New Exhibition of Male Nudes in Siem Reap





My great pal, the accliamed painter and muralist Chhai Kakkada, has just opened a brand new exhibition called Embody.




It is a daring and sensual collection of male nudes, celebrating the strength, grace and diversity of the Khmer male form. In a conservative society like Cambodia's, it is also incredibly daring - there's even a secret room!

Artist Chhai Kakkada


So if you are in Siem Reap in the next couple of weeks (the exhibition runs until the end of September), please do drop by Loven Ramos' fabulous hotel/gallery The 1961 - one of the grooviest places in Cambodia.


New Books - Memoir

I think that memoir is perhaps my favourite genre.
I am a secret voyeur, and love the confessional mode. Memoir provides such a fascinating glimpse, not only into the "truth" of people's lives, but into the depth of their own self-created fictions. It is in memoir that people get an opportunity to rebuild a life exactly as they wanted or imagined it to be.
Here are a few I have just purchased and that have gone straight on to my reading pile:






Opium by Jean Cocteau - Cocteau struggled with drug addiction, and this slim little volume is his memoir of life as an opium addict.

The Battersea Park Road to Paradise by Isabel Losada - Losada wrote one of the best and most insightful books about the New Age, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment. In this follow-up she explores more alternative ways of being, including Feng Shui, meditation and Anthony Robbins.

A Distant Prospect by Lord Berners - Berners was a British composer, a noted eccentric, a great pal of Nancy Mitford's and the model for Lord Merlin in her novels. A Distant Prospect is one of the very best childhood memoirs I have ever read, and I couldn't resist this beautiful hardcover edition, though I already own two other editions. That's how much I love this book! And of course, it gives me an excuse to read it again.

The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray - I don't know much about this one, except that I heard them discussing it on the BBC, and some said it was brilliant.

Professional Secrets by Jean Cocteau - Can you tell  that my Cocteau obsession continues? This is a type of autobiography assembled from various writings - an interesting idea. In it he discusses crickets in cages and travelling the world. No-one does style like M. Cocteau.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by Cardinal John Henry Newman - I have been meaning to read this one for years. Some describe it as the best religious memoir ever written. I love the figure of Newman - strange, tortured little queen whose body is said to have been assumed into heaven.

Looking for Lionel by Sharon Snir - Here's a strange thing - this is the third copy of this book I have purchased. The first two I felt called to give away to people who I felt needed to read it. This one I'm keeping, and look forward to reading it properly, as the author Sharon Snir is a friend.

Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters - Edited by Merlin Holland - Does this really count as memoir? I don't think so, but close enough. Basically I buy every book about Wilde that is ever released - he actually has his own bookcase in my house. Wilde's letters - and I have no idea what edition it would have been - had a major influence on my life. I read them attentively when I was 14 - they were the only queer thing I could find in my small-town library. So I look forward to returning to them, as I have several times in my life.

Stephanie Dowrick and Walter Mason Launch Online Book Club

In an increasingly fractured world, more and more of us seek out some kind of community on-line.
Feeling that same need, Stephanie Dowrick and I have just launched the Universal Heart Book Club, an online book club with a monthly video component.





I'd love you to have a look at the video, read the books and leave us your comments on the various posts on the Universal Heart Book Club blog, which is already shaping up to be quite a fascinating journal of deeper reading.





I had been thinking about hosting an online book club for ages, when suddenly one day Stephanie Dowrick said to me, "You know, I've been thinking of hosting an online book club..." Well, such synergy cannot be ignored.
It has taken us a  few months to get it up and running, but now we are there, and have some wonderful books, articles and ideas planned.
I invite you to be a part of it, and help prove to the world that reading still matters.

Becoming an Advocate





I was recently listening to the always-useful Six Pixels ofSeparation Podcast and they were talking to author and content marketer RebeccaLieb, and she mentioned how valuable it was to become an advocate. It struck me that we are rarely encouraged to become enthusiastic about the ideas and achievements of others. Instead we are focused on our own goals and own successes, and some people are very wary indeed of putting enthusiasm into the work of others. But I would like to suggest that it is infinitely more valuable, and more conducive to happiness, if we let ourselves occasionally become advocates for others without worrying about what’s in it for me. I want to beg people to return to having heroes, examples and mentors, and actively showing your support for those people by helping them get their work out into the world.

As Rebecca Lieb points out in her interview, it is becoming more and more valuable to have people say things about you. In the world of the old media it was almost impossible to get an interview, review or spot for free, and building any kind of public reputation was so forbiddingly expensive and time consuming that most people simply didn’t bother. That is all changing very quickly, and with blogs, Twitter and other forms of social media almost anyone can become a minor celebrity with a bit of application and effort. This has become such an important process that many big companies are now re-thinking their whole publicity strategy. It might, in the end, prove more valuable to get the word out to a number of small influencers than broadcast it scattershot across the big (and expensive) media. More and more people want a story, not a brand. 

And being an advocate does not mean you neglect your own work or development. Quite the contrary, in fact - I have found that my career and reputation have grown in the years since I have devoted myself to the process of advocacy. And my very biggest breaks have all come as a result of time, work and attention I have given to others. 

So, here are some ideas about becoming an advocate:

1. Be Systematic – Your head is probably full of fabulous people and things that you love, but when the time comes to do something about it, you just can't quite recall what it was you were so enthusiastic about. For years now I have kept a list, and I work from it. So the moment I see a film I love, read a fantastic book, find out about an amazing event a friend is putting on, I put it down on my list so that I can promote it when the opportunity arises. It also keeps me conscious of where people are at with their careers – I am actively charting their success and growth. 

2. Use Social Media – Don’t be afraid to mention the wonderful things your friends are doing – so long as they want them mentioned, of course. For each thing I want to advocate I keep a small spreadsheet which I tick off as I do the things I want to for them. Mentioned them on Twitter? Check. Done a Facebook post on them? Check. Always try and let people know you’ve mentioned them at least once, but at the same time you can still do good without others knowing. I try to post about people on Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+, though most of the people I am mentioning have no idea and have no presence on these channels. 

3. Blog About It – OK, so I know that blogging is social media, but I think about it a whole lot differently. It is more substantial, it takes more time and imagination, and it lasts a lot longer. I have also found that properly blogged content is the most likely to be shared, both by the people you mention and those closest to them.  

4. Don’t Keep Score – Yes, I am systematic in how I promote people and things I like, but I absolutely don’t care about whether or not it’s reciprocated. If you are going into this expecting favours, thanks and praise, then you’re in the wrong game. In my experience those things come, but sometimes not for years, and sometimes in totally unexpected (and sometimes vastly disproportionate) ways. Mostly you won’t hear back, but that is not the point. This is about building a community, about expanding your own knowledge and goodwill, and about creating a state of mind that is open, celebratory and expansive. If you’re calculating ROI, it kind of defeats the purpose.

5. Tell People – I am one of those who is always recommending books, restaurants and movies to people. I like to think that I do this in a relaxed, friendly and non-imposing way – at least, that’s what I am aiming for. But I am unafraid to appear enthusiastic, and I would love to be thought of as a fanboy. Enthusiasm is infectious, and more people will love than hate you for it. And you never know when a kind word, some praise or a recommendation will fall on the right ear. I have had innumerable people thank me for recommending a book or movie or artist to them long after I had forgotten even mentioning it. Two recent examples: 1) A performer was approached by a new fan who had been to several of his performances recently, and told him he had found about the show through reading my blog. 2) A writer contacted me wildly pleased because an influential person had read her book and loved it after I had recommended it to him. These kinds of stories are so immensely satisfying.

6. Review (Kindly) – Sorry, I know everyone is talking about the death of criticism because everyone wants to be nice, but as a creative person I have no interest in tearing down another person’s work or reputation. None at all. And I make no apology for that. If I think something really is so terrible, I simply will not talk about it – I won’t be dishonest and praise something I think is truly bad. If there is something really wrong, contact the author/creative in private and let them know your concerns, but if you’re going to do that please make sure you are absolutely confident that you know what you’re talking about. Simply “not liking” something, while a perfectly valid guide for your own consumption, is not a sufficient basis for public criticism, really it isn’t. But if you have things you like, then get on to Goodreads, get on to Amazon, get on to restaurant review sites, blog a review and tell the world about what they’re missing.  

7. Recommend to Your Audience – If you have an enewsletter or some other overt marketing channel, don’t be afraid to endorse people or products that you think your own “customers” would like. Sure, you’ll be getting nothing tangible from it, but I can tell you from experience that nothing impresses me more than seeing a commercial enterprise praising and promoting something that I know is not connected to them and doesn’t in any way contribute to their bottom line. It makes me trust them more and take them more seriously. You must keep it relevant, of course, but singing the praises of someone else is a refreshing change from the banging of your own drum, and can actually build your reputation.

8. Leave the House - Let's face it, all of us spend too much time sitting in front of the computer or watching "relaxing" TV shows. Many of your friends, mentors and people you admire host public events, and going along to these is one of the most effective ways to show your support. And while you're there, why not try live tweeting and later blogging them? Never for a moment think "Oh, they do so many of these events, they don't need us there." They do, and your presence is always noted and appreciated. Each of these events involves an enormous amount of preparation and emotional energy, and a friendly face is always welcome and loved. There were a couple of hundred people at the launch of my first book, Destination Saigon, but you know what? I remember each and every person who was there - even the friends of friends who came along as +1s. That's how emotionally significant the event was. So do your level best to show your physical support - it's gotta be more valuable than catching up on Basketball Wives.


Crystals by Rachelle Charman

Having spent many years workling at a New Age bookstore, you can imagine that my house is full of crystals. I love the things.

My connection to them runs even deeper than that. My grandfather was a keen amateur geologist and lapidarist, and he travelled all over Australia finding rare and beautiful stones which he would bring home and polish. Many of these are in my collection as well, creating a deeper familial connection to thse special gems. And, as Australian author Rachelle Charman would suggest, my connections with crystals may go back even further - all the way back to past loves.

In the past decades crystal skulls, too, have been discovered across South America that have had quite an impact on the popular imagination, and they are said to possess the most extraordinary healing and spiritual properties.  These objects have intrigued me since I was a child, when someone gave me a book of the supernatural which contained a page about them. Of course, much scandal surrounds their authenticity, but this only makes them all the more wonderful for me. In Cambodia, a country I have spending quite a bit of time in recently, I discovered really fine small sculptures of the Buddha  rendered in local quartz that were exceptionally beautiful and, to me at least, magnetic.





Crystals: Understand and Connect to the Medicine and Healing of Crystals is an exquisitely illustrated new book from Rockpool Publishing, and I think it has already become the most beautiful guide to the use and meanings of crystals. The perspective of its author is also unique. Rachelle Charman was once a marketing professional in the New Age world, but she felt called to explore her connection with crystals, finally establishing her own  Academy of Crystal Awakening. This book is the distillation of her work teaching about the metaphysical properties of crystals and how they can best be prepared, kept and used in order to strengthen their healing energy.

Now, you can be as cynical as you want, but there's no denying that crystals, gems and precious stones draw us in, even if it is only because of their simple beauty. And as Charman points out, crystals do have a scientific and technical application, so to wonder if perhaps their vibrational capcaities mightn't be applied more broadly is not entirely without basis. As in all these matters, I remain an enchanted agnostic. I know that I am ineluctably drawn to certain stones, and am willing to concede that perhaps there is a mysterious reason for this that goes beyond simple aesthetics. For the record, those stones are Tiger's Eye, Rose Quartz Moonstone and Turquoise - just in case you had your Christmas gift list handy. Here's what the book has to say about Tiger's Eye, items of which I seek out wherever I am in the world:






The book contains a full illustrated guide to crystals and their properties as well as case studies of people who swear to the efficacy of crystal therapy. 

Details: Crystals: Understand and Connect to the Medicine and Healing of Crystals by Rachelle Charman, published by Rockpool Publishing

Gay Bilson's PLENTY

I am a big fan of Charlotte Wood's unique cookbook/essay collection/memoir Love and Hunger.
One of the books that Charlotte mentions admiringly is Gay Bilson's groundbreaking 2004 book, Plenty. This is a book that is almost impossible to categorise, an exquisitely beautiful object in its own right that ranges across so many genres that I dare not attempt to pigeonhole it. Suffice to say it is a reflection on a lifelong love of food, its preparation and its eating, and it is a book I turn to regularly.








Plenty is filled with love and warmth, reflecting Bilson, one of Australia's most legendary restaurateurs, and her homely philosophy. Whether it's making custard, serving an omelette or discussing celebrity chefs, Bilson's take is unique and tempered by a genuine understanding of the importance of food and its appreciation at an emotional, intellectual and even spiritual level.

It's funny, but when I first read Plenty, back when it was first released, I was in much the same conflicted reltaionship with food and its preparation that I was when I first read Charlotte's book. I think some of us need reminding that food is not an enemy, but nor should it be a fetish. It is a necessity, a field in which we can exercise love, compassion and a genuine creativity. Bilson reminds us of the grand and peculiar Western engagement with food and its preparation, reflecting that such a relationship does not come easily to Anglo-Saxon culture, leaving us reliant on a series of historical "experts" like Elizabeth David to give us permission to enjoy the acts of cooking and eating.

I have been inspired in re-reading, too, to be slightly more eccentric, like the wonderful cast of friends and inspirations that Bilson writes about in her beautiful book. People who send birds' nests through the mail and quibble over the consistency of apple jellies. And I have resolved, once again, to delight in the simplest of things, in cauliflower and tripe and braised ox tongue and things that have been forgotten in our quest to impose glamour upon cooking.

Plenty makes the perfect companion to Love and Hunger, and I urge you to seek out a copy. Whether you love simple food or fine dining, you will be catered for in this wonderfully eccentric and constantly fascinting book about food, cooking, literature and life.

What difference can ‘the Sacred’ make? An evening with Stephanie Dowrick & Doug Purnell

11 October, Thursday 7-9pm

What difference can ‘the Sacred’ make?

A conversation with Stephanie Dowrick and Doug Purnell

At Paddington Uniting Church

stephanie dowrick

Cost: $15 Eremos members $20 for non members. Concession $5 less. Supper provided.

Reserve the date!
Click here to register for this event.
For more information
Email: events@eremos.org.au

Newly Discovered William Blake Painting

I have my friends at the Swedenborg Association of Australia to thank for alerting me to this extraordinary piece of news.

I am a huge fan of William Blake's poetry and art, but he is one of the most studid and collected artists ever, so it would seem impossible that at this late stage a previously unknown work should be discovered. But it has been, amongst the property of an old Swedenborgian family.

William Blake was fascinated by the writings of Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and was a longtime member of the Swedenborgian New Church established in London. Many of his artworks represent engagements with Swedenborgian ideas. Because of this connection, Blake is a kind of honorary artist of the Swedenborgian movement, so it is no surprise that Swedenborgians should possess rare works of his.

This new watercolour, a particularly beautiful piece called Parental Affection, is immensely valuable and has been resting quietly in the Tulk family collection for almost 200 years.




For more about William Blake and his spiritual life see here

For more about Emanuel Swedenborg see here

To sign up for the Swedenborg Association of Australia's enewsletter see here



Belinda Castles launches her new book HANNAH & EMIL

How often can you say that you were reading a hot new novel long before it was even finished?
That is my proud claim with Belinda Castles' exquisite new book Hannah & Emil, which has just been launched.



I was part of a writing group that was privileged enough to be able to read some early drafts of Belinda's work, and right from the beginning I knew this was going to be an amazing book.


Author Belinda Castles at the launch of HANNAH & EMIL



Set in the years of World War 2, Hannah & Emil is based on the history of Belinda's own grandparents, and there is plenty of romance and intrigue as a Jewish refugee falls in love with a German man and they attempt to live together in a world where both are suspect.




So if you are looking for a new novel, don't hesitate. Belinda is a masterful writer, and Hannah & Emil is a beautifully written, easy-to-read story that has elements of romance, history and intrigue, and brings to life a strange little pocket of cultural history that is surprising and occasionally heart-wrenching.

Belinda Castles and Walter Mason at the launch of HANNAH & EMIL at Berkelouw's Newtown


Girlfriend Boyfriend

If naked Chinese guys almost having sex with each other is your thing, then you're bound to enjoy the new Taiwanese film Girlfriend Boyfriend.




Apart from the physical titillation, it is also a fascinating piece of cinema on so many other levels. It explores the little known recent history of Taiwan, and the social mores and expectations of a conservative Chinese culture that is itself divided about its identity. In Girlfriend Boyfriend queer indentity stands parallel to a quest for a Taiwanese national identity, and I was intrigued right from the very beginning.

Starting during the period of martial law in Taiwan in the mid-1980s, we follow the romantic and sexual awakening of three youths: the silent, tortured and incredibly hunky Liam (the exquiste Joseph Chang), the racially-mixed natural radical Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan) and the androgynous girl Mabel (Gwei Lun-Mei).


Rhydian Vaughan, Joseph Chang and Gwei Lun-Mei


It is impossible to give away who sleeps with who without giving some spoilers, so I will try to avoid it. Indeed at some moments one is left not entirely sure as to who was being fucked, and Mr. Noodlies and I both left with different impressions as to the extent of the triangle.

Joseph Chang & Rhydian Vaughan get intimate


It's a beautifully made film that is extremely ambitious in scope. For me it became better, and the performances truer, as it progressed. I really think younger actors should have been used to portray the characters at high school, as the actors (with the exception of the always-perfect Chang) were tempted into camping it up a little, and for the first 20 minutes or so I thought this was going to be some kind of goofball high school comedy with a political theme. There was a moment in the movie, however, when the performances shifted quite substantially, and I began to be impressed instead by the subtlety and substance of the actors I had previously been groaning at.

The director Yang Ya-che has captured perfectly an arrested adolescent homoerotic longing which he has allowed to leak into the heterosexual relationships depicted on film, till all the characters are immersed in a psycho-sexual funk of self-loathing which only serves to heighten the eroticism of their encounters. The sexual politics of the film are, perhaps, suspect. But it is the actual politics which I found much more intriguing. I am not used to seeing the complex and subtle social problems of Taiwan and Taiwanese history depicted on film, and it is this alone which makes Girlfriend Boyfriend so well worth seeing.

At risk of repeatig myself, can I just state finally that the Taiwan heartthrob Joseph Chang is the absolute star of the piece.


Joseph Chang is the model of masculine cool in Girlfriend Boyfriend


 In scene after scene his quiet, brooding hunkiness expresses perfectly the tumult of sexual desire we slowly learn is lurking inside him. He is perfect for the role, being neither off-puttingly pretty or antiseptically muscular. His naturally masculine, almost-chubby strength is a perfect expression of a certain mode of Chinese male beauty which I remember well from my time in Taiwan, and which matches exactly the role he is playing.




Girlfriend Boyfriend is well worth seeing if you know nothing about Taiwan or its history. And it is also a complex, subtle and ultimately very queer film which leaves the viewer with no easy answers.

Five Stars *****

Secret Girls' Business - a new book from Maggie Hamilton

My publisher, and a successful and fascinating author in her own right, Maggie Hamilton has a new book coming out this month that should be of great interest to all parents of teen girls. I know I will be grabbing a copy for my sister and my niece as soon as it comes out. Here are the details:


Secret Girls' Business by Maggie Hamilton

Life. Love. Fashion. Craft. Food. Fun. Imagination. Friends.

Secret Girls' BusinessSecret Girls' Business is your one-stop guide to funky crafts, wardrobe and bedroom makeovers, eco and vintage fashion, and more. Make your own cards and gift tags, and learn how to stage the perfect high tea. And whether you're curylicious or the perfect pear, discover easy ways to look and feel great about your body size.
This is your chance to step inside the world of some amazing vintage blog queens from London to Brooklyn, and be inspired by the unique treasures to be found in your local thrift store. Are you ready to sign the handmade pledge, or stage your own swapping spree? Do you need some help to polish up your eco credentials or find that first part-time job?
Don't miss out on the secret girls' recipes that include an impossible quiche and the best hot chocolate in the world. You'll love all the grandma magic tips for everything from tight shoes and hard-to-remove stains, to how to revive silk flowers.
Along with fun ways to discover of their own family story found in old buttons, postcards and other family memorabilia, there's great advice on issues from sibling rivalry to how to stay safe at night.

Why did Maggie write the book?

Life's pretty complex for teen girls right now. While they've more choices, they're way more anxious about their looks, possessions, and bodies. This generation of girls also has less confidence and creativity, few friendships across the generations and life experiences. Most their spare time spent on packaged entertainment or shopping. And their pre-occupation with celebrities means often they know little about their own story. We need to encourage girls in fun ways that give them a new sense of what they're capable of.

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