Jasmine Rae - If I Want To - Review

When I mention that I am a country music fan people often look surprised. I guess I am not really the country music “type.” But really they shouldn’t be surprised – my country roots run deep. I am, after all, a country town boy, and some of my most formative musical experiences involved country. My grandmother was a great fan of country and western, and I grew up listening to Jim Reeves and Tom T Hall.  Of course, her greatest passion was Slim Dusty, and every year we would go along to his touring show as it made its way up to North Queensland (still a stronghold of country music fandom). I remember the adrenalin of those nights as the audience bonded once again with their beloved Slim and swooned to his glamorous wife Joy McKean and screamed with laughter at the mildly obscene antics of Chad Morgan.

But country is very different now. Gone is the overt nationalism and self-conscious regionalism of Slim and his ilk. Instead it has morphed into something more global. And Australia is leading the way in these new forms of country-influenced music which owe a debt to soul, R&B and classic rock as much as to bluegrass and cowboy music. Perhaps the greatest and most talented proponent of this new sound is Jasmine Rae, who has just released a new album, If I Want To.

Petite, beautiful and possessed of a sassy good humour, Jasmine is beloved of audiences across Australia, and has built a fine career and even finer reputation across two previous albums. But If I Want To brings her into a whole new class. The title single, the first off the album, is a stunner that has already earned her some mainstream praise. A laid-back piece of easy country rock, it pleases listeners across genres, and I praise it when I say it reminds me of the best of late 1980s-era Australian soft rock. It could easily have been recorded by Daryl Braithwaite, Wendy Matthews or Jenny Morris and it has quickly become one of the most-played tracks on my ipod.

If I Want To is such a strong album that it engages from the first, even most casual, listen. I had it on in my house when my cleaning lady was at work, and she ran right out and bought a copy – it’s just that kind of music. The diversity of the tracks reflect Jasmine’s own characteristic moods and modes of performance, from the cheeky country-camp of 'Bad Boys Get Me Good' and 'Why’d You Tie the Knot' through to the immensely moving ballads 'First Song' and 'Just Don’t Ask Me How I Am'. Jasmine’s voice slides from a fragile, almost childlike, quality into a powerful cry of anguish as the album shifts masterfully from whimsy to raw emotion and back into the moderately sexy playfulness of something like 'Lazy Boy'. Her vocal range and expression is incredibly impressive, and is as good live as it is on disc.

If you’re never going to buy a country music album, reconsider for just a moment and have a listen to If I Want To. You will be charmed by Jasmine's voice and you will fall instantly in love with her wonderful songs. This is easily the Australian album of the year and it will please listeners of all stripes.

The Magical Western Buddhist Monk - Allan Bennett, or Ananda Metteyya

Allan Bennett/Ananda Metteyya

With an upcoming exhibition featuring some of Aleister Crowley's artwork I have been reading Lawrence Sutin's fascinating psychosexual biography of Crowley, Do What Thou Wilt. In its pages I have come across a name vaguely familiar to me: Allan Bennett.

Allan Bennett in pre-Buddhist days

Born in London in 1872, Bennett was one of Crowley's closest confidantes in his youth, and was said by Crowley to possess impressive magical powers.He was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

But Bennett's career as esoericist and magician changed course when he began living as a Buddhist monk in Burma, when he went by the name of Ananda Metteyya. In 1905 he was living at a temple in Rangoon when Crowley, who had once flirted with Buddhism himself, came to visit. Just a couple of days spent with the Western monk was enough to prove to Crowley that Buddhism wasn't for him, and he became more convinced to pursue his own philosophy of individualist magical practice.

Ananda Metteyya

Bennett/Metteya seemed to be living a devoted life as a monastic, though the harsh living conditions had caused him to look frail and sickly, and his presence as a western man living as a Buddhist monk was a thorn in the side of the British authorities who, according to Sutin, "viewed askance any embrace by British citizens of native belief." Though the British colonials must, by 1905, have become a little accustomed to Western spiritual wanderers. They were pretty adept at chasing them away from Tibet, and various Theosophically-influenced adventurers had been travelling around India and Burma for a couple of decades.

Bennett/Metteyya is said to have been only the second Englishman to have been ordained as a Buddhist monk in the Theravadin tradition, and he brought the tradition back to his home country, establishing a Buddhist mission in the United Kingdom.

New Books August 2013 - Fiction

For someone who doesn't read much fiction I have certainly gathered together quite a collection over the past few months. Looks like lots of lovely escapist reading :-)
From the top:

Various novels by Barbara Pym - I heard a show on the BBC about Barbara Pym's centenary, and I decided it was time I read her. She sounds very 'me'. I am always being told that Nancy Mitford fans will love Barbara Pym, so I am going to test that.

Various novels by James Runcie - On that same podcast about Barbara Pym they interviewed James Runcie, a huge Pym fan. He was so entertaining, and the description of his own novels was so intriguing, that I decided I had to read him as well.  

Radio Days by Sumner Locke Elliott - I did my honours thesis on Sumner Locke Elliott, and this is the only book of his I couldn't find to read. It has always been extremely rare, so I was surprised to see a copy just sitting on the shelves at Berkelouw's on Norton Street. I love Elliott, and am looking forward to reading this curiosity. It was edited by his biographer - and my friend - Sharon Clarke, so that makes it doubly interesting.

The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll - I am always being led to read Carroll, but have never had him in the house. Until now.

Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood

Nor the Years Condemn by Justin Sheedy - Justin Sheedy is a dynamic Australian writer, and has been my mate for 24 years.

Forever Rumpole by John Mortimer - I adore Mortimer and I adore Rumpole.

Me Cheeta  - I have wanted to read this for ages, but it takes me a while to act on my desires. Sounds terribly camp, and that's a good thing.

The Gospel According to Luke by Emily Maguire - Emily is a friend of mine and a writer I admire very much. I am slowly catching up on all her titles.

Anthem by Ayn Rand - Don't hate on me. Who could resist an Ayn Rand graphic novel? Bet you couldn't.

Aleph by Paulo Coelho - I have never been able to make it all the way through a Paulo Coelho novel. Wish me luck.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - Because I never have. But don't hold your breath for a report on this one.

Baron Corvo

Hubert's Arthur by Baron Corvo - A rare piece of Corvine literature which, until now, I have never been able to find at a decent price. I snapped this one up.

Lord Berners

Far From the Madding War and Count Omega by Lord Berners - Two more rarities by the divine Berners, Nancy Mitford's best friend, composer and really quite fabulous writer.

City of Night by John Rechy - I read this over and over when I was seventeen - I literally couldn't believe it. Famously raunchy, it was a revelation to my little Queer mind, and I remember it blew the minds of everyone I passed it to. I haven't read this since I was about 18, and I have decided to become a Rechy expert (quite a good niche, don't you think?) and this is where I will start.

An evening with Claire Scobie

Claire Scobie

Just back from an evening with travel writer and now novelist Claire Scobie at Waverley Library. Claire has recently published her first novel, The Pagoda Tree, and she was telling some of the culture, history and motivation behind writing the book.

If you haven't heard about it yet, The Pagoda Tree is based on the stories of the Devadasi, India's sacred dancers and prostitutes dedicated to the service of Shiva. Claire has set the novel in the 18th century, when these women still enjoyed considerable power and prestige, but were beginning to interact with Westerners for the first time. She said that she had been inspired to write about these women after reading a story about one of the last remaining Devadasi in the newspaper. This was a sad story - the woman in question was shunned and treated like a prostitute, and she had HIV. Claire, a historian and journalist, was first considering writing a full-length non-fiction book about these women, but she decided that she didn't want to write a book with such a sad outcome. So instead she conceived the idea of a novel, and here it is six years later.

We saw some remarkable photographs of the big temple of Thanjavur, the sacred precinct in which these women served and the setting for The Pagoda Tree. It is dedicated to the deity of Shiva Nataraj, the dancing incarnation of Shiva.

Shiva Nataraj

The walls of the temple are carved with the images of these dancing women, and on one wall is engraved the names and addresses of these women from the 11th century. The dancing once practiced by these sacred courtesans now survives as Bharatanatyam dancing, and is still taught in India.

She also visited the present Prince of Thanjavur, Babaji Raja Bhonsle, and he met with her in the quarters that were once the royal harem, another of her novel’s settings. The Senior Prince runs an e-publishing company and is rather desperate for more tourists to visit his decaying palace, as he can’t afford the upkeep.

Claire spoke quite a lot about writing and the creative impulse. She suggested that writers who are stuck should turn to paintings and art for inspiration. She was herself inspired by historical images of the Devadasi, and says that spending time with art of the period in which you are writing can be quite valuable.

Here are some more of Claire’s tips for the aspiring novelist:

-  Read books about writing and attend writing classes. Starting out, Claire had no idea how to approach writing a novel, and so she spent some time educating herself. She says we can learn to become better writers, and that writing is a craft like any other that can be improved with education and practice.

-  Find a writing buddy – someone who will challenge you and keep you on the straight and narrow.

-    Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

-    Do all your writing in the morning and all your admin in the afternoon.

-    Don’t underestimate the impact of sound. Try recording the sounds of places as you research your writing.

Claire will be appearing in Darwin on the 21st August. More details here

Claire and I will both be appearing at the Morning Read at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Sunday 1st September. More details here

These I have Loved

Today I received this excerpt from a Rupert Brooke poem in the mail from my friend Stella.

Rupert Brooke

What a lovely thing it is to receive a poem in the mail! There should be  more of it. I think I am going to start doing it.
Stella told me about the poem on the weekend. The phrase that rung out for her, the thing that Brooke cited as a thing he loved, was "The benison of hot water." I loved the sound of it, but I only had half an idea of what a "benison" was. Turns out it's a blessing.
I was struck by the image of "last year's ferns" - a smell I can almost summon perfectly.
I must read Brooke again.
Here is the excerpt - a beautifully wistful piece of poetic memoir:

These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,

Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;

Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust

Of friendly bread; and many tasting food;

Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;

And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;

And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,

Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;

Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon

Smooth away trouble; and the male kiss

Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is

Shining and free; blue massing clouds; the keen

Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;

The benison of hot water; furs to touch;

The good smell of old clothes; and other such—

The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,

Hair’s fragrance, and the must reek that lingers

About dead leaves and last year’s ferns…

   ~ Rupert Brooke

Destination Cambodia at Cronulla Library, November 19

If you're in the South of Sydney here's your chance to come and hear me talk about my new book, Destination Cambodia.

I will be showing lots of lovely pics and telling some of the fascinating stories behind the book. I can promise you it will be great fun, and I would love to see you at this event.

Walter Mason talks about Destination Cambodia at Cronulla Library 

Thursday November 19, 2013 starting at 6.30 pm.

A palm sugar farmer, Cambodia

The palm sugar farmer

When I travel I meet odd people. Quiet, calm men, normally, who for some reason decide to take me under  their wing and treat me with enormous kindness, for no reason at all.

Sugar palms

One day I had travelled to the Cambodian countryside to attend my friend's family ceremony. In the afternoon we had nothing to do at all, and so a young sugar farmer decided he would take me around on his afternoon chores, collecting the sap of the sugar palm which was later turned into palm sugar over a fire.

Collecting sap from sugar palms

It was a hot, hot afternoon and my friend,  the monk Sina, came with us. He had with him his treasured digital camera, and took lots of snaps of us.

The farmer and the monk, Sina

The farmer said almost nothing. It wouldn't have mattered if he had, because I knew no Khmer. But he smiled at me and took great care that I was always comfortable. There was something beautiful about him, though he was dressed in his work clothes. I fancied I could do that forever, spending the close of an afternoon walking around the dry rice fields gathering the sugar palm sap.

Monk Sina

My new book, Destination Cambodia, is due for release in September 2013. It is filled with stories of my time in Cambodia, one of the most fascinating countries in Asia. Please pre-order a copy at your local bookseller - it is published by Allen & Unwin.
Do you follow me on Facebook? My author page always has fascinating things on it. Join us at  https://www.facebook.com/waltermasonauthor

Digital DIY at the NSW Writers' Centre

This year I am proud to be a part of the Digital DIY seminar at the NSW Writers' Centre.
If you are a writer looking to explore the options for publishing your work in the digital space, this two-day seminar will be very helpful.
Full details:

Digital DIY: Reaching Your Readers with Ebooks and Print on Demand

Who: Linda Funnell, Anna Maguire, David Henley and Guests

Anna Maguire, one of the seminar's conveners


When: Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 November, 10am – 4pm
Cost: Full price:
$350; Member: $250; Conc Member: $210
Want to take control of your publishing? Interested in ebooks? Unsure about Print-on-demand?
This two-day seminar covers the nuts and bolts of doing your own digital publishing, from identifying your audience to formats, uploads and promotion.
Convenor Linda Funnell has extensive experience as a publisher and will introduce you to the key points of taking a book to readers with a series of expert speakers including: Anna Maguire (@Digireado) on preparing your files and ebook production; David Henley on the possibilities of digital publishing; and author Walter Mason on the how to use social media effectively.

Linda Funnell, convener

Day One
  • You’ve got a book – what is it and who is it for?
  • Ebooks or print on demand or both?
  • Editing essentials: Before you even think about uploading, think about editing
  • Producing Your Book
Day Two
  • Production: preparing your files, making your book, key decisions re conversion
  • Getting the word out: marketing and promotion
  • Success stories from a panel of authors
This seminar will suit anyone who is starting to think seriously about publishing their work. Participants will learn the key steps they will need to undertake to publish an ebook or print on demand edition, from the importance of editing to choosing a supplier to promotion and marketing. It is less suitable for writers developing highly illustrated works such as children’s picture books.

Online Booking here

Walter Mason

Infusing Everything You Do With Personality

Now is the time to show your personality
One of the most constantly inspiring podcasts I listen to is Srini Rao’s Blogcast FM.

Podcast host Srini Rao

He always interviews the most fascinating people, and I almost always get some ideas and inspiration from each episode. Even when it seems like a subject I won’t be interested in I will sit through it because Srini has a knack for bringing out more universally applicable advice from even the most specialised and arcane subject. Such was the case when I listened to him talking to handicraft entrepreneur Megan Auman, where the designated subject was “pricing strategies for your business.”

Now, despite the dull promise of this title, it turned out that Megan Auman is a brilliant and inspiring woman, and this podcast was an absolute goldmine of really practical and useful information that almost anyone could apply.

Megan Auman

I urge you to have a listen to it here.

One of the pieces of advice that Megan gave was to infuse everything you do with your own personality.
Now, this is something that most shy people find very difficult to do, and yet it is a valuable key to creating and performing in a successful manner. Ever sat through a dull and pointless business or academic presentation? The reason you didn’t respond is because the presenter has made no effort to personalise it or to charge it with the energy of their own personality. In every case, attempts to make things seem valueless, objective and universal results in them becoming dull, unconvincing and unmemorable. No-one ever means it when they say they want “just the facts, please.”

One of the great achievements of the post-modern movement was to acknowledge that in everything we do we are, in fact, imposing some kind of personal view. To my mind it is always best to be honest about it – it only becomes problematic if we try to pretend we are speaking for everyone, or presenting some kind of incontrovertible truth.

The ‘fractured age” that has emerged in the last thirty years, which some commentators bemoan, means simply that we are now comfortable with presenting things  through our own filter. This is nowhere more obvious than in the world of spirituality and religion.

In many ways our personalities have been liberated, and we are free, perhaps for the first time in history, to write, practice religion, explore our sexuality and express our opinions in an entirely individual way, without having to apologise for it.

Here are some situations where I think infusing your personality makes all the difference:

1.    Making presentations – Particularly business or academic presentations. When I was in the corporate world, soulless, corporate-sounding and utterly unmemorable presentations were the norm. At some point I just decided: “I’m not going to be like this. If I am going to use my time and take up these people’s time, I am going to make it fun.” And so I did, and in short order my presentations became popular and sought-after. They were camp, naughty, funny but ultimately inspiring, and I found I could get away with making plainer pitches and more direct appeals for sales because what I was doing was seen as fun, not work. I will admit it was sometimes borderline, and I am certain that somewhere along the way I offended or turned off someone. But these were always in the minority, and the extra sales and “buzz” more than balanced out the risk. I have followed the same path in my academic career.

2.    Making public speeches – This is scary, but believe me when I say that by infusing your speech with a bit of enthusiasm and a lot of your personality, it’s going to be so much more entertaining for your audience and therefore less stressful for you. I think that, particularly in a business setting, people feel called to strip their presentation of any kind of personality. A fatal mistake. Play up your personal quirks and you will make your audience love you and listen to you.

3.    Blogging – I always think it pays to go out on a limb a bit with your blog, and not to always follow the advice from the professionals. My blog is a hot mess of my own passions and interests, but it seems to be paying off. Sure, it could probably have gained a greater readership in a shorter period of time if it was more focused on a single subject, but it would have been nowhere near as much fun, and people wouldn’t have realised what a complex and contradictory character I am. I always think you’re doing something right when a friend says: “Wow, I wouldn’t have shared that on a blog.”

4.    Business writing – Many business emails, letters and other communications are so poorly written and dull that they are left unread and ignored. You can still be chatty, friendly and warm while remaining totally professional. Indeed, a bit of humanity in your communications is more likely to win people over to your product or services. The age of corporate writing is over. Make it sound as though a real person wrote it.

5.    Creative writing – I occasionally read something that is perfect in every way but is missing one essential ingredient – an engaging, personal voice. This is far more important in non-fiction, of course, as there are no characters to tell the story except for the author her/himself. Many books on fascinating subjects are spoiled because they are, quite simply, dull. I wish their authors could have been a bit more adventurous, a bit more gossipy and a little bit naughty.

6.    Meeting new people – This is so important, and the single greatest source of both opportunity and information. Try being “on” when you meet people and being at your most fascinating. This does NOT mean that you should dominate proceedings – that’s bad. But let people know that you have a personality, that you are a bit quirky and interesting. Let them see the spark in your eye. Always be on the lookout for new friends and interesting acquaintances, but secretly make yourself the most interesting person in the room. People will soon realise it and start gravitating towards you. Wear your heart on your sleeve a little so that people know you are human. And don’t answer in monosyllables or wander off in the middle of someone’s sentence, for God’s sake.

August Inspirational Conversation with crime writer P M Newton at Ultimo Library

Author P M Newton

This month I am chatting with crime writer, peace prize winner and all-round good gal P M Newton.
P M is a great agitator for social justice and out talk will be revolving around those themes.
An ex-NSW Police Officer, PM Newton has some fascinating stories to tell, and is incredibly inspirational .

inspirational conversations: searching for justice

P. M. Newton writes about the gritty side of life in Sydney’s Western suburbs. A police officer for 13 years, her work has strong themes of social justice. She won the Asher Literary Award for promoting peace in her first novel, The Old School.

Join her in conversation with Walter Mason as they discuss peace, justice and equality.

Wednesday 28 August
Ultimo Library
Book online or call 9298 3100

Free Event


Ultimo Library, Ultimo Community Centre, 40 William Henry Street Corner Harris Street Ultimo 2007

Read my review of P M Newton's book The Old School

The Penguin Australia page for The Old School

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