much later in life I stumbled upon the Druids again, this time in my research into the esoteric and self-help movements of the Nineteenth Cenury. It was in this period that Druidry was re-invented, in self-consciously archaic secret societies that romanticised ideas of old England and rejected the stuffy, rigid Christianity of the era. In this period England saw a renaissance in antique social rituals and societies. Mummers, Oddfellows and Druids sprung up after an absence of hundreds of years. By the early 20th Century Theosophists such as G.R.S. Mead were talking up Druidry as a source of the continuous and ancient Wisdom that has always been at large in our world, though in different guises.

The Druids were, of course, an ancient priesthood (that was, apparently, open to women as well as men) that managed to preserve ancient Celtic religious rituals in the British Isles. The ancient Romans were said to have been terrified of them. Caesar wrote about them saying that they worshipped the same gods as the Romans, though under different names. The Roman disapproval stemmed from their habit of burning human sacrifices in wicker cages. Druidic horse sacrifices were still occurring in Ulster as late as the twelfth century.

Meyrick and Smith, the English folk historians, cast the Druids as a benign scholarly class in ancient England, and that is largely the way they are viewed now. These days Druids are seen as eco-warriors and maintainers of romantic ideas of wilderness and antique living. They cultivate groves and hold secret rituals within them, and in books such as Druid Magic the ancient tradition is cast almost a method of self-help, a way of channeling the wisdom of the natural and ancient world into achieving one's loftiest goals.

Most recently I was very interested in a BBC podcast on the excellent In Our Time series that discussed the Druids in a most scholarly fashion, placing them in history both ancient and modern. I do recommend you have a listen to it.

Summer Reading Pile

I have decided to do some serious reading over Summer. So here is my little pile of new books that will make me appear smarter and deeper than I actually am. From the top:

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli - My senior high school principal alerted me to Machiavelli in my final year of school when I was elected a prefect. In retrospect, that was a very peculiar thing to do. I encountered him again studying political philosophy as an undergraduate. It's time I read him once more, I think.

Illuminations by Walter Benjamin - If you have studied lit. at a tertiary academy in the past ten years it is impossible to avoid the name of Walter Benjamin. But guess what? I have never read him! Not a word! Well, I am about to change that.

The Popes by John Julius Norwich - Should be an interesting counterpoint to Machiavelli. I adore the Popes and any intrigue to do with the Catholic Church, and I also adore the charming and old-world John Julius Norwich, so I am really looking forward to this one.

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard - This is an invaluable skill, so I thought I should perfect it.

The Waste Books by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg - Until a month ago I had never heard of this book, but then I read Susan Sontag referring to it and I was consumed with curiosity.

The Basic Works of Aristotle - Bite the bullet, Walter. I walk around with an enormous inferiroty complex because I have never studied Western philosophy in any systematic way. This might mark a beginning.

The Quest for Proust by Andre Maurois - I am a Proust groupie and read anything Proust-related for pleasure. But it sounds so much more impressive than it actually is.

M. Proust on his death bed

The Last Pre-Raphaelite by Fiona MacCarthy - Ever so  keen on the Pre-Raphaelites, but quite frankly, this book is very fat and quite terrifying. Could be fabulous, though.

The art of the pre-Raphaelites

Arrival City by Doug Saunders - I read an essay by Mr. Saunders in the Spectator ages ago and ever since then this book has been on my list. Basically he says what I think: that the global shift towards living in mega-cities is a good thing, and we should embrace, celebrate and facilitate this change in lifestyle. Looking forward to him helping me hone my arguments.

Glittering Images by Camille Paglia - The new one from La Fabulosa herself.

An Announcement: Inspirational Conversations in Sydney in 2013

Walter Mason, conducting 2013's series of Inspirational Conversations

I am very excited to announce a brand new series of inspirational conversations I will be conducting at Ultimo Library in 2013, in partnership with the City of Sydney Libraries.

On the final Wednesday evening of every month in 2013 I will be having a fascinating conversation with a leading author about what inspires them, what keeps them creative and how we can all make our lives more fabulous. Some authors already booked for the year include Belinda Castles, Gabrielle Lord, Emily Maguire, Sharon Snir and Stephanie Dowrick.

Stacey Demarco

We are launching the series in true style with the amazing Modern Witch Stacey Demarco. Stacey is the author of Witch in the Boardroom, Witch in the Bedroom and many others, including a very successful annual Moon Diary. Hers is a voice and perspective rarely heard in contemporary culture, so I am really delighted that she will be the first ever inspiring conversationalist! Stacey's session has already been booked out (in a matter of days!), but you can still register to go on the cancellation list here

These conversations are free, but you must book through the Sydney City Library's booking system.


Inspirational Conversations: Maintaining Your Passion 
Walter Mason talks to Stacey Demarco about maintaining your passion. Stacey is a Witch, metaphysicist and popular writer who believes ancient techniques can solve modern problems. In this conversation, Stacey talks about the power of thought to keep us inspired and help make our dreams a reality.    

Time: 6:00pm-7:00pm Jan 30 Cost: Free
Venue: Ultimo Library, Level 1, 40 William Henry Street, Ultimo
Enquiries: City of Sydney Libraries (02) 92983110

Stacey's session has booked out, but you can go on the waitlist here

Read more about the fabulous Stacey Demarco here

The next two sessions are equally as compelling.

On the 27th February at 6pm I am hosting Vogel Prize winning author Belinda Castles, and we'll be talking about finding inspiration.
You can book for this event here
Read more about Belinda here

On Wednesday 27 March at 6pm we have the fabulous Gabrielle Lord, the Godmother of Australian crime writing, talking about where creativity comes from.
You can book for this event here
Read more about Gabrielle here

Saving Books Single-Handedly

I recently wrote about Stephanie Dowrick's concept of Reader Activism over at the Universal Heart Book Club blog, and in researching that I discovered again a really wonderful article by John Self in The Guardian called Want to help books survive? Promote authors yourself. In it he writes about how he tries to promote and increase the sales of a particular book that he thought was worthy of greater distribution. Please read this article first, and then read how it inspired me below.

Walter Mason: Saving books since about 1975

There is no point pretending that the book industry is not going through "interesting times." I  think the head-in-the-sand approach has failed us, and it will only continue to inflict damage on authors, booksellers and publishing houses. Realities have to be faced and new ways of thinking have to be introduced.

I speak as something of an insider. I have been watching bookshops in Sydney close since the late 90s.

Indeed, I have been present on the shop floor when a few of them went under, and I was always immensely frustrated by the response of customers and so-called "devoted readers." Working in a shop that had closed its second branch, for months I would meet angry customers who would storm in to the remaining branch (now itself closed) and demand, "Why did you close that branch? I loved that place." I bottled it in for a while, but finally I couldn't and I began to answer them bluntly: "You obviously didn't love it enough - it went broke." If they’d found the time to act on that “love” and actually darken the shop’s doorstep more frequently it would have survived.

Just imagine what would happen if each of us just once a year selected one book we loved and set about promoting it and telling everyone about it. I might be naive, but I think that that kind of grass-roots promotion would be incredibly effective, and help to establish a much more vibrant and engaged book culture.

We have seen evidence of just such people power in recent times. The huge amount of energy this year that helped create Stella Awards, and the accompanying Australian Women Writers Challenge is a wonderful example, and NationalBookshop Day is another. I have also been impressed by the work of libraries in promoting 2012 as the Year of Reading. Power to the people! All of these things are projects we as individuals need to get behind.

So many of us want to preserve some elements of the literary culture that we know and love, but so few of us are prepared to make any effort to ensure that preservation. If bookshops, authors, publishers and local literature are to survive then each and every one of us needs to get active. Here are some ideas of how we, as humble readers, can hope to save the humble book:

1.      Support your local bookseller – if we really believe in diversity and uniqueness on our high streets we need to put our money where our mouths are. And we need to do this intentionally and self-consciously. It’s all too easy to order our books on-line, all the while telling people how we just adore going into bookshops and browsing around.
2.      Attend author events, bring your friends even help to organise them – for a local literary culture to thrive there needs to be an active and commercially viable “scene” in which authors can speak and be heard. Melbourne is very good at this kind of thing, but Sydney significantly less so. Author readings and talks are probably the cheapest entertainments currently available, and are well worth supporting. Take a chance and go to hear an author you’ve never heard of before, or challenge your intellectual limits by going to hear about something about which you’ve previously held no interest. Authors commonly speak at bookshops, libraries and community clubs. If these talks are not happening in your area, why not start organising some? Almost every author I know is happy to attend an event that helps spread the love of reading.
3.      Support local Writers’ Festivals – If you’re in Sydney the local Writers’ Festival is a massive affair, but all over the world small and specialised writers’ festivals take place. Book yourself for that weekend and go and see everything.
4.      Champion favourite books and authors on social media – I often wish older people could cultivate a bit of rock-star mentality and go crazy about their favourite books and authors in the way they did about their favourite singers back when we were teenagers. If you read a great book, tweet about it and mention it on Facebook. If your favourite author has a new book coming out, do a countdown for it on your blog. Twitter and Facebook are fast becoming the main ways people find out about new books, so become an influencer and share your passions.
5.      Take part in reading challenges – These are great fun, and great ways to broaden your reading repertoire. The peer pressure also encourages you to read more, which is always a good thing. This year I was a part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and last year I was part of the R.I.P Challenge, which caused me to read a whole lot of classic horror novels that I would otherwise never have gotten around to. So do a Google search on “reading challenge” and pick one that is coming up that appeals to you and take part. Even better, pick one that’s a real challenge, and watch your world expand.
6.      Help to involve children in reading and writing - Give kids books, take them to readings and to hear children's authors when they speak. Sign them  up to the local library and take them weekly. Get them the books on which TV shows and movies are based - encourage them to be curious about the origins of things.
7.      Use your local library - Libraries are real treasures and deserve our support. Go to their events, go and check out books, and make it a real resource centre. I often go just to read, or do some writing in my journal, just to be a part of its vibe.
8.      Give books as gifts and follow up on the reading - Be annoying and call your friend three weeks after giving them the book to ask them how they liked it. Once you've done this a couple of times I can guarantee they will read it. This might seem a bit aggressive, but we all have impossible schedules, and sometimes we need little reminders to make us do the things we really want to do. I for one appreciate it.
9.      Join a book club
10.  Stretch your literary boundaries, and let everyone know - if you've decided to branch out into sci-fi, blog about it and turn it into a bit of a project. Be conscious that your reading life is interesting to others, and that your enthusiasms and curiosities can help and stimulate other readers.
11.  Read More

“The love, the gratitude and the recompense will all come to us in time from some source, or many sources. It cannot fail.” The Heart of the New Thought (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

Favourite Music of 2012

My house can often get very noisy. I like to pop on a CD, or fire up my desktop, or even slide in a cassette tape (yes, I still have a functioning cassette player) and really turn it up loud. If you wander by you will hear me singing. If you peeped inside you might even see my dancing. But no-one has to know about my secret pleasures.
I have always had an infamously bad taste in music, and I am completely incapable of any consistent enthusiasms. In my collection early choral music rubs shoulders with late Barbra Streisand, and the St. Matthew Passion might get played right after Boney M's sadly neglected Oceans of Fantasy album.
So here is the music I played the most this year, and I am delighted to see it displays a praisworthy idiosyncracy:

Attracting Prosperity by Steven Halpern - Unless you are a raving New Ager you probably have no idea who Steven Halpern is. But if you've ever done a yoga class, had a massage or gone in for a spot of colonic irrigation I can bet on the fact that you've heard him. He is the New Age music maestro, the Godfather of tubular synchronised sounds played up against an ocean waves soundtrack. This is part of his subliminal series - while I'm listening to that wafting muzac I am absorbing whispered messages about how rich I am going to be. I find it all incredibly relaxing and, most importantly, I can concentrate on my work while it's on and doing me good.

Stormy Weather by Grace Knight - I love Grace's voice, and I grew up listening to the Eurogliders.  This is an album of Grace doing a number of jazz standards, and I always stop and listen to Guess Who I Saw Today, one of the kookiest songs ever, and one I introduced Thang Ngo to when we were both youngsters. Every song on this album makes me happy.

Letting Go - Subliminal Power Series - More New Age musical wallpaper. I adore it because track two is just ocean sounds. It drives my cat crazy, so maybe those subliminal sounds do actually work.

Albinoni 12 Concerti A Cinque, Op. 5 - It might come as a surprise that I did have a formal musical education, and have a very solid library of classics. It's just that I favour the odd and the obscure, or something with a bit of camp back-story. Which is why I favour Signor Albinoni's Opus 5 over the other, better loved, ones. See, I was a hipster before it was even hip.

Club Mixes of the 80s by Phil Harding - Relive your youth, anyone? The moment I put this double CD set on I was instantly seventeen again, and that is why it gets an almost daily spin in my house. The late 80s really represented the pinnacle of popular music in England, and here you have the best of it. Highlights? Jimmy Ruffin's Easy Just to Say and Pepsi & Shirlie's (they were the Wham backup singers, remember?) Heartache.

Cho by Choying Drolma - I had been playing this CD for months when I saw on Facebook that Ani Choying Drolma was coming to do some live concerts in Australia. I went to see her at the Opera House, and of course she was divine. And as a result this has been on constant replay for about six months now. Tibetan chanting re-worked as ambient pop - it is just sublime.

Favourite Books of 2012

I have had such a busy year, travelling, writing, speaking and teaching. Which is my way of saying that I actually read fewer books this year than I did the year before, despite the professional obligations of reviewing. That means I am going to have to up the ante a little in 2013, and do more reading for pleasure and non-professional improvement.
But there are the six books I absolutely loved this year. I suggest you read them all:

1. Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser - Big, ambitious and almost-perfect, this book kept me constantly surprised, and in awe of the author's skill. An "issues" novel that manges to avoid preaching, the story never takes you where you expect it to. Original and beautifully written.

2. Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood - This is a cookbook and a series of meditations on food and its place in our hearts, families and communities. It has inspired me to be a better and more patient cook, and to start cooking for the people I love, the way I used to. It's also the sort of book you could give to anyone. So many people I know have read this book on my recommendation, and every single one of them has loved it.

3. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson - The wonderfully neurotic Winterson turns her pain into exquisite art in this honest and loving book about her mother, a woman who did her best to destroy her. Winterson's reflections on her upbringing are morally complex and based in great part on an immense kindness and willingness to forgive. I loved this book for its subtlety and its refusal to give lazy responses or cliched points of view. Simply brilliant.

4. The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk by Justin Thomas McDaniel - You don't really expect a monograph about Thai Buddhist folklore published by an academic press to be a thrilling read, but this amazing book manages it. Quite simply, McDaniel is a masterful storyteller who knows so much about his subject - the magical practices of folk-Buddhism in contemporary Thailand - and can write about it in a thoroughly entertaining way. Anyone who has ever visited Thailand will find this book constantly fascinating, and anyone who has romantic ideas about Buddhism will be thoroughly challenged.

5. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux - What are the odds of having two books with "ghost" in the title on my list? I read this book while I was engaged in some serious travel, taking a train across Thailand, a plane across Vietnam and endless buses across Cambodia. Fortunately this echoed the patterns of this book, a recreation of Theoux's own original journey across Asia that made him famous when he turned it into a book, The Great Railway Bazaar. Cranky, grumpy and occasionally exasperating, you still can't help but be swept along in the really quite frantic pace of Theroux's compulsive journey.

6. Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson Rader - Yes, an out-of-print 1980s memoir of the great playwright. This is the record of a long friendship, a kind of sub-genre that I always enjoy. This book really charts the great man's twilight years, when he was frequently drunk, drug-addled and negotiating the services of young hustlers. Rader is a brilliant author, and this scandal-soaked memoir is actually quite affectionate, and ultimately illuminating. Made me love Tennessee even more.

Some books for Christmas

If you are in Australia, you are about to enter into a long Summer break, and many of you will be looking for some lovely books to read during this period. It is also, of course, gift-giving time, and we always want something new for our bookish friends. So with these things in mind, Stephane Dowrick and I did something a little different for this month's episode of the Universal Heart Book Club. We each selected three books we thought might be just the thing, either as a thoughtful Christmas gift or as a lovely gift for yourself for reading during these hot summer days.
Have a look at the video here:

FYI, the books we selected were:

Belinda Castles' wonderfully rich novel Hannah & Emil

Sharon Snir's exquisitely inspirational The Little Book of Everyday Miracles

Stephanie Dowrick's own children's book The Moon Shines Out of the Dark.

Mark S. Burrows' exceptional new translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Prayers of a Young Poet

Bem Le Hunte's There, Where the Pepper Grows 

Barbara Kingsolver's much-awaited new novel Flight Behaviour - Stephanie's "Book of the Year"

Boy George - Happy

Boy George just gets more and more fabulous with age, and yes, I do say that as a lifelong fan of the man.
But this song just seems perfect for the holiday season, and so I wanted to share it with you all.
This song is recorded with DJ Yoda, and features on his album Chop Suey.
It's a beautiful, laid-back track, and yes, I am certain that it will make you H-A-P-P-Y just listening to it.

What has Love got to do with Everyday Miracles?

Sunday 10th February, 2013
10.30 am

Author, healer and psychotherapist Sharon Snir will be speaking at the Sydney Unitarian Church early next year.
Her most recent title, The Little Book of Everyday Miracles, is a heart-warming and constantly inspiring collection of real-life stories about the place of the miraculous in our lives.

In her talk Sharon will be discussing the magical place where love intersects with miracles. It will be a  truly wonderful morning, so do put the date aside.

Sharon Snir (photo by Adam Ward)


Sharon Snir: What has Love got to do with Everyday Miracles?
10.30am Sunday 10th February, 2013 
Sydney Unitarian Church

15 Francis Street, East Sydney 2010 (about 5 minutes walk from Museum Station)

Hanoi Nostalgia - Some Pics

Having recently read and loved Emily Maguire's fascinating novel set in Hanoi, Fishing for Tigers, I have been plunged into a fit of Hanoi nostalgia.
I love Hanoi at this time of year, when it is cold and grey and a whole world away from Saigon.
So I thought I'd share some of my favourite Hanoi moments caught on camera:

Typical Hanoi Restaurant
The seldom-open Hanoi Cathedral

Crazy blue house on the West Lake

Inside Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature

Shrine to Confucius, Van Mieu

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