Felicity Castagna on YA fiction, writing and a book she wishes everyone would read

 I first met Felicity Castagna a couple of weeks before the launch of her first book, Small Indiscretions. That book of short stories inspired by her travels was so unique and so impressive that I reviewed it for the Singapore Review of Books. I am proud to call Felicity a colleague of mine at the Writing & Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. I have also watched her read/perform her work with Sweatshop. Felicity has just released her latest book, The Incredible Here and Now

I thought I would ask her a few questions about writing, travel and career advice:

Felicity Castagna

1.    Tell us about your new book, Felicity.

My new book was inspired by a lot of the YA fiction I read as a young person. I lived overseas and travelled a lot during my younger years and because of this I got exposed to a lot of YA fiction that was quite different than what’s on the market here. In particular, I read a lot of Mexican-American YA, where the vignette form is really popular and I always knew I wanted to write something in that tight poetic form one day.

Working and living in the western suburbs for the past ten years has made me realise what I wanted to apply that form to, and that’s this community. The vignette form is a wonderful vehicle for forming a picture of a whole community because it mimics the way we understand places in a series of  voices and images that, when combined, form a whole picture. I wanted to write about those ordinary-extraordinary things that I watch young people here engage in every day. Things like; break dancing in the McDonald’s parking lot at night, drooling at the Coke factory or cruising down the main streets slowly with their stereos blasting. The 15 year old protagonist Michael gets up to all these things and more as he hangs out with his mates at the charcoal chicken shop and hooks up with girls at the local pool. It’s a story that is very purposely local but I also want it to be a story where the ‘West’ becomes larger than one location, it becomes a place where stories are told about ordinary places that gain a legendary status through story telling.

2.    This is your second book– how did the process differ from your first? Was there more anxiety? Was it more difficult?

The process of writing this one was a lot easier because I never really set out to write a book, I was just playing with the vignette form and bringing my experiments to my writers’ group. I kind of just played with these little stories until I realised that these little self-contained pieces could form a larger cohesive narrative if I put them in the right order and filled in some of the gaps in the narrative.

I think I’m more anxious about the reception of this book though, not really on a national scale but on a local one. I’m writing about the community I live in and that community is seen in different ways by those who live here. The western suburbs of Sydney is extremely diverse, not just because we have the largest number of different migrant groups or languages spoken in the country but also because it is a place of great social and educational disadvantage and also the heartland of the McMansion and the aspirational classes. People have all different kinds of beliefs and ways of seeing themselves. I have a very deep love and respect for the communities this book is set in and for the people who live here and so I wanted to write a book that, particularly, the young people in this community could be proud of but I know that at the end of the day it’s just not possible to please everyone. I had this constant conflict, particularly in the revision process, between wanting to show how great this place is and also wanting to explore some of the more difficult social issues we have in the west.

3.    Tell us about a book that you wish everyone would read. 

Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood. It’s just a book with so much humanity. Not a whole lot happens but it’s such a tight, intimate portrait of the lives and relationships of the members of this one family, it’s  completely riveting just because it brings you so utterly and completely into the characters’ heads and forces you to contemplate what it means to be a human.

4.    What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to take the leap and explore their own creativity?

Don’t think just do. Later, when you’ve had a bit of practice you can refine your creative skills.

5.    What is your favourite place in the world to travel?

Indonesia. I love the way it is so many countries within one nation. It just has such an incredible diversity of languages, landscapes and cultural practices.

6.    What was a great gift – a break or a piece of advice - someone gave you early on in your writing journey?

I think the best piece of advice I got early on in my career was ‘Don’t tell the reader what to think.’ When you’re young and your writing skills are just beginning to be honed, you want to write about all those issues that make you passionate and you want others to be just as passionate about them, you have this driving urge to make the reader see the world and all its injustices exactly the way that you do but no one wants to be told what to think and readers will always resist having a message stuffed down their throats.  Much later, I read an article by Shaun Tan in which he argued that the writer’s job is to offer the reader a perfectly formed question. That’s the antidote to telling the reader what to think. If you can make your work ask the right questions then you can make the reader come up with the answers themselves.

Felicity Castagna


Buy Felicity's book and other great Giramondo titles here: www.giramondo.com
Have a look at her personal website here: www.felicitycastagna.com
Access the free National Curriculum focussed teaching program and resources for The Incredible Here and Now here: www.incrediblestories.net
In October Felicity is teaching a course on Shaping the Short Story at the NSW Writers' Centre. More details and online enrolment here.

A spiritual journey through Cambodia - Swedenborg Centre - October 26

Swedenborg Association of Australia
North Ryde Group - Telephone: (02) 9888 1066
website: www.swedenborg.com.au

Spiritual Journey Through Cambodia

Presented by Walter Mason

FRIDAY 25TH OCTOBER 2013 at 7.45pm

1 Avon Road, North Ryde
Cost: $7; concession $5 (including refreshments)

Walter Mason leads us on a Spiritual Journey Through Cambodia.

Take the road less ordinary through a land most extraordinary as Walter Mason shows images and tells stories of his adventures in Cambodia, the setting for his latest book, Destination Cambodia.

From the crowded Buddhist monasteries to the ancient mysteries of the temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia is a place that has excited the Western imagination for centuries.

Through his unique insight developed from many years visiting and exploring the nation of the Khmer, Walter will bring us some of the stories, characters and settings that help illuminate this beautiful and resilient country.
Walter Mason is a writer, spiritual tourist and spreader of joy. His first book "Destination Saigon," a spiritual travel memoir about Vietnam, was named one of the ten best travel books of 2010 by the Sydney Morning Herald. His next book, "Destination Cambodia," was released in September 2013.

Walter is associated with the University of Western Sydney's prestigious Writing and Society Research Group, currently completing his PhD on the history of self-help literature in Australia. You can find out more about him at www.waltermason.com.

Walter Mason in Cambodia

6 inspiring pieces of music from Avril Carruthers

Psychotherapist, healer and author Avril Carruthers is my October guest for the 
Inspirational Conversation at Ultimo Library. Avril is a fascinating woman, and you can book your free place for this event here.

In the meantime, I thought I would ask Avril what music inspired her. She got back to me with some beautiful pieces:

1. Gabriel's Oboe by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Mission.

2. Prayer in Passing by Anoushka Shankar, from the album Rise.

3. Le Lac by Bruno Coulais from the movie Himalaya: L'enfance d'un chef.

4. Djan Djan by Mamadou Diabate from the album Djan Djan.

5. C Major Prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier, played by Darron Flagg in the movie Baghdad Cafe.

6. The Hour by Joseph Tawadros from the album The Hour of Separation.

And one more for the road....

7. Jai Ho by A.R. Rahman from the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Transpersonal psychotherapist Avril Carruthers is the author of Let Your Past Go and Live and Freedom From Toxic Relationships. She holds regular workshops and has been in practice for over twenty years. She is also a film reviewer. Avril will be my guest at Inspirational Conversations at Ultimo Library at 6pm Wednesday the 30th of October. You can book your free place at this event here.

Cambodia article in October issue of Good Reading magazine

The October issue of Good Reading magazine should be in stores any day now.

This is the cover you have to look for

Do grab a copy - not only is it filled with reviews of all the latest books, but it also features a three-page article by me about the process of writing my latest book, Destination Cambodia.

A sneak preview of the article

Well worth checking out, I think!

Creative Non-Fiction Festival 2013

I am proud to announce that I am part of this year's Creative Non-Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers' Centre that is being put together by the fabulously energetic and talented Benjamin Law.

If you're a non-fiction writer, or even just thinking of beginning a non-fiction project, then this Festival will have much to interest you. It's going to be an incredible day, and I know that tickets will sell fast.


Creative Non-Fiction Festival 2013

The NSW Writers’ Centre presents the Creative Non-Fiction Festival, curated by Benjamin Law (Good Weekend, frankie) on Saturday 2 November, 2013.

Join some of Australia’s best journalists, memoirists, columnists and editors for discussions on ethics, the craft of writing non-fiction, and how to seduce an editor with the perfect pitch.

Speakers include Monica Attard, Jane Cadzow, Trent Dalton, Delia Falconer, Clementine Ford, Walter Mason, Brendan Shanahan, John van Tiggelen and Jason Treuen.

Pricing Information:
Members: $55 ~ Concession Members: $45 ~ Non Members: $80

Ticket sales open Thursday 19 September.

Destination Cambodia

My new book, Destination Cambodia, is out and available online and in all good bookstores in Australia.

Two and a half years in the making, Destination Cambodia is an affectionate, whimsical and deeply personal account of my journeys through Cambodia, a country that has enchanted me for seventeen years.

Published by Allen & Unwin.


 Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom

By Walter Mason    

AUD $24.99inc. GST

Other titles by this author
Walter Mason's profile

Join intrepid traveller, Walter Mason - author of Destination Saigon - on a colourful adventure to one of the world's hottest new destinations. Meet taxi drivers, writers, hip -hop stars and monks as he traverses this extraordarily beautiful country.


The ancient and mysterious ruins of Cambodia have long captured the imagination of visitors, more so now than ever before. In Destination Cambodia, Walter Mason charts an affectionate, intimate and deeply personal look at a Kingdom that has drawn him back again and again since his youth.

Whether he's watching young monks recite the Buddha's life stories, visiting shamans and fortune tellers, or discovering the darker alleys of Phnom Penh with a romantic novelist and a world-weary street hustler, Walter takes the reader straight to the heart of this famously unknowable country. As heat, dust and weariness take their toll, he remains alive to the charms, and even seductions, of a place that was once a byword for misery and human suffering.

Destination Cambodia takes us on a joyful and constantly fascinating literary journey in which Cambodia is vibrant and its people excited about the future while never denying their haunted past.

Walter Mason's distinctive voice, his upfront knowledge of Cambodia and wicked sense of humour meet in this riotous celebration of a remarkable and resilient nation, which has become a great tourist destination.

ISBN:     9781742376622
Australian Pub.:     September 2013
Publisher:     Allen & Unwin
Imprint:     Allen & Unwin
Subject:     Travel Writing 

The Lifted Brow - Issue 19

The latest issue of The Lifted Brow

Well, I have finally made it into The Lifted Brow, Australia's hippest literary mag.

My listing in The Lifted Brow - proof!

Admittedly it is a short piece - more a haiku, really, on the fascinating subject of waterless urinals. But damn it's good - and well worth reading!

I am not going to preview it here because I really want you to buy this issue and help support new Australian writing. I probably don't need to tell you that literary mags struggle to survive in Australia. But they are an essential part of our writing ecosystem, and they encourage and support new talent, as well as supplying a platform for more established voices. And they are just so much fun! I love opening up the latest issue of The Lifted Brow and never really knowing what on earth I will discover.

Sam Cooney, editor and publisher of The Lifted Brow, is one of a small clutch of Australian literary hearthrobs, and is in his own right an exceedingly eccentric and fascinating writer.

Sam Cooney

1He also curates live shows and "events" that are attached to the magazine and are part of its cultural expression. It's an exciting model, and one that encourages fusion between music, performance and writing.

You can read more about The Lifted Brow, order the latest issue and subscribe here

Read an interview with Sam Cooney here

New Books September 2013 - Spirituality

This looks like being a fun month!
Step away, cynical friends - this month I am giving in to my inner woo woo with a stack of fabulous books exploring matters of the spirit. From the top:

Crystal Basics by Brenda Rosen - Nothing says "1980s New Age" like crystals, and this is my natural spiritual home. Admit it, you are drawn to certain stones and can't explain why. I'll be doing some moonstone rebalancing this month.

All in One, One in All by Thich Nhat  Hanh - A Thich Nhat Hanh book published in Singapore that I didn't even know existed.

Only Love is Real by Dr. Brian Weiss - A past-life recall classic, I have never read it before.

Wicca by Vivianne Crowley - Though Wicca has intrigued me since I was a teenager, I have never really explored it or read about it in any great depth. This looks like a good introductory guide. I was definitely a witch in a past life.

Karma by Phra Bhasakorn Bhavilai - A Thai book written by a Buddhist monk, I don't think I've ever read a book-length exploration of karma before It looks intriguing. Time to get things right in this lifetime.

Artists' Journals and Scrapbooks by Lynne Perrella - I count creativity books as spirtuality. When I worked at a New Age bookstore books on creativity were always big sellers. This is a gorgeous illustrated book showing the amazing things artists do to their notebooks. I am not that talented, but I can dream.

Radiating Loving-Kindness by Thabyekan Sayadaw - This was a freebie I got at a temple in Singapore. I am genuinely interested in this subject, and see it as one of the cornerstones of my spiritual practice. And Sayadaws are always pretty tough about these things - I need that. But it does say I need to do Vipassana meditation, which scares me.

Your Guardian Angel by Claire Nahmad - A practical book on connecting with angels. You can stop laughing now. I think it's interesting. And lots of fascinating people spoke with angels, cf Emanuel Swedenborg.

Amen by Gretta Vosper - I saw Gretta a couple of years ago when she was here in Australia, and she is a pretty amazing woman. Her radical vision of a new post-Christianity is about as out-there as it's possible to get. This is a book about praying even if you don't believe in anything. I have explored this idea as well, so Iam very interested to read what she has to say.

Paticcasamuppada by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - I bought this second-hand at the Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok, and it looks pretty full on. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu was one of the most revered of modern Buddhist masters in Thailand, and his stuff can get pretty complicated. But complicated reading is good for me. Self or no-self? Who knows? Perhaps I will after I have finished this.

The Path to Peace by Venerable Ajahn Chah - Ajahn Chah was another of the great Thai Buddhist icons of the 20th century. He was a remarkable character and I have always admired the gruff simplicity of his teachings. It's all about the correct path of practice - he was pretty hardcore.

Thai Taxi Talismans by Dale Konstanz - If you have ever caught a taxi in Thailand you will know that most are travelling shrines, their dashboards converted into little altars, some of them quite elaborate. Some genius had the idea of photographing, and this looks like a brilliant guide to Thai folk religion. I love the Chinese influence, with the fat laughing Buddha Maitreya much in evidence.

I Am Wishes Fulfilled Meditation CD by Wayne Dyer - I saw the gorgeous Dr. Dyer when he was in Sydney recently for the I Can Do It! Conference. He said he still follows the meditation on this CD daily, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Naturally, I haven't even unwrapped the plastic. But this is  the month.

Amazing Grace CD by Cecilia - Another one recommended by Wayne Dyer. I am a sucker for spiritual songs, and this CD has em all - including Amazing Grace sung with whale song. You can't get much more New Age than that. I love it.

Think & Grow Rich Action Pack by Napoleon Hill - Hill's classic pops up constantly in my doctoral dissertation on self-help writing, so I am always interested to see spin-offs from his classic book. This seems to have the text plus extra exercises. I am confused. I will read it and see.

The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity by Rahula - This looks like a wonderful curiosity, with an introduction by Arthur C. Clarke!

Tune In by Sonia Choquette - Sonia is an eccentric and a star, and I just love this woman!

The glorious Sonia Choquette

The Joy House Film Festival

One of the films at the festival

Still from "Grandma" - one of the films at the festival

This weekend my friend, actor and author Joy Hopwood, is putting on the Joy House Film Festival, and I am so excited to be going.

The "Joy House Film Festival" debuts this Saturday at The Concourse's Urban Screen @ 3.30pm to 5pm. 
(409 Victoria Ave, Chatswood.)

Still from "Wally" - one of the festival selections

Andy Minh Trieu - one of the festival judges

They are positive representations of stories with a theme of JOY, giving a platform for emerging filmmakers, especially multicultural, Indigenous and our youth. 10 of the best submissions will be showcased. 

Jeff Field - one of the festival judges

Guest judges are 2DayFm's Geoff Field and Channel Nine's Andy Minh Trieu
Created by Joy Hopwood
The Programming Director is Amadeo Marquez Perez

Promotional still from Pearl Tan's "Minority Box" - one of the films competing


Inspirational Conversation with Sharon Snir at Ultimo Library

This month I am chatting with one of my favourite authors, the beautiful Sharon Snir.
Sharon has inspired me  through her writing, and through her glorious person, for some years now, and I am keen that you should all have the chance to hear her speak and share her wisdom at our Inspirational Conversation at Ultimo Library on the 25th of September.
Sharon's book The Little Book of Everyday Miracles was one of my Chistmas books last year, and everyone I gave it to simply loved it.

I will be chatting with Sharon about recognising miracles and how we can lead a life that is miraculous. I know you will be inspired, and I so want you to come along and join us.


inspirational conversations- recognising life's miracles

Psychotherapist, healer and author Sharon Snir joins Walter Mason this month to discuss some of the insights she gained from writing her latest book, The Little Book of Everyday Miracles. Come and be inspired as they discuss how we can be more open to life’s wonders and delight in the bliss of day to day living.

Wednesday 25 September
Book online or call 9298 3100

Free Event

You can book your free place here

Check out Sharon Snir's website here

Queen Lucia by E F Benson

I've written a very popular essay about my passion for E F Benson for the Newtown Review of Books. As expected, after writing it I was inundated with people on social media who were Benson fans. And, equally expected, my own Bensonmania was re-ignited, and I began to read the novels again. In snatches at first - a page of Lucia in London here, a chapter of Mapp and Lucia there.

E F Benson

A couple of years ago I appeared at the Queer Literary Salon at the Melbourne Writers Festival. One of the things that MC Benjamin Law asked us to do was bring along the books that helped shape our Queer lives. Of course, I brought along my tattered old 1986 Black Swan edition of Queen Lucia with its fantastic faux-jazz age cover.

My much-read Black Swan edition

Most of the young audience hadn't heard of Benson, but I was later to discover that Dennis Altman, the gay eminence grise amongst us, was also a Lucia fan.

A recent audio edition of Queen Lucia

I have read Queen Lucia at least six times, and I must say it simply gets better with every reading. Benson was a master, and his arch phrasing and perfect - though always subtle - rendering of social types means that any reader would feel at home in its pages.

One of the things I find interesting about the book is its consideration of alternative religions. Published in 1920, it was written at a moment of a great rekindling of interest in Eastern religion and Spiritualism in England. Benson's provincial middle-class characters have taken to these things just a moment too late, and the small town of Riseholme is abuzz with gurus, yoga, mediums and planchettes. Daisy Quantock has recently abandoned the study of Christian Science and has instead become beholden of a dozen other new religious fads, some of which are taken up with relish by everyone in the small village.

There is a great deal of casual racism in the book which makes it occasionally squirm-making, but as always it is pointless to demand that an Edwardian writer hold the same range of racial sensitivites that we can lay claim to in the 21st century. I was struck, too, by just how monstrous Lucia was. Benson's great anti-heroine is pretentious, egotistical and oddly fragile. This is the arc she will travel in all of the subsequent books: at first funny, she becomes bossy then vicious and finally pathetic as the reader begins to feel sorry for this silly, manipulative woman.

And then there is Georgie. More and more I am intrigued by this character, surely the first great sympathetric homosexual in English literature. Georgie, with his combover and glass cabinet of bibelots, his needlework and summer suits. This great middle-aged boy is the hero of Benson's novels.

Re-reading Queen Lucia is always a delight. When I do so I become even more convinced of Benson's genius as a writer - there is simply not a dull moment in the whole book.

My first glossy back page!

This is the issue you need to look for

If you get the latest issue of the superb Good Reading Magazine you will see that the back cover features a glossy full page ad for my new book Destination Cambodia.

The superb back cover

This is a first!
Good Reading is a wonderful and truly unique Australian magazine that talks about books for everyone - filled with reviews and articles, it is always well worth reading, but particularly now - you will be getting a genuine souvenir issue :-)

Buddha in Cambodia

Writers Live - Walter Mason introduces Destination Cambodia
19th Sep @ Berkelouw Paddington
- See more at: http://berkelouw.com.au/events/writers-live-walter-mason-introduces-destination-cambodia#sthash.fbSUVbbn.dpuf
Writers Live - Walter Mason introduces Destination Cambodia
19th Sep @ Berkelouw Paddington
- See more at: http://berkelouw.com.au/events/writers-live-walter-mason-introduces-destination-cambodia#sthash.fbSUVbbn.dpuf

Destination Cambodia is my brand new book, released September 2013

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