One good reason to watch 47 Ronin

Jin Akanishi in a scene from 47 Ronin

The other day I finally went along to see 47 Ronin, and I must admit I was rather charmed by it. It was a rollicking good story, and the special effects weren't gratuitous and plot-consuming. The art direction was exquisite, and it is certainly one of the most stylised (and stylish) films I have seen in a long time. The costumes were heaven.

But I have to admit that I became rather obsessed with watching every move of Jin Akanishi, who plays the son of the Ronin leader. Mr. Akinishi is a revelation, and is totally magnetic on screen.

He is, coincidentally, also awfully hunky.

I shamefully admit I hadn't heard of him until I saw the movie, but I am about to remedy my woeful ignorance. Apparently he is a Japanese superstar, a pop singer and general heart-throb. My other half thought the constant pretty-boy shots of Jin might have been a bit gratuitous, but I am all for them. When you have raw material of t hat quality you are duty bound to work with it.

According to Wikipedia:

Jin Akanishi (赤西 仁 Akanishi Jin, born July 4, 1984) is a Japanese pop idol, singer-songwriter, actor, voice actor, and former radio host. Akanishi is a former member of the J-pop boy band, KAT-TUN, and was one of the two lead vocalists. Since the group's debut in 2006, it has achieved 14 consecutive number ones (including studio albums) on the Oricon charts

So I was straight onto Youtube to see me some Kat-Tun clips. But all I could seem to find were innumerable clips from those ubiquitous comic Japanese variety shows where they humiliate pop stars.

This solo track, though, was lots of fun. This would work on any dance floor anywhere:

And here is the adorable Jin Akanishi talking about the movie and working an interesting mussed-perm:

Let's hope there are a lot more Jin Akinishi movies in the works. In the meantime, let's just meditate on this:

Turning Memory into Memoir with Jan Cornall

Jan Cornall is my own teacher, and perhaps Australia's greatest teacher of creative writing.

Jan Cornall

She was responsible for helping me to free my own creativity, and I have always appreciated her eccentric, meditative and all-embracing approach to writing.
Jan is a poet, a novelist and a memoirist, and this year she is again offering a memoir writing course at the NSW Writers' Centre in Rozelle.

Jan Cornall at work in Bali

I can't urge you strongly enough to atttend this month long course if you are contemplating writing a  memoir, or have already begun but want to keep yourself enthused. Time spent learning with Jan is always incredible fun, and you will be surprised at the creative interior places she will take you.

Jan visits a Buddhist temple in Cabramatta earlier this year - photo by Walter Mason

And no, I am not being paid to say this by either Jan or the Centre. I simply believe that she is a tremendous teacher and that this will be an amazing course.
Full details:

Turning Memory into Memoir

Who: Jan Cornall
When: 4 x Sunday mornings: 1, 15, 22, 29 June, 10am-1pm
Cost: Full Price: $440; Member: $310; Conc Member: $265

Do you have a lifetime of stories to tell, but don’t know where to start? Learn how to turn memories into memoir by accessing your authentic writer’s voice and bringing to the page the stories and characters you know so well.  Using meditative writing techniques Jan will take you deep into sense memory, where you can discover how to create the descriptive detail needed to bring your stories to life. You need a few other things too, like a strong narrator voice and an ability to turn ‘the ordinary’ into ‘the extraordinary’ – it’s all possible with a little bit of help. Use this opportunity to kickstart your memoir and by the end of the course you can have the tools, confidence and discipline to continue writing a full memoir, collection of stories or memoir based works.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course you have ability and confidence in:
– research and information gathering, creative scrap-booking
–  creating evocative descriptive detail
–  expressing a strong narrator voice
– knowledge of the essential elements of storytelling
–  how to structure your memoir
– editing, rewriting, setting goals and daily writing practice.

Course Breakdown
1. Gathering your material, mapping the territory, sensing the memoir.
With butchers paper and coloured pens we map the territory we will be mining for our memoirs. Whether you want to write a travel memoir, a food adventure, a story about pets, relationships or simply reflect on the whole of your life, the map gives a great starting point for sharing your story with others and a list of topic areas, scenes and events to begin writing.

You will also receive an introduction to meditative writing, and learn how to use the senses to evoke the atmosphere and world of your memoir. Drawing on examples of descriptive detail in classic and contemporary literature you will learn how to turn memories into powerful and evocative writing.

 Each week you will be given homework tasks related to these topics. We will also set up our mutual mentoring teams.

2. Finding your narrator voice.
Having a strong narrator voice is the key to memoir writing. This week you will learn how to step into the storyteller’s shoes and write from a place of emotional truth. It doesn’t mean you have to tell all your deepest, darkest secrets, simply create a confident, intimate voice that invites the reader in.

3. Finding the story and structure
What is the story you really want to tell? Here we identify the major players and how they contribute to the story arc; the journey of the protagonist, how other characters aid or obstruct and how the protagonist is changed by the events that unfold in your memoir. We also learn about the building blocks of story – how to structure the sentences, paragraphs and chapters of your memoir. Concentrating on one event/topic you will begin to turn one of your homework exercises into a chapter to be completed and presented the following week.

4. Rewriting, editing and the writing discipline.
In small groups you will learn how to edit one another’s work and offer suggestions for rewrites. We consolidate our mutual mentoring teams and exchange contacts for future support.  Setting goals and writing timetables for completing work, whether drafts, chapters or stories, we discuss how to keep a daily writing practice. For our final session, each person presents a three line synopsis, short excerpt from their memoir and a plan for completion.

About the tutor

Jan Cornall teaches writing part time at University of Western Sydney and leads international writers retreats in Bali, Fiji, Laos, Burma, Morocco. She has written a number of memoir based works for theatre and film and more recently a fictional memoir, Take Me To Paradise, set in Ubud, Bali.  Through her Writers Journey workshops and mentoring programs, a number of Jan’s memoir students have gone on to publish with major publishing companies, including Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, Married To A Bedouin (Virago), Margaret Wilcox, Gone (Penguin), Anne Lovell, Connie’s Secret (Allen &Unwin), Catherine Therese, The Weight Of Silence (Hachette Livre), Walter Mason, Destination Saigon (Allen & Unwin),  Yvonne Louis, Brush with Mondrian (Murdoch), Mary Delahunty Public Life Private Grief, (Hardie Grant), Niromi De Soyza, Tamil Tigress (Allen& Unwin).

This will be a popular course, so I advise you book now

You can read Jan Cornall's extended biography here

Carmel Bird on the many sources of creative inspiration

One of the great classics of creative writing teaching in Australia is Carmel Bird's Dear Writer. Warm, wide-ranging and filled with practical tips, sound advice and inspirational quotes, it has been loved and used by wannabe writers (including yours truly) since it first came out in 1988. Of course, I was merely a child then. :-)

Last year the clever people at Spineless Wonders released a brand new edition called Dear Writer Revisited and I have been thumbing through it and doing the exercises ever since I got my new copy hot off the presses. Indeed, I have been so inspired by Carmel's wisdom in this wonderfully quirky little book that I am offering my own creativity classes in 2013. And you can bet I will be urging my students to buy themselves a copy of Dear Writer Revisited.

Taking the form of an epistolary exchange between neophyte writer Virginia O'Day and the godlike "Writer," each of the letters in this book provides a look at a different aspect of writing, concentrating on the craft of writing fiction but most often applicable across the board. Bird is one of those who, like me, is confident that the craft of writing can be taught, and it is in this spirit that she created this immensely useful and constantly stimulating book.

In introducing the book Carmel Bird reminds us:

"A writer needs to be a reader, to know how to read, and how to think about reading and writing. Needs to understand something about the history of fiction and to know a great deal about the present context, the present world of writing."

Oh that such words could be etched above the doors of writers' centres and adult education colleges everywhere! No-one can start cold - we all need to be immersed in the creative world in which we hope to make our mark.

There are many, many tips, prompts and exercises throughout the book, and each "letter" is organised thematically. But here are 6 sources of inspiration I took from reading the book:

1. Childhood - we all looked at the world with fresh eyes when we were young. We can apply some of that fresh seeing to our writing now, no matter how old we are.

2. Explanations - unexplained happenings and wild coincidences do happen in life, but in fiction they are unsatisfying. You need to have a total world worked out in your head. If you can explain it, the reader will probably believe it - even if you haven't spelled it all out on paper. Anticipate the doubting Thomases.

3. "Reality notebooks" - write down the real things you see and encounter each day that strike you as interesting. This little notebook will be gold when it comes to writing and describing. The act of writing is a constant process. Even when not plonked down in front of our computers we can be finding inspiration in everyday life, and often some of our best material can come from these mundane observations of how things really are.

4. Wit - my favourite rule ever when it comes to creative writing: Don't be boring. If you can observe this rule scrupulously, you will always have happy and satisfied readers. So glad that Carmel Bird agrees with me, who agrees with Evelyn Waugh, who agreed with Nancy Mitford. The very worst thing your writing ever could be is dull.

5. Outside - Bird confesses to writing in graveyards when she was younger, which is a wonderfully romantic touch. My own outdoor destinations are more run or the mill - cafes, libraries and - perhaps more picturesquely - quiet Buddhist temples. But the fact is that almost all writers agree - they write a lot when they leave the house. If you find yourself stuck or not even being able to begin, go somewhere else and write your heart out for an hour or two.

6. Meditation - meditation is all about sitting down and letting the thoughts work themselves out. It’s about not clinging and not remembering. This can be agony for a writer, who is always hoping to remember everything and commit it to paper. But the quiet and mental digestion of meditation can be very effective for writers. Bird suggests that we give ourselves time to simply "dump" on paper - perhaps in a diary format - after periods of quiet or sleep. Just let it all hang out, and later revise it and sift the gold out.

Bird goes on to talk about how writers structure their work and how they fit writing into their lives. She suggests we forget housework and really devote ourselves to a set period of writing, or to an acceptable word count. We need to keep eventual publication in mind, but we mustn't let its absence stand in the way of us continuing to produce new and interesting worlds. Many famous authors, she reminds us, spent many years waiting for good news from a publishing house.

In the final section of "Analysis" in the book Bird writes:

"Time and again aspiring writers ask practising writers about the sources of their ideas, and how these sources translate into fiction.

It is one of the key questions in the quester's quest for the secret to writing stories.

Time and again the practising writer will try to explain that there is no secret formula, but the quester comes back again like the fat man looking for the secret pill that will trim his body down.

There is no secret, there is no pill."

Harsh but fair advice, and typical of the great good sense of this really practical book.

Carmel Bird

You can buy a copy of Dear Writer Revisited here

January Reads: Yes, I have a pile already

Inspired as always by the  fabulous A Work in Progress, I thought I would make the shameful admission that, on only the third day of the month, I already have a sizeable "Must Read" pile. I think I should be able to get rid of these by the end of the month. From the top:

White Fang by Jack London - I last read this book when I was 12, but I have always remembered it fondly. I want to see if it is as good as I remember. I have noticed that London's reputation is rising once more, something I can only endorse.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - Again, one I haven't read since I was a child. I think I was 15, and I absolutely loved it. I recently heard the terrific literary historian Susannah Fullerton give a talk about it, and I knew I had to read it again.

(and so forth) by Robert Dessaix - We all know I am a huge Dessaix fan, and I have never read this one.

Critical Studies: A Set of Essays by Ouida - For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the idea of Ouida. I think her essays will be a lot more manageable than her fiction.

Spiritualism: A Way of Life by Betty Pinnock - Got to read every book I can lay my hands on about Spiritualism. One of the most quaint and largely forgotten religious traditions.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky - It's huge, what can I say? I have to do some serious reading occasionally.

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell - I was really busy when this one came out, so I never got around to reading it. For the record, I am on Malcolm's side on every argument. Pissants.

Emperor: The Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden - Now this is not the kind of book I would usually read. But I heard him interviewed on teh radio talking about his new series of books on the Wars of the Roses, so I thought I would check him out.

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill - I read every book that comes out about Scientology. One of my minor obsessions.

Lucy Cavendish on creating a magickal life

How silence and close friendship can help cultivate the magic of your own mind.

Some people are still a little frightened of witchcraft and magic. The whole message of it being the oldest Western spiritual tradition still hasn't reached some people, and a friend recently looked at me wide-eyed when I mentioned a Witch friend and said, "How do you know witches?" Lucy Cavendish is one of the world's best-known practitioners of modern magick and witchcraft, and I have followed her work since I first started using her brilliant Oracle Tarot many years ago. Recently I have been absorbed in her fantastic new book Spellbound: The Secret Grimoire of Lucy Cavendish, and I have been so impressed by its fun approach to cultivating a unique spiritual path and its refreshing emphasis on self-empowerment. The book provides a practical framework for people (particularly young people) to intentionally create a better life which includes:

1. Becoming aware of your thoughts.

2. Raising the quality of your energy - particularly through spellcasting and magical ritual.

3. Building a magickal altar.

4. Dressing in an intentional way that inspires thoughtfulness and ritual (Magickal Dressing).

5. Becoming aware of the past - educating yourself in the history of witchcraft, Druidry and magic and situating yourself firmly within that tradition.

6. Learning the importance and meaning of amulets and symbols - detecting a tendency here? Lucy is cleverly using her book to encourage people to take in interest in history and culture - always an enriching and enlightening thing to do.

7. The use of spells - an essential part of any magick, and so much fun.

8. Being forgiving and helpful towards other.

9. Working with deities - again, a fun and highly engaging way to learn about history and mythology.

10. Empowering your intuition - learning to be in touch with your feelings and learning to honour them.

Spellbound is an enchanting practical guide to meditation, self-development and many other things employing Lucy Cavendish's own spiritual path of Magick. It is a book that will have an enormous appeal to young women, in particular, and I wouldn't hesitate to give it to anyone wanting to know more about Witchcraft, Wicca and Magick. It is an excellent introduction to the Western Mystery Traditions, and proves just how useful and applicable they are to 21st Century life. Its emphasis on practical ritual makes it enormous fun.

As we would expect, the book is filled with all kinds of spells, all of them look like tremendous fun, and the kind of conscious activity that helps concentrate the mind and also dissipate some of the anxious energy that cause them to be created in the first places. As the very wise Witch Lucy Cavendish reminds us:

"Spells also work on a psychological level. What this means is that they give us the means and confidence to take steps to protect ourselves. Thus, our energy shifts..."

Cavendish writes in her first chapter:

"There is an immense natural power in the universe which you are a part of.

You were born with this natural power.

What our modern world has done is harness these natural powers in many ways - electricity, solar power, digital technology - but there is a deep, deep force that has not been harnessed, which cannot be controlled, which flows through all of us.

Why don't you feel this force?

Because most modern humans are completely disconnected from their own power."

Lucy Cavendish

Julia Cameron on the tenderness of the Universe

Last year I held a very successful workshop on living a life filled with joy. We did a number of exercises, we journalled and we had some gorgeous readings ad meditations. One of the readings/meditations I did was adapted from one of Julia Cameron's reflections in her exquisite book Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartful Life. So many people responded to that reading that I thought I would put it up here in my blog:

I am Held in Compassionate Arms
(from Julia Cameron's book Blessings)

The universe is tender toward my heart.
I count this a great blessing and I trust it.
Frightened, threatened or overwhelmed, I place my emotional safety in the hands of a loving universe.
I ask for protection, wisdom and discernment.
Knowing that I am cared for and protected, I am alert for support and security coming to me from many directions.
I find supportive people, comforting events, unexpected and gracious encounters.
The world is not a hostile place.
I am aided and safe.
The world is my home.
I am aided, safe and protected.

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