My Favourite Books of 2014

I have just blogged about the best fiction of the year over on the Universal Heart Book Club - do go over and take a look. But here I wanted to share with you the books I most enjoyed reading in 2014. Each of these is a guaranteed terrific read, many of them inspiring and idea-inducing, all beautifully crafted. Get them and read them over the holidays - you won't be disappointed:






1. Vagabondage by Beth Spencer: An unexpected gem, this is a tale of midlife resettlement, a memoir of moving spiritually and geographically, told in verse! Utterly unique, so Australian and such a beautiful work of art, Beth Spencer's tale of selling her house and becoming a nomad spoke to me with a vivid kind of wanderer's call. A perfect book to read on holiday, but be warned, it might change your life forever.






2. Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington: Journalist and novelist Caroline Overington has mastered the "crime novel of issues" and now she has turned her eye to true crime. But it is true crime with an historical twist, and I was sucked in to the story of Last Woman Hanged from the very first page. Not only is it a good old fashioned fascinating read, it also tells us so much about Sydney's cultural history. Was the last woman hanged in New South Wales innocent or guilty? Read this book and be the judge.






3. How to Stay Married by Mary-Lou Stephens: If she wrote a book a year Mary-Lou would be in my list every year. She is a brilliant writer and after just a few pages you are lost in her world and can't put the book down. This is a travel memoir with a twist, an account of crossing the world with her husband and recording how her relationship with him deepens. It is a very honest record of modern relationship (and Mary-Lou hates that absence of an "s"!), and anyone who is married or in a long-term relationship will recognise the truth in these pages. It also makes me ache to visit the Alps.




 
4. Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality by Gary Lachman: You can read my longer review of it here. Gary Lachman, bass player from Blondie, is one of the best biographers out there, and has been quietly - and quite prolifically - recording the lives of some of the most important spiritual teachers of the West. The wonderful Blavatsky, arch self-publicist, is almost a fictional character by herself, and he does a great job of teasing apart the myth, lies and truths about this fascinating mystic and founder of modern spiritual thinking.






5. No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym: Yes, I have been inducted into the cult of Pym, and this novel is one I absolutely adored. It has everything you could want in a book - subtlety, good humour, High Anglicanism and neighbours in positive thinking cults. The Pymian universe is utterly addictive, and I would love to retire and do nothing but read her books over and over again. Read this - you will never have a more pleasant experience.




6. Grace, Guidance and Gifts by Sonia Choquette: Choquette is one of those spiritual teachers that not that many people know about, but anyone who has basked in her incredible energy live will know just how superb she is. I love her quirky humour, her deliciously offbeat approach to things esoteric and her beautiful, innocent faith. This is a great "Daily Guide" to spiritual observance, a format I love - I always have at least one going at any time, and they are perfect for morning preparation. This book has had a very meaningful impact on me since I have been working with it, and I think more people should check it out.





7. The Dangerous Bride by Lee Kofman: Wow - this one came out of nowhere and left me entirely surprised by its genius and literary brilliance. Another memoir of modern relationship, it is an account of a lifetime of non-monogamy and its effects on the author's life and worldview. Russian-Israeli-Australian Kofman is dazzlingly honest in this book, and I was so entranced by it that, weeks later, I still find myself recommending it to almost everyone I speak to. A huge talent.


My Top 5 Playlist of 2014

What a strange sonic world I live in! My Top plays on iTunes each year is an absolute revelation of how bizarre my tastes are. So here they are: The songs I listened to most in 2014:



1. Pistol Packin' Mama by The Andrews Sisters - I have always adored the Andrews Sisters, and one of thier songs is in my Top 5 every year. Strange that this year I was obsessed with this little paean to gun violence. But what a fantastic track. Besides, in its final line it contains a prayer for peace: Lay that crazy pistol down!





2. Come on and Find Me by Helen Terry - An album track from Blue Notes, a forgotten 80s classic from Culture Club's super-talented backing singer Helen Terry. An incredible voice, and this is a wonderfully soulful song, with plenty of gospel elements.





3. Cry and be Free by Marilyn - Probably Marilyn's best song, this is a song about being emotionally available which, it was rumoured, was dedicated to Tom Bailey, lead singer of the Thompson Twins (no scandal, Marilyn just had a crush on him and thought helooked sad). When he appeared on Top of the Pops singing this, Marilyn was at his most utterly beautiful.




4. Freeway of Love by Aretha Franklin - This is something of an anthem of my youth, and I can never quite figure out what she's saying here. But I'm certain it's some kind of sexual analogy. True 80s soul.



5. Blue Bell Knoll by The Cocteau Twins - Again, there is always a Cocteau Twins song on my Top 5. I have been in love with them since I was a child, and there is no occasion when you can't put on a Cocteau Twins song. This one's kind of mysterious and Hammer, slightly Kate Bush-ey. Love it, and it gets me motivated.

The Island of Singing Fish - a fascinating memoir of colonial Ceylon


This post is sponsored by Good Reading magazine, Australia's premier magazine for readers. Good Reading is available from all good newsagents and at selected bookstores, as well as by subscription. My reviews often appear in Good Reading, and I rely on them as the very best resource for what's new and good in the world of books.













Sri Lanka is one of those countries that has fascinated me since my youth, but which I have never managed to visit. When you mention 'Ceylon' - the country's former name - I think of the opera The Pearl Fishers, the Buddha's Tooth Relic and the travels of Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, who formally became Buddhists there in their first visit in 1880.

So it was with some interest that I picked up a new memoir by Tina Faulk called The Island of Singing Fish: A colonial childhood in Ceylon. Faulk comes from a fascinating minority community within Sri lanka called the Burghers, and this book makes a really valuable contribution to recording their history. The Burghers are the descendants of European settlers who came to Ceylon centuries ago, and represented a distinct class within Ceylonese society. At the birth of independence (Ceylon had been an English colony), the newly-nationalistic Sinhalese majority in the new nation of Sri Lanka passed laws that actively discriminated against those of non-Sinhalese descent, and many of the Burghers, who had become an English-speaking middle-class in colonial times, left. That is how Faulk came to be in Australia where she became a young journalist in Brisbane.



Over 30 years the author returns to Sri Lanka many times, and this fascinating little book is in parts a family memoir, a history and a travel book detailing the Sri lanka of today which Faulk explores almost as a stranger. From the ramparts of Galle Fort she watches young married couples pose for photographs and drinks fruit smoothies as she reflects on the Dutch and Portuguese influence on Ceylon that is so formative a part of her own culture and history.

I can't stress enough how unique a point of view the book offers. Faulk is a perfectly charming writer, and she is not prone to didacticism, so the stories and observations drift pleasingly by, creating a fuller portrait of this fascinating country whose very name became legendary in the English language (Serendip, the antique name for Sri lanka, is the root of our word 'Serendipity'). Whether its in carefully scrutinising the exquisite family photographs of a lost Ceylon or hanging out at the wonderful-sounding Colombo YWCA, the reader confronts a history and a present that is very little discussed in the English-speaking world. Faulk's status as an inside-outsider brings an immense amount of understanding to the stories and memories in the book, and I came away from it feeling much wiser about a country that has, until now, been something of a mystery, divided in almost equal parts between a notion of a romantic Buddhist paradise and a war-torn hell-hole.

A 5th Century Buddhist statue in Sri Lanka - source Wikipedia


The Island of Singing Fish reveals instead a country more subtly divided, and more remarkably complex, than travel brochures or TV news can ever make clear. It is constantly fascinating, and a great model for other writers wishing to explore the possibilities of  family memoir. Do see if you can get hold of a copy.

Buy a copy of The Island of Singing Fish

Walter Mason talking about Destination Cambodia at Thirroul Library, Wednesday November 12 at 5pm

History comes to life at Thirroul library

As part of Thirroul District Library's series of weekly talks I will be at Thirroul Library this week talking about my travels in Cambodia.

The free, one hour talk at 5pm on Wednesday the 12th of November is an opportunity to learn more about the history, culture and traditions of this most fascinating country.






The talk is based on my book Destination Cambodia -  two-and-a-half years in the making, it is an affectionate, whimsical and deeply personal account of my journeys through Cambodia, a country that has enchanted me for more than seventeen years.

Do come along, or if you know anyone who lives in the area, let them know.

A. C. Benson on creating a life

Occasionally I wil pull something down from my shelves and open it at random to see if I can find some inspiration. How well I was rewarded today when I took down a book of sketches and observations from the Edwardian essayist A. C. Benson. It spoke to me in exactly the tone I needed:


A.C.Benson



"How few of us there are who make our lives into anything! We accept our limitations, we drift with them, while we indignantly assert the freedom of the will. The best sermon in the world is to hear of one who has struggled with life, bent or trained it to his will, plucked or rejected its fruit, but all upon some principle. It matters little what we do; it matters enormously how we do it. Considering how much has been said, and sung, and written, and recorded, and prated, and imagined, it is strange to think how little is ever told us directly about life; we see it in glimpses and flashes, through half-open doors, or as one sees it from a train gliding into town, and looks into back windows and yards sheltered from the street."

From At Large by A. C. Benson

What an exquisite observation, and one I felt keenly. How easily do I accept my limitations and build my life around them, instead of challenging myself and growing at a more rapid rate.
this passage also caused me to look up a word, something I do all-too-rarely. "Prated" is one that is not often used in the 21st century, and it means "spoken foolishly or at tedious length." Connected to "prattle," I suppose.

For those of you who don't know, A. C. Benson was the brother of comic novelist E. F. Benson, and part of that most luminous Benson clan. he was an enormous bestseller in his day, producing yearly a book of collected essays and observations gleaned from his life as a don. He was a lifelong depressive and a closeted homosexual. These days he is probably best remembered for providing the lyrics for the great British imperial anthem 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

Recently there has been a most excellent book written about him and his work collecting Queen Victoria's letters called Censoring Queen Victoria, and I recommend it highly.

There has also been a recent biography of his mother Mary called As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil. Also a great read.

Mary Benson - A.C.Benson's famous mother


A. C. Benson's books are all out of print, but they make for fascinating reading.

Vietnam Journey with Walter Mason in 2015






WEA Sydney 

A video posted by Walter Mason (@waltermason) on

In conjunction with Heritage Destinations

Vietnam: Four Cities Journey

with Walter Mason

Mon 23 February - Fri 3 March 2015





Four influential Vietnamese cities provide the central focus of this tour. But visitors to Viet Nam are impressed by the beauty of the country’s natural setting, so our schedule is punctuated with interesting regional stays. The result is a journey providing a good overview of the real Vietnam with its unique and rich civilisation, highly cultured people, delicious food and hauntingly beautiful mountains, plains and coastlines.



Our tour begins in Hanoi, the national capital with romantic and well‐preserved artefacts of the French, and regarded by many as one of Asia's most attractive cities. Nearby we visit Ha Long Bay, famous for its UNESCO World Heritage status, with its emerald green water and over 3000 islands of towering limestone.
We fly to Hue, once Vietnam's Imperial City and later the country's capital under the Nguyen dynasty (1802‐1945).
Over the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An is next, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and a visit to this old world gem is a highlight of any Vietnam tour.
Dalat follows, known as ‘Le Petit Paris’ by the early builders and residents of this Central Highlands resort town.
Onward by coach to the exuberant, brash, optimistic Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Mekong Delta experiences follow in its largest centre of Can Tho before our tour conclusion in Chau Doc, a bustling trade and transport hub on the Cambodia border ‐ yet also a lazy, riverside town, a throwback to another time.






Vietnam today is a country with a diverse range of landscapes, cultures and ethnic groups, contained within its uniquely long and thin geography. Our WEA Sydney tour explores this vibrant, complex and welcoming country within the context of its rich imperial, colonial and recent history.


Please consider joining us on WEA Vietnam: Four Cities Journey

P R O G R A M  L E A D E R

Writer, blogger and creative writing teacher Walter Mason has designed and brings personal and professional insights to a journey based on his WEA Sydney Viet Nam: Four Cities lecture series.
Fluent in Vietnamese, Walter studied at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University and has spent part of every year in Viet Nam for over two decades. A former bookseller, Walter is a popular figure on the Sydney speaking circuit. His knowledge of Vietnam and wicked sense of humour feature in his book Destination Saigon, born of his love for the country and the people of Vietnam, from the bustling cities to out‐of‐the‐way villages.
Walter looks forward to travelling with you and sharing his passion and enthusiasm for Vietnam.

See more details of Walter Mason's 2015 tour to Vietnam, and get the full itinerary.

Australian author Justin Sheedy on success, restlessness and being a productive writer


Justin Sheedy



 Father's Day is coming up in Australia, and everyone knows that one of the best gifts for dad is a great book. It so happens that my old pal Justin Sheedy has written two books that would be the perfect gift for any father: his Australian World War 2 novels Ghosts of the Empire and Nor the Years Condemn. I thought I would take this opportunity to chat with Justin about indie success, youth and creative discipline:


I think you are one of the first Australian writers to really succeed at indie publishing. What made you decide to go that route, and who are your inspirations?
Walter, I am delighted and reassured that a widely cherished and respected Australian author like yourself should see my own writing and publishing efforts as ‘a success’ and I warmly thank you. My decision to charge down the path of indie publishing was born of simple necessity: Though major Australian publishing companies have shown interest in all of my 3 books since my first in 2009, their hesitancy proved a dead-end. To my relief, they have been proven wrong by reader response to my books ever since, both here in Australia and internationally. My inspiration is my readers, one of my favourite moments being a late middle-aged lady tapping me on the shoulder at one of my in-store book-signings, saying (of my Australian World War Two historical fiction Nor the Years Condemn), ‘I was at your last event, you signed your book for me and I just wanted to tell you I’ve since read it and loved it from start to finish.’ Moments like that are my rich reward.

We knew each other when we were both young and restless. I had no idea then that I would be a writer. When did you decide you were really going to make a life as a serious writer?

I’m STILL young and restless, Walter, and I know you are too. Though perhaps the crystalizing moment for me as a future author came for me in high school when an inspirational English teacher asked me to read out one of my stories in front of the class. It was the story of an Australian downhill skier from GO to finish-line in a Swiss World Cup ski race event where he is considered the likely wooden-spooner. He proves the world’s best wrong to the rapture of the seasoned crowd urging him on. When I’d finished my story, my English teacher faced the class and asked, ‘Now, boys. How did that make you feel?’ One boy put up his hand and breathed, ‘I felt like I was flying.’ I feature this moment in my upcoming book, Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer, which, as my 1980s teenage portrait, also features YOU, dear Walter.

You’ve been quite prolific over a short time. What is the secret of your productivity?

People often ask me how I maintain the ‘discipline’ to be an author and be as productive as I seem to be. I say to them I can’t NOT write. Your passion can’t NOT come out. And it also happens to be what engages readers and what sells books: a male bookstore customer at one of my recent book-signings said, ‘Mate, I’ll buy your book; I can see your passion.’

Can you tell us about some of the books that have inspired you?

A long list that would be but in the context of my first book, Goodbye Crackernight, my childhood ‘shared memoir’ of growing up in 1970s Australia, I’d have to nominate Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs along with Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid. In the context of my latest two, Nor the Years Condemn and Ghosts of the Empire, I’d have to say Ken Follett for his gripping World War Two historical fictions and, massively, Kate Grenville’s emotive Australian historical fictions, especially The Secret River. Also, Roald Dahl’s Going Solo for the way he captures the ‘adult world’ as if with the involuntary perfection of the ‘child’s eye’.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who really wants to get serious about their writing?
Come up with a great idea, then re-write it 20 times until it ends up the piece of work it deserves to be. When it IS, then your troubles really start: Publishing is a tough, unfair and often chaotic business. Learn never to take 'No' for an answer but do it in the nicest way possible. Industry people say no only because it’s easier than saying yes. Persistence is the key. Your persistence will be fuelled by your passion. And your passion to write is your passion to share.

My Shelf - A Reading project

I have been quite fascinated by Phyllis Rose's book The Shelf, in which she selected a shelf of books at a library and read every single one of them. For some time I have been meaning to emulate the experiment, becasue it sounds like fun and such a fascinating way to read books you  might otherwise never know about.

So I have bitten the bullet and selected my very own shelf at the Whitlam Library in Cabramatta - my local. Naturally I chose the self-help shelf, because that is my area of greatest interest and the field of my academic research.

Here is my shelf:



I don't know how long it is going to take me, but I shall do my best to apply myself and to provide you with details of the books I check out.

So today I started with the first book on the shelf: Fix Your Life with NLP by Alicia Eaton. Now, I have never really studied NLP before. I did do a one-day course in NLP for weight loss years ago, but it had no effect. Interesting that I get this one now because my personal trainer has just done a full NLP course and says he will be applying its techniques on me. Maybe once I read this book I can outwit him? Let's just see if my life is fixed at the end....


Rosie Shalhoub on great ideas, focus and keeping your dreams in sight


Rosie Shalhoub



Rosie Shalhoub is a legendary Sydney retailer, a psychic and a visionary whose incredible energy and insight have made her shop Embrace at Miranda a destination for all spiritually-minded Sydneysiders. Most recently Rosie has become the motivating force behind the Festival of Dreams, a Spiritual Expo which is on this month in Sydney at the Hordern Pavilion - August 23 and 24.


One of the little guys at Embrace, Miranda - Rosie's shop



I had a chat with Rosie about spirituality and not giving in to defeat:




How do you think we can keep our dreams in mind, and not g ive ourselves up to defeat, negativity or procrastination?

There have been many times I have given in to defeat and procrastination. It always seems the easier thing to do. Sometimes it may last for a day sometimes only for a few minutes. I think you need those times to recover, recoup and get your head back into focus. It really is a normal part of the process of living. But not staying in that element is the hardest part. As a single mother of 8 year old twins, for the first 6 years of their little lives they have been my driving force. Having major deadlines is always a killer for me because I do tend to leave things to the last minute - I work best under the pressure. Besides, my partner Ross, who I swear has ADHD, doesn’t let me stop for a moment!

Where do you get your energy and ideas from?

I have always received my great ideas in my sleep through my dreams. Sometimes I have a lady that will come to visit me and show me an idea or tell me how to do something. I have no idea who this lady is but she always has the energy of the Mother Mary, but dressed in modern clothing. Even as a child in school I always had an active imagination which won me many writing awards throughout my school years.

Energy is a hard thing for me. I have Crohn’s Disease, which can slow me down quite a bit although I have been in remission for many years. I am also anaemic due to being a vegetarian. I tend to like my sleep a lot and when I’m tired I just cannot function. I find my peak hours of the day and I work to my maximum then. I am blessed to have great staff at Embrace which enables me to also take a lot of time off from working at the shop in order to get my work done.

When I work I always like to have a candle lit, do a good meditation beforehand and have a great cup of coffee! Silence is my virtue. I cannot work with the television or radio on. I function best in complete silence. I love that sound.

Is there a quote that has really inspired you in your life?

I know this might sound like a bit of a cliché but I have always loved the quote from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream”!  It has always inspired me, just as it offers hope to so many others.

You are a deeply spiritual person, but I am sure you must have people in your life who are not that way, who take a completely material view of life. What do you say to them? Try to convince them, or let them follow their own path?

My partner! He is the love of my life but is not spiritual.
I let them live their path and I maintain the spiritual practice that is important to me… prayer, silence and love time.

In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013






I am absolutely intrigued by Roy Williams' new book In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013. The eccentric religious lives of Australia's political leaders has interested me ever since I stumbled upon Al Gabay's utterly fascinating The Mystic Life of Alfred Deakin in the mid 1990s. Deakin was a Theosophist, Spirtualist and occultist, part of a thriving alternative religious scene in Nineteenth Century Australia.

Roy Williams will be at Ashfield Library in August to talk about the book, and I am sure it will be a fascinating lecture. He will also be selling and signing copies.

Details:

Authors at Ashfield: Roy Williams

Thursday August 28, 2014 - 1:00pm
Roy Williams talks about and signs copies of his new book In God They Trust?: the religious beliefs of Australia's Prime Ministers 1901-2013.
Book for sale and signing
Level 6 Ashfield Civic Centre

This is a free event.

Please come, and bring some friends. 

7 Day No Complaining Challenge

Only a flower-strewn path for me for the next week


 I'm not really a whinger. I was never really encouraged to be, as a child. Complaints and grumbles were met with a stark diapproval by parents and grandparents. So in adulthood I manage to maintain a reasonably sunny exterior and try to avoid giving voice to the multitudinous mutterings of discontent that go on in my head 24/7.

In spite of all that, I still think I waste a lot of my time, and my happiness, with complaints voiced and unvoiced. I gossip, I whinge, I condemn others and I find fault. And on reflection not once have those miserable thoughts improved my life. On the contrary I have lost hours and days to dark moods inspired by the emotional and psychological energy I gave to my perceived slights and problems.

I have over the years learned to channel this energy of complaint into more productive and useful outcomes. If there is something that is genuinely bothering me I attempt to bring it to the attention of someone in power who can actually change it. I also do this in a pleasant and casual way. If something has made me angry, or I am expecting a particular outcome, I have learned to give voice to that expectation to the person who can actually make it happen. This helps make matters clearer, and I am always pleased by the outcome. If people know what you want they have a tendency to give it to you. I don't raise my voice or become involved in pointless conflicts and I always choose my battles wisely. I don't do online arguments or Twitter wars. I allow others the right to their own opinions, and I have surrendered the need to constantly prove myself right.

I also do my level best not to tell people when I am feeling ill (I fail regularly at this), and I have stopped telling people I am sooo busy when they ask how I am. Complaint is rarely charming and often boring, and I do still feel the need to please others with my presence. 

But STILL I grumble. I get together with friends and bitch, I save up juicy stories of outrage and wrongdoing for when my partner gets home, I wish someone would close that damn door.  I recognise, also, that complaints can be directed quite irrationally at particular people, whatever scapegoats we have selected for our own fury. This is unhealthy and unbecoming, and when I indulge in it I always end up feeling so disappointed in myself.



Some years ago I read a fascinating book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen and I was most taken with it. His idea was that, every time we complained about something, we should move a rubber bracelet from one wrist to another, so making ourselves conscious of just how often we do it. I tried this, but by mid-moring my wrists were red-raw and all the hair on my forearms had been torn out by the constant tugging off of rubber bracelets. So I gave up and kept on with my complaining ways.




Now, I have been motivated by the wonderful Simple Life Habits podcast I just heard on giving up complaints for a week. So, from now and on through the next 7 days I am giving up comlaints. Not a word of ill-content will pass my lips for 7 whole days. Let's see how I go.


Networking books: great guides to meaningful connection


The age of social media has proved that many of us ache for connection, and that the “virtual” world provides an opportunity for people to meet and communicate in ways that weren’t possible even six or seven years ago. We can reach out and be in instant contact with people we have admired for years, including authors, notable teachers and entertainers. And while Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and all the others can be misused, I think that, on balance, their influence on the world has been tremendously positive. Never have so many people been able to stay in touch with people from all over the world ad from all points on their life journey. May it all continue, I say.

Social media has also caused us to think more carefully about that dirty word ‘networking’. Just saying it conjurers up images of forced business meetings and the frantic exchange of cards while craning over the person’s shoulder to see if there is anyone more important standing behind them. But I think the social net has changed that, and the way that people think about ‘strategic relationships.’ It’s possible that we have ushered in a new, more democratic age in which people are interested in others in really profound ways, ways that reject the usual social measurements of status, success and perceived power.

In a time in which many people are interested in cultivating, ad being part of a tribe of 1,000 true fans, social media guru Guy Kawasaki has talked about the death of social climbing. Nobodies, he says, are the new somebodies, and now is the time we took an interest in everyone we encounter.

I do crave meaningful connection with others, and I appreciate the new and interesting people I meet online. Perhaps I will never meet many of them in real life, but I have established some lovely virtual friendships with genuinely interesting and engaging people – you know who you are! The World Wide Web has enabled me to make meaningful links with readers, peers, people from my past, famous authors and even, crucial for the freelance writer, editors.

And I have begun to think more deeply and more strategically about that old fashioned idea of networking. I learn slowly that supporting others and making yourself available to them is essential and helps to build stronger relationships. That is why I would like to let you in on a little secret. I want to share with you three books that have changed my world enormously and are the three I insist people read who come to me for advice about establishing a writing career.

Some of the language in these books can seem a bit cheesy, especially for Australian readers – remember they are addressing a mainstream business community, for the most part. But be forgiving, and be alert, because each of them contains a tremendous amount of wisdom and good advice. I literally use the three of them constantly, and as soon as I finish I go straight back to the beginning and start again.
I can honestly say that these books and their techniques for community building have improved my life, my career, my friendships and even my wellbeing. I urge you to read them with an open mind.



1.    Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi – This is the book that many say changed the face of modern networking. The impossibly energetic Ferrazzi explains how he changed his life through the careful building of strategic relationships. He concentrates on establishing mentors and incorporating the important people in your life into all aspects of your life, no matter where they might fall on the work-friendship-family-social spectrum. He encourages people to become involved in t heir community, to support the work and goals of others and to introduce friends to each other. My main takeaway? Never waste a spare moment – get out your phone and start sending messages to people who haven’t heard from you in a while.





2.    Platform by Michael Hyatt – Hyatt was a publishing legend who struck out on his own. This book is the one I think that every creative professional must read. Indeed, anyone who is seeking to establish a name for themselves in their chosen work could afford to put some of his advice into action. Intensely practical, Platform goes through, chapter by chapter, all of the things you need to do to “build your platform” (a wonderfully archaic idea that has been revived) and start attracting people’s attention. Read my full review here.

3.    Guerrilla Networking by Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann – No joke, applying the techniques from this book has given me more work and helped me establish more important relationships than any other. It deserves to be better known and, though it was written before the age of social media, its techniques are even more useful and applicable now. It teaches us to share info about our projects and what we are going to do, to be daring and willing to try new things and to build influence through solving other people’s problems (something Keith Ferrazzi also teaches a lot).  My main takeaway? Create a fabulous reputation for yourself so that people seek you out, rather than you chasing after people.

Jin Ping Mei on the Web





I am intrigued by the White Rabbit Gallery's selection for its September bookclub. They will be doing the Jin Ping Mei, a book I have never really known much about but which I remember selling as a rare book in the 90s. I think I am going to take the challenge and attempt to tackle this lesser-known Chinese classic. Here are some resources I have found online that may help the adventurous reader:

A Resource List for self-promoting writers

Here it is! The definitive list of books, websites and podcasts for self-promoting writers and publishers.
Actually, this list is helpful for writers of every description.


Books

Platform by Michael Hyatt - The basic essentials of how (and why) to build a platform. This needs to be read by every writer. 

Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk - Why you should be using Youtube and why now is the best time ever to be an author.

From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur by Stephanie Chandler  - Written by a woman who walks her talk, this is the book that explains how to take the knowledge and status gained as an author and apply it to other money-making possibilities. This book made me feel incredibly excited about my future.

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin - The master's latest book, this one tells us we're all creating art and instead of just talking about it we need to get it out the door for other people to see.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi - This book made me realise how essential and effective networking is. Especially for authors! 

Guerrilla Networking by Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann - Really effective techniques for building strategic relationships and filling your life with inspiring, influential and fascinating people.

The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson - Excellent all-round advice that is simple and achievable for everyone. If you worked your way through  this and did even half of what she details you would find your writing career expanding. 

Ebooks



Some of these may also be available as printed books, it's just that I have read them and used them as ebooks.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth by Chris Brogan

31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo by Brian Allain

Blog It by Molly Greene

500 Social Media Marketing Tips by Andrew Macarthey

Blogging the Smart Way by Jeff Bullas

and some others...

The Tao of Twitter by Mark W. Shaefer

Ninja Book Marketing Strategies by Tom Corson-Knowles

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

Secrets of the Six Figure Author by by Tom Corson-Knowles

How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

The Art of Being Unmistakable by Srinivas Rao

APE by Guy Kawasaki

How I wrote 2 Ebooks in 21 Days by Glen Stanford

How to Write a Nonfiction Ebook in 21 Days That Readers Love by Steve Scott

Blogs

Joe Konrath's blog is as simple as they come,  but it works


The Creative Penn

Jeff Goins Writer 

99U

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Jane Friedman 

Publish Your Own Ebooks 

Jeff Bullas 

Problogger

Podcasts

Srini Rao from Unmistakable Creative


The Creative Penn 

Beyond the Book

Unmistakable Creative

Pushing Social

Six Pixels of Separation

The Author Hangout

Blogging Your Passion

Social Pros

Content Warfare Podcast

The Accidental Creative


Social Media Marketing

This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt 


Extra Links:

Another Top 10 List of great blogs for authors

Srinivas Rao on being flexible with your dreams


Make Sure People Read Your Next Blog Post: A handy checklist


We all know by now that it is not enough to simply write a blog post and let it sit there, hoping the world will discover it.
Writing the post is simply the begining of your work. If you really want it to be seen, read and shared you have to embark on a solid week (at least) of promoting it in various ways.
Here is a sample of the checklist I create for each and every blog post I do. Day by day I go to this promotional file and do the next action until I have checked off everything on my list. Doing this increases the page views hugely.
This sample uses a blog post for an event I am promoting. Every day I check these lists and work through them. It pays to do the promotion at different times of the day so you can maximise the chances of people seeing some mention of the post.
I have changed some of the proper names on this list to protect the person's privacy, replacing them with a description of who the person is. Bringing individual posts to the attention of certain people can be very effective, but don't overdo it, and don't be aggressive about it. Simply say "Here is a post you might be interested in," or, more passive still, include them as an @ mention on Twitter. I like to leave it up to them what they choose to do with the information. Some will re-tweet it and pass it on, some won't. It's the luck of the draw, so never expect them to respond. Everyone is busy.
So here it is, my blog post promotion checklist. Feel free to copy it and adapt it to your own purposes:





New blog post promotion checklist –
  • Create a blog post
  • Tweet and alert Sydney Morning Herald
  • Tweet on my main twitter channel @walterm
  • alert prominent local author
  • Send out my Enews with details of the post (these can accumulate tillI have enough)
  • Linkedin
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • alert prominent local author
  • Tweet and alert a good friend who is socially active,  influential and retweets my stuff
  • Facebook
  • Tweet again on my main twitter channel @walterm
  • Tweet on my secondary twitter channel @destsaigon
  • Tweet again on my main twitter channel @walterm
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • Blog another aspect of the event
  • Facebook Fan page
  • Tell a social media influencer friend about it
  • Twitter 1 person alerting them to it
  • Create an FB ad   

Inspirational Conversation with Tricia Brennan, Ultimo Library, 30th July - 6pm start





This month's Inspirational Conversation has been years in the planning, and our special guest Tricia Brennan is coming all the way down from Queensland especially for the event.
I know it will be a remarkable evening, and I urge you all to come along and hear one of Australia's most inspirational women.
Details:

Inspirational Conversations: Enjoying a Full Life
Ultimo Library
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Sydney, NSW
   
Free    
    
Tricia Brennan is an international author and intuitive counsellor whose client list includes Hollywood celebrities, therapists and corporate leaders in Australia and the United States.She writes about becoming more fully ourselves and developing in order to lead our best possible lives.

In this conversation with author Walter Mason, Tricia will discuss how we can lead more contented lives and take ourselves more boldly into the world.

Book your free spot online here

Music of the Noh Theatre and other things theatrically Japanese





Michelle De Kretser in conversation with Walter Mason - Thursday November 27 6.30pm for 7.00 at Ashfield Town Hall

I'm quite thrilled to announce that I am hosting a literary conversation with one of my great literary idols in November!

Michelle de Kretser (photo by Steven Siewert in the Australian Financial Review)


Thursday November 27  6.30pm for 7.00 Ashfield Town Hall

Michelle De Kretser will be in conversation with Walter Mason about her prize-winning novel Questions of Travel and her new novella Springtime.




Books for sale and signing.

Bookings essential (Free)

Arthur Conan Doyle lecture coming up at Ashfield Library, July 18, 2014


The always-intriguing Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is an object of great fascination for so many people. With a renewed interest in the character of Holmes (though I am personally not such a big thing of the re-invented series), people are once more fascinated by this great author, one of the most successful in his time.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson


Doyle was a complex man. Incredibly energetic and prolific in his writing, he was tortured by his own successful literary creation and staked his claim to literary greatness on turgid historical novels that are now almost forgotten. Born into a Roman Catholic family and being provided with a traditional Jesuit education, he was patriotic and conservative. He also became, in his latter years, a proponent of the then-new religion of Spiritualism. This was the belief that death was not the end of life, but merely the beginning of a new existence on a more harmonious plane, and that the living were capable of communicating with the dead if they could simply develop a sensitive enough spirituality.

A Spiritualist image of Conan Doyle


Conan Doyle also courted public scorn by championing the Cottingley Fairy pictures. In what seems an obvious forgery now, Conan Doyle, already interested in the manifestation of spiritual phenomena in photography, felt sure that the presence and reality of fairies had been recorded on film for the first time. 

Spiritualism was Conan Doyle's abiding concern in his latter years


In her book Brief Encounters, Susannah Fullerton reminds us that Conan Doyle also visited Australia (there's a plaque commemorating the visit down at Circular Quay). While here he conducted lectures in the truths of Spiritualism, and his popularity was viewed with great horror by the Anglican Church in Sydney.

Here are the details of the talk:


David Lewis will give an  illustrated lecture on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes)

Free event - All welcome

Enchantment: A professional brand evangelist teaches us to gain influence through the exercise of charm

A practical guide to increasing likeability and trustworthiness and improving our personal and professional lives.

This week I did a guest post over at the excellent Book to the Future blog talking about the book I've just
read, the book I'm currently reading and the book that's next on my pile. The book I've just finished is Guy Kawasaki's very stimulating Enchantment. It's almost an etiquette guide for a newer, busier age, and it reminds us of the importance of respecting other people's time and feelings, especially if we want them to do something like buy from us. The simplicity and profundity of Kawasaki’s message was quite a revelation to me.

Guy Kawasaki rose to prominence as a kind of roving public relations guy for Apple, the man being paid for his enthusiasm about the products and his ability to convey that enthusiasm.  I suspect that Kawasaki is an all-round charmer. Smiling, handsome and gifted with an ability to speak plainly and convincingly, Enchantment is as much a guide to his own success as to the potential successes of all of us. Published by Penguin Portfolio, it is aimed squarely at a business audience, but I think that almost anyone will find this book a valuable and idea-stimulating read, particularly if you work in a creative field.



Each chapter sets out a simple stage on the path to success, setting forth a number of ideas and case studies around each idea. From launching a product with pizzazz to overcoming the resistance of naysayers, Enchantment is an unpretentious and easily used guide to getting things done in the world.

And the trick, of course, is not just to make a flash first impression and then fall back on your usual traits of unsatisfactory personal interaction. We've all known those people - solicitous, interested and affable on the first meeting and then brusque, pushy or even standoffish on the second. Consistence is the key to charm, and in order to enchant others we must be consistently generous. It should come as no surprise that a willingness to help and give is seen almost universally as being an attractive quality that attracts other people to us. That said, most people still remain almost exclusively focused on getting something from others, and Kawasaki says that if we make consistent giving a focus in our lives we will soon see the benefits. He recommends ways of giving that invoke kindly feelings in others and encourages them to reciprocate:

1. Give with joy
2. Give early
3. Give often and generously
4. Give unexpectedly

Of course, if you make this a part of your life you will soon realise that giving is its own reward and is much larger than simply another technique to manipulate others.



Naturally, Kawasaki is big on the use of technology. Engagement with social media is, he says, essential to any success at this moment of time. Dale Carnegie would have loved Twitter, he thinks, as it is the perfect way to build a tribe and begin to gain influence. So is having a blog. The key to success on social technologies is in not using it to sell aggressively or to brown nose important people. Our most important contacts come from a range of positions, fields and levels of social influence, and so we should seek to increase and strengthen our relationships upward, downward and from side to side.

In the latter chapters he provides quite specific techniques for using the various social media technologies, so this is a great book if you are starting out in this, or have been hesitant to properly engage.

Broadcast your own progress, form new friendships and deepen existing ones, and be careful about how you spend your money and time. Timeless advice, but still valuable and still not followed by most people you encounter. In this new world being a nice person has suddenly become a valuable asset. And there's nothing at all wrong with seeking to build on that talent and look for ways in which you can be more effectively likeable.

It's hard to fault Enchantment, which might be proof of the efficacy of its author's techniques. Get it, read it and put half a dozen (at least) of its hundreds of ideas into action. You have nothing to lose but your prickliness. 
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