Joy Hopwood on the meaning of Abundance

Joy Hopwood

Joy Hopwood is an actor, writer, director and curator, and a great pal of mine. She rose to prominence as the first ever Asian-Australian to be a Play School presenter back in the 90s. I asked Joy what abundance meant to her, and here's what she had to say:

When you look up the dictionary meaning of “abundance” it says: “A very large quantity of” (noun) or “plenty, affluence, wealth.” (synonyms).

And when I ask random people what “abundance” means to them, many of them reply: “It means having a lot of money!”

But to me “abundance” has less to do with external things like money and fame, and more to do with inner abundance. Like having an abundance of creativity or inner joy.

Every day I like to try to write in my grateful journal the things I’m happy about. The more things I can write about, the happier I am. I feel abundance in my life. Examples of some things I’ve written lately are:

  • 19/7/2013 "My friend Jennifer did a great comedy performance, handling hecklers well. She received flowers from a wonderful, kind fan. "
  • 27/ 7/2013 “My friend Maria produced a fantastic film Change of Our Lives which she acted and wrote. I’m so proud of her achievements.”
  • 28/7/ 2013 “Today I baked a cake and I controlled myself and only ate half of it.”

Personal achievements, along with those of my friends,  give me great joy and happiness. This equals abundance to me.

I’m extremely happy and feel abundance in creativity when I’m on a writing roll or creating an art piece.

When I’m really down, which happens sometimes when I miss my mother, who passed away from bowel cancer, or when friends let me down, I go to my JOY “abundance” box.

Joy's Abundance box

It is a small box filled with handwritten “pick me up” activities. I put my hand in the box and pick out one JOY activity. Examples include:

  • Play 15 mins of a DVD of my mum
  • Put a green mask on my face
  • Bake something
  • Go to an art gallery for an hour

These are just a few examples.

To me, abundance is always being able to create JOY in my life and also being able to spread that JOY to others. And I feel I have a lot to give. This year I’ve started the Joy House Film Festival, which features short films dealing with the theme of JOY. My purpose is to recognize emerging filmmakers, especially young, multicultural and indigenous film makers; giving them a voice. I hope this will be a free yearly event to share JOY and abundance with everyone. Also I try to find something positive to say to someone I don’t know. A few weeks ago I told an elderly lady that I loved her colourful rainbow beanie and she said that she hadn’t had a compliment for over 40 years, since when her husband was alive.

Therefore abundance is something I can give because I have plenty of JOY to share and it’s something that has great inner meaning to me; great abundance in creativity and happiness. 


Thanks Joy!
If you'd like to read more about ideas of Abundance, and see a terrific book list on the subject, check out my own post over at the Universal Heart Book Club.

Rebecca James' Sweet Damage thrills and surprises

Photo Credit - Alpha Reader

Rebecca James' is an Australian novelist and publishing-industry celebrity whose difficult-to-pigeonhole first novel, Beautiful Malice, became a publishing sensation and her life the thing that all writers dream of. That novel was the subject of a bidding war, and the publishing rights were eventually sold in 52 countries!

Her second book, Sweet Damage, has slipped onto the scene much more quietly, but it is a terrific read, and in many ways superior to that first sensation. It is a taut psychological thriller that slips occasionally into classic whodunit territory in its tale of Anna London, a frail, agoraphobic heiress whose life is slowly falling apart as she comes to terms with her horrific past.

As well as being immensely readable, Sweet Damage is also a fun homage to so many of the characters in film and literature who have inhabited this space of borderline insanity. I think of the films of Hitchcock and the novel Rebecca, particularly as the action in this book place takes place in an enormous mansion in Sydney's Manly, and its rooms, corridors and attics are all an intrinsic part of the storyline.

James' characters seem so quintessentially Australian to me that I wonder what other countries must make of them. Our hero is a laconic surfer boy intent on frittering  away his 20s with a series of hot girlfriendsa and hopeless jobs. He is a thoroughly believable character - indeed, I know several people I think she based him on. It is this character - Tim Ellison - who falls into the orbit of the frail and creepy Anna, and who is himself haunted by spectres that may or may not be of supernatural origin. He is on the rebound from Lilla, a sexy and sassy Manly girl who has her eye on the bigger prize and has dumped him because he doesn't earn enough money.

There is romance, inevitably and wonderfully, and also some sex, which leaves Sweet Damage in the same equivocal space as Beautiful Malice - is this adult fiction or YA? Most probably it is that new breed, "New Adult," but I am happy for Rebecca or her publisher to put me right here. This tension works, I think, very well as a narrative device. Like the book's young characters, we are never very certain what territory we are inhabiting. Is there more or less than meets the eye here?

I gave away several copies of Rebecca's first novel, and in every case the readers came back to me raving about the exciting plot and pacy story. They are all hanging out to read Sweet Damage, so she's doing something right to satisfy her fans.

If you are looking for some escapist reading with a thrilling plotline, you will absolutely love Sweet Damage. I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

4 ways Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception has taught me how to do it

It’s really, really hard to write about Seth Godin. Everybody else has done it, and done it exhaustively. In fact, there are dozens of blog posts which are basically the same as the one you are reading now. His latest book, The Icarus Deception, is so inspiring and so intensively practical that most people want to talk about the specific ways they were inspired by it.
But hopefully my impressions and specific moments of motivation are sufficiently individual to be interesting. And I hope that they will motivate you to read the book for yourself and come away with your own action list.
So here are the lessons I have come away with, having just finished The Icarus Deception:

1.    Do things for freeSeth talks about his childhood friend Jill Greenberg, who is a celebrated and successful photographer. He reminds us that, naturally enough, she didn’t start out that way. She had to get good, and she had to work hard at it. The reason she rose to  the top was because no-one was willing “to take as many pictures for no pay as Jill did.” We need to prove ourselves, and just because we work in a creative industry doesn’t mean that we don’t have to promote ourselves and market what we do. And normally those opportunities come in the shape of doing something for free for someone. Sometimes it’s a pain, and sometimes it feels like an imposition. But like I always remind other people, if we owned a curtain shop we would have to spend money on advertising ourselves – for the entire time we own and operate that shop. Coke doesn’t stop paying for ads. We can never afford to rest on our laurels.

2.    Do it like you mean it – “Organizations and co-workers notice when a single individual pours herself into something without much thought about the downside,” writes Seth. A bit of enthusiasm really pays off. A lot pays off even more. Be incredibly enthusiastic about what you do and give it your all. People will always notice, even if they don’t say anything. You can choose to just do stuff to get it out of the way, or to do stuff with passion and make it good and valuable, for yourself and others. I know how I would rather spend my time.

3.    Do it with booksSeth is a very literary gent and he recommends quite a few books. I have come away wanting to read Patti Smith’s Just Kids and the work of Brene Brown.

One of the books Seth Godin recommends we read

4.    Do it so you stand out – Allow yourself to be vulnerable. This is what makes us special, what makes us stand out from the crowd. This is the measure of the artist. The minute you present something to the world you make yourself incredibly vulnerable. Keep doing it.

Walter Mason's appearances at the 2013 Melbourne Writers' Festival

Walter Mason in Ho Chi Minh City

I am so chuffed because this year I am appearing for the first time at the Melbourne Writers' Festival.
And not once, but in three fabulous events that I know will be fascinating and fun.
Here are the details:

Finding Meaning
Ruth Ozeki is a novelist and Zen Buddhist priest. Jay Griffiths’ novel Wild, tells of the journey she undertook to find peace from her serious depression. Together, these inspiring women discuss with Walter Mason the paths they have travelled to find peace and meaning in their lives.
11:30 AM
Saturday 31/08/2013
Deakin Edge, Fed Square
Book tickets here

Queer literary salon       
Brilliant writer, young-man-about-town and self-proclaimed Gaysian Benjamin Law hosts a literary salon with special guests Jess McGuire, Michelle Dicinoski (Ghost Wife), Dennis Altman (End of the Homosexual), Walter Mason (Destination Saigon) and Lisa-Skye Goodes. An entertaining line-up of fabulous performances, interviews, provocative readings, and gender-bending antics will celebrate queer voices in literature with gay abandon.
8:00 PM
Saturday 31/8/2013
Toff in Town
Book tickets here

Author Claire Scobie - I'll be appearing with her at the Morning Read

The Morning Read
Start your day with Festival early bird and Big Issue books editor, Thuy On, as she hosts readings with Claire Scobie, Zane Lovitt, Annie Zaidi and Walter Mason.
10.00 AM
Sunday 1/9/2013 
Festival Hub at Beer DeLuxe

Zane Lovitt is another of the authors at the Morning Read

Fire: A collection of stories, poems and visual images

Margaret River Press has made a name for itself since it entered the Australian literary landscape so recently. Its director Caroline Wood has been applying herself consistently and diligently, creating a small list of intriguing books with an emphasis on Western Australia but with an interest that extends across the nation and even internationally. I have been to the launch of their first short story collection in Sydney, and have watched with interest how Lynne Leonhardt, the first author to publish a novel with the Press, has made her presence felt at places such as the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne.

The Press is not afraid to produce the quirky and offbeat books that small presses are famous for, and in this tradition comes Fire, a glossy and exceedingly diverse collection of stories, poems and visual images based around the theme of fire. Fire is, of course, one of the great Australian literary tropes, and I was fascinated to see here just what creative types have done with it. These are more intimate items, too, many being personal responses to an experience of fire in the Margaret River, a firsthand recollection in poetry, prose and photography of a primal fear.

 I was most surprised to see the work of Christian Waller, a Theosophical artist working in the 1930s, and her exquisite art-deco print depicting the 'Lords of the Fire'. That an obscurity such as this should find its way into the collection proved to me its worth as a truly original Australian literary artefact.

If you were a foreign visitor and opened up the book to the page, say, that contained Paul Hetherington’s beautifully impressionistic poem bushfire, you would be immersed instantly into a landscape ravaged some time ago by fire, and renewing now, suddenly and beautifully, though still anchored down by the remnants of its previous destruction. Anyone who has spent any time in the Australian bush would recognise the landscape, and absorb Hetherington’s poetic power.

The temporary death of a forest is recorded vividly in Janet Jackson’s exquisitely simple poem The Alkali Cleansing, thrilling in its anthropomorphised concepts grafted onto the landscape, along with its strange absences. And sitting amongst all this poetry I was struck by the simple but heartbreaking accounts of interviews with residents and victims of fires provided by the Margaret River & Districts Historical Society. There is poetry, too, in its parsed back and unadorned testimony. These are presented in the perfect place in the collection, and they made me wonder why such practical simplicity is not more often a part of literary collections.

When we read collections of this sort (and I confess I rarely do) our attention sometimes drift and we put them aside, conscious that the idea and execution are good, but the whole production insufficient to retain our attention. This is not the case with Fire. Under Delys Bird’s fine editorial hand it is almost a thrilling read, and its delightful diversity bring wonder after wonder with each selection.

This is an important book for anyone interested in how the Australian landscape (and yes, I am aware that this is a contested and problematic word) is negotiated and depicted in various creative media. From Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s arresting painting 'Bush Fire Dreaming', with its carefully precise catalogue description, to Peter Hill’s poetic diary entry about walking through a fire-ravaged Australian wilderness, Fire provokes and surprises and provides rich pickings for any student of Australian literature.

I am glad it has been produced, and it is one that shall forever remain on my “Auslit” shelf. I am certain I will be returning to it again.

A beautiful gift from a student

Last week I went to visit a High School where the students are studying my book Destination Saigon.
It was so wonderful to meet them all and hear about their plans for the future.
After my talk they presented me with a gift - an exquisite drawing made by one of the students, inspired by my book!

I was so touched by the gift, and so impressed by the skill of the artist Josh. I will treasue this gift for the rest of my days, and it is already hanging on my wall!
Thank you Josh - I don't know your last name, but everyone agrees that you are a very talented young man. I don't know your last name, but if you want full credit on the site send me an email and let me know. I wish you many great things, and know that with your talent you will succeed at everything you try your hand at.

The Pagoda Tree Book Trailer

So excited for my friend Claire Scobie, who has recently published her first novel The Pagoda Tree.
The novel tells the story of the Devadasi, the sacred dancers of India.
Claire is, of course, the author of Last Seen in Lhasa, a legendary travel book about Tibet which is still frequently cited as one of the greatest travel books of our time.
The book trailer for The Pagoda Tree has just been launched, and it's as gorgeous as the book itself.
Have a look here:

Walter Mason chats with Maeve O'Meara at Ashfield Library, October 29

Maeve O'Meara

Foodies unite!

Maeve O'Meara, television celebrity, tour leader, author and the glam godmother of adventurous Australian eating is joining me in October for a chat about food, community and our mutual love of dining out.
Maeve is a tremendous personality, and has long been one of my personal heroes. She has  brought "ethnic eating" right into suburban Australian homes, and has made an incredible contribution to the success of our multicultural nation. Maeve knows that food can bring people together in a very special, and quite fundamental, way, and I look forward to learning more about her and her personal philosophy during this intimate chat.

This is a free event, and I do encourage you to come along to hear one of Australia's most fascinating women. Put it into your calendar now!!

Full details:

Authors at Ashfield: Walter Mason and 

Maeve O'Meara

Tuesday October 29, 2013 - 1:00pm

Conversations with Walter Mason this month features SBS foodie and author Maeve O'Meara talking about her food experiences, writing life and more. Food Safari and other books will be available for sale and signing.

Part of October's Good Food Month


At the Activity Rooms, Ashfield Council/Library,  260 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield

About 5 minutes walk from Ashfield Station.

Plenty of amazing restaurants nearby for you to have your own food safari. 

A nearby restaurant in Ashfield

Some books bought abroad

Reading over the wonderful guest post from writing teacher Jan Cornall, I was lead to reminiscing about the books I have bought while abroad.
I too love visiting bookshops when I travel overseas, and find the assortment of English language books on offer quite tantalising. That way I end up reading things I would otherwise never have purchased.  Accidental finds that stick in my mind are Memoirs of a Geisha, The Beach and The Power of Positive Thinking.
I went to my pile (actually, piles) of unread books and pulled out a few that I have purchased overseas recently:

The Truth of Nature by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - Buddhadasa is one of Thailand's modern Buddhist saints, and his work has always been popular in the English-speaking world. His monastery in Southern Thailand, Suan Mokkh, has attracted Western men seeking to become Buddhist monastics, and Buddhadasa's pared-back reading of the Buddhadharma that emphasised simplicity and ecology made him particularly simpatico to the Western sensibility. I found this nice new edition of one of his English-language books at Kinokuniya in Bangkok, which always has a really interesting selection of books about Buddhism.

Year Zero by Francois Ponchaud - I bought this photocopied edition of one of the most interesting accounts of Pol Pot's Cambodia at a bookshop in Phnom Penh. It is a quite primitive production, but it only cost me $2 and I have always wanted to read the book. Don't hate me. My own book Destination Saigon is sold in pirated editions in Vietnam and I am kind of flattered by the attention.

On Happiness by Kenny Png and Jeremy Fernando - OK, Jeremy Fernando - voted Asia's sexiest philosopher by a Singaporean women's magazine - is a friend of mine, but I did actually buy this. I was at a conference in Singapore recently and this book was for sale at the conference book table. I always like to buy my friends' books, and I hadn't read this one yet.

Autobiography of a Saint by St. Therese of Lisieux - This comes from the Livraria Sao Paulo in Macau, one of my favourite bookshops in the world. Run by the Sisters of Saint Paul, who run bookshops all over the world,  this little shop near the Macau Cathedral has an excellent selection of Catholic devotional classics, many of them, like this one, printed in India and offered at a very reasonable price. I have read several of the Saints in editions purchased at the Livraria, as well as the works of the inimitable 1950s Catholic self-help guru Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Jan Cornall on buying books abroad, writing on the plane and the joys of travel

Jan Cornall is on of Australia's most treasured teachers of creative writing, and someone who has had a profound influence on my own writing. Jan leads the most wonderful writing tours all over the world, and just before she embarks on a tour of Bali I thought I would ask her about travel writing - and reading!

Writer & teacher Jan Cornall

What is your favourite place in the world to travel?

I love travelling in SE Asia, but I have many favorites. Burma is at the top of my list at the moment. I have been twice in the last eighteen months and was particularly sad to leave in February, after I took a group there for the first Irrawaddy Writers Festival and post festival retreat among the temples of Bagan. Aung San Suu Kyi was the patron of the festival and it was wonderful to hear her speak about books and literature.

What do you think we should read while we travel?

I like to pick up books as I go. It is so interesting to see what turns up. Often I will arrive in a country with little preparation regarding reading and research but my first stop is to head for a bookshop and see what I can find. I have discovered some wonderful bookshops along the way, like L’Etranger and Yesabai bookshops in Luang Prabang, Monument Bookshop and D’s Books in Phnom Penh, even little book exchanges are great for picking up random literary treasures. I usually search out memoir, short stories, poetry by local writers, but it is interesting to see which international writers are sitting on those bookshelves. I found Diana Athill in Luang Prabang — I’d never read her before, and of course the wonderful Colin Cotterill’s crime series set in 1970s Laos. On the way home I will often download books to read on the plane. Returning from Sri Lanka this year I read Michael Ondaatje’s Running in The Family, a memoir set in his childhood days there. He is one of my favorite writers, and to read him writing about the country I had just visited added an incredible depth and richness to my travel experience.

Is there any particular writing routine you follow when you travel?

Well, on a six week trip I took to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Indonesia in 2009, I made a pact that I would start writing on the plane in Sydney and not stop until my return. The promise I kept instilled a habit I keep to this day, that as soon as I get on a plane, boat or tuk tuk, I pull my note book out and take notes - describing all I see, hear, taste, touch, smell. If I don’t, I know I will forget it. My notes become the beginnings of poems, short stories - I may even write them on the spot - and later use them for longer works like the travel memoir I am slowly working from that 2009 trip, which follows the footsteps of my literary hero Marguerite Duras through Vietnam.

Can you tell us a couple of travel books you love and would recommend we read?

The Kindness of Strangers is a book of travel stories put out by Lonely Planet. I often come back and re-read different pieces to remind me of the joy of travel.
One travel writer I can’t get enough of at the moment is Tahir Shah. I picked up his book In Arabian Nights on our Moroccan desert writer’s trip in January this year and have been reading him ever since. His descriptions and stories about travelling to Morocco and finding a new home there give the best background to the life and culture of his adopted country. In this book he is told to “find the story of your heart” and he travels up and down the breadth of Morocco meeting storytellers as he goes. About half way through the book he casually mentions that his father was Idries Shah, the famous Sufi teacher and author, whose books on psychology and spirituality were on all our bookshelves in the 70s.

What are a couple of sacred sites in the world that continue to inspire you?

Being a student of Buddhism of course I love Borobodur (Java), Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Shwedagon (Burma), but my special sacred sites tend to be small and less known, like the tiny forest temple we visit on our Backstage Bali trip in Abang, where statues carved eighty years ago from tree ferns have grown into wild and wonderful shapes. Not far away at the Bali Aga village of Trunyan, is a cemetery where bodies are left in the open air beneath a perfumed tree that dissipates any bad odour. To me this is a special place to pay respect to the notion of impermanence and make dedications to sentient beings who have passed on to other worlds.

Is there an art or performance space anywhere in the world that you find particularly interesting?

The most interesting places I have performed were in Indonesian villages during a performance art festival called Perfurbance.  For five days we were billeted in villager’s houses while the performances would take place in locations around the town: rice paddies, orchards, cemetery, back yards, town square etc.  We did this in Gemblangan Village after the 2006 earthquake and also at Mt Merapi before its deadly eruption in 2010.
As far as more well known sites go, last year I took part in the Northern Kingdoms Poetry Festival, at Siem Reap in Cambodia, where, with a small group of local and international poets, I read/sang my work in the ruins of Angkor Wat. I’d written a poem the night before in smot style. Smot is a form of sung poetry practiced by monks and lay people, often sung at funerals to celebrate the life of the deceased person, but also about life’s hardships. My smot was for my mother who had passed away some years before while I was in Asia when complicated visa arrangements meant I was unable to return to attend her funeral. At that time I began performing small rituals for her in Asian temples, a habit I continue to this day. As a result whenever I arrive in an Asian country and visit a temple, my mother Marjorie is always there to greet me.

Jan Cornall leads Writers Journey Creative Adventures in Bali, Fiji, Laos, Burma, Morocco.

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