A journey into the world of Oliver Twist at Waverley Library - July 28, 2019

I am so excited to be the  guest speaker for the Friends of Waverley Library this month, talking all about Dickens, Oliver Twist and 19th century ideas of the child.

It will be a fascinating afternoon, and everyone is welcome.


FOWL presents: What the Dickens!

28 Jul 2019 2:00 pm   -   28th Jul 2019
Sunday 28 July
2pm in the Library Theatrette
Cost: $5
The Friends of Waverley Library invite you to accompany Walter Mason on a journey into the world of Oliver Twist, a world so different from the world of children today.
Walter is the Vice President of the NSW Dickens Society as well as a renowned speaker and author.

$5 entry charge includes light refreshments

Please book by emailing: fowlcontact@gmail.com

I'm leading a writing tour to Vietnam in April 2019 - and I want you to come!

14th - 24th April, 2019, Vietnam

Starting at Hanoi in the North, you will travel by buses and boats and planes all the way down to Can Tho, the lushly tropical heart of the Mekong Delta, where everyone lives on the water.

This is a precious opportunity for writers to see a country with a fellow writer who is passionate about the place and whose enthusiastic love for Vietnamese culture, literature, cuisine and life is unbounded.


Walter Mason, author of Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia, has been in love with Vietnam for most of his lifetime, and has been travelling and studying there since 1994.

Walter has studied Buddhism with some of Vietnam’s great masters and was a student at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University in Saigon studying the Vietnamese language.

He is the Vice President of the NSW Dickens Society and a well-known travel writer and speaker.

Walter is also a popular teacher of writing, mindfulness and creativity.

As well as leading tours to Vietnam, Walter teaches Cambodian, Vietnamese and Buddhist history.


    Daily writing workshops where you can work on one project, ideas for new projects or an account of what you experience during the trip.

    An overnight cruise through the exquisite Halong Bay, sailing around eerie limestone formations said to have been scattered by dragons.

    Sailing down the Perfume River in Hue to visit the elaborate tombs of past kings of the Nguyen Dynasty.

    Overnight in Hoi An, one of the most beloved and picturesque sites in Vietnam, filled with untouched old-world charm.

    Experience what it’s like to live as a local in Ho Chi Minh City as we visit Walter’s own little neighbourhood.

    Following in the footsteps of some of the most interesting writers on Vietnam, including Nguyen Du, Thich Nhat Hanh, Graham Greene and Marguerite Duras.


As well as seeing the entire country from top to bottom, you will also have an opportunity to work on your writing and ideas during daily writing workshops conducted by Walter at various places. Any kind of writer will experience a transformative shift in their work during this tour, even if they are only starting out or have just a few ideas.


single occupancy


twin share
View Tour Brochure

“Fairy-born and human-bred” - the Brontes and 19th century fairy lore. My talk at the Australian Bronte Association, March 9, 2019

I am very privileged to have been asked to speak to the Australian Bronte Association in 2019.

When asked to nominate a topic I immediately thought of something that had fascinated me for  years: the Brontes and fairies.

There are a couple of mentions of fairy-folk in Jane Eyre, and I notice them every time I re-read it (it is a book I love).

So in March I will be teasing out the connections between the fairies and the work of the Brontes.

Fairy-born and human-bred” – the Brontes and Nineteenth century Fairy Lore

The nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in traditional mythology around fairies and all kinds of mythical little-people. Walter Mason will talk about the times that fairies and nature spirits pop up in the writings of the Brontes and how these mentions might relate to the broader social history of the fairy folk. From Oscar Wilde’s father through W. B. Yeats and the Celtic revival and on to Conan Doyle, sprites, pixies, brownies and elves have proven remarkably resilient presences in the world of literature.

March 9, 2019 at 10.30 am.

Non-members most welcome.

The Australian Brontë Association meets in Sydney at the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel (near Town Hall Station) at 10:30am.

There is a meeting charge of $5 (members and non-members).

169 Castlereagh St, Sydney NSW 2000

Favourite Books: 2018

I suppose I should start with my usual caveat: This is not a list of books that came out in 2018 (though some of them did). It is my usual list of the books I really enjoyed reading this year. Some old, some new, some in-between.

1. You've Got to Read This Book by Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks - quite an old one, and quite meta - a book about reading books. But it is filled with interesting people talking about the books that inspired them, and I just love this kind of thing. The stories about the books were fascinating, and I noted a number of books from it that I haven't read or sometimes haven't even heard of. If you are wanting to put together a reading list for 2019, this will really help you

2. Depends What You Mean by Extremist by John Safran - I love Safran's strange, meandering works of gonzo journalism, and this one was fantastic. It's one of those books where you want to put off doing other things so that you can get back to it. An examination of Australian extremists from all sides.

3. The Memoir Book by Patti Miller - this is actually the second time I have read it, that's how good it is. This time I came away convinced that I need to write another memoir. Patti's style is engaging and entertaining, and the whole message of the book is incredibly inspiring and empowering. One for the budding writer in your life.

4. Our Paris: Sketches from Memory by Edmund White and Hubert Sorin - I have had a very Parisian year this year, reading-wise. This book has been in my library for ages, and when my partner had run out of something to read on the train I gave him this. He couldn't get past the first couple of pages because they were too sad. But he picked it up again and loved it. When I took it back from him I decided to have a look through it, and then I had to finish it (it IS a very slim book) there and then. When White writes like this nobody can beat him. One that you can enjoy in one sitting. A lovely and personal look at Paris written just after White's French lover of many years had died.

5. Mr. Eternity by Roy Williams (with Elizabeth Meyers) - a lovely, lovely little look at a part of Sydney's metaphysical and artistic history. And one you can read - and enjoy - even if you are not a Sydneysider. Roy is writing from an evangelical Christian perspective, but it is a perfectly valid one in this case because Arthur Stace, the man who spent decades wandering around Sydney writing the word 'Eternity' on the footpath, was a devout Baptist and evangelist. Roy's deep understanding of this mindset shifts this book to a whole new level, making it a thoroughly unusual, and unexpectedly fascinating, thing. A story beautifully told, and a terrific piece of popular history.

6. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles - always a thrill to read a book in which Sydney is the star. And a surprisingly rare occurrence. Castles' totally bewitching story set on Sydney's Northern beaches is engaging right from the start, and is quite cinematic in its storytelling. A fantastic easy read with many secret depths. This is the second of Belinda's books that I have read and loved - she is a rare talent.

7. The Miracle Club by Mitch Horowitz - and even rarer, a book that treats the spiritual tradition of New Thought seriously! Mitch's book is a practical and white-knuckled path to self-improvement, and he pulls no punches. Horowitz has been a serious student of American spiritual traditions for many years, and is himself a publisher of material that falls into  the genre (for TarcherPerigee). This book encouraged me to take myself and my dreams much more seriously. AND it gave me a blueprint for working towards them realistically.

8. How to be Your Own Genie by Radleigh Valentine - ok, another self-help book, but this one was so completely charming that I just couldn't resist. Radleigh was Doreen Virtue's long-time collaborator, but after her life took an unexpected turn it seems that he has stepped into  the void at Hay House and is finding his own solo voice. And that voice is abundantly clear in this cosy, friendly book about leading a more magical life based on his own brand of hokey folk-wisdom. It's rare that I fall in love with an author reading their books, but I did this one.

9. Homing by Shevaun Cooley - I am always trying to read more poetry, and I love the work  that Giramondo does in publishing Australian poets and introducing them to whole new audiences. I think this was my favourite collection of the year, the poems sparse little meditations on nature and literature. I have found myself returning to it all year, and it is quite an inspiring read for any writer, encouraging slow reading and reflection.

10. Alice: The Wonderland Oracle by Lucy Cavendish (artwork by Jasmine Beckett-Griffith) - ok, not a book,  but still a literary object. I am going to stop making excuses for including a card deck every year. This one, clearly, is a literary curiosity, and lovely and uplifting deck for anyone interested in literature. Also a great thing for younger readers to use - Jasmine Beckett-Griffith's amazing pictures speak to anyone's imagination, and Lucy Cavendish's ideas, words and meditations always seem spot on. A lovely way to inspire you to start each day - just take one the cards from the deck and see what the Universe might be wanting to tell you.

Martin Chuzzlewit and the lure of America - a talk by Walter Mason at Ashfield Library, 2 November 2018

Do come along and hear me talk about one of Dickens' most intriguing novels in November a Ashfield Library!


Speaker Series: Martin Chuzzlewit and the lure of America with Walter Mason



Walter Mason, Vice-President of the NSW Dickens Society, talks about one of the least discussed of Charles Dickens' novels, The Life and Times of Martin Chuzzlewit. It is a novel which Walter thinks is his best.
Walter Mason looks at Dickens’ relationship to America and the ways in which it was portrayed by his peers in English literature.

Date and Time


Ashfield Library
Level 3, 260 Liverpool Road
Ashfield, NSW 2131


Celebrate the fascination and wonder of one of the best children's books ever written - come along to my talk on Kenneth Grahame and The Wind in the Willows at the SMSA on June 15

It always pays to re-visit the books of one's childhood - they almost always reward multiple re-readings. And that is certainly the case with Kenneth Grahame's exquisite The Wind in the Willows, which  turns 110 on June 15.

To help celebrate this wonderful anniversary the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts has asked me to come along and give a talk about the book, its author, and why The Wind in the Willows is just as fascinating for adults as it is for children.

I do hope you'll come!

It's free, it starts at 12.30 and lasts exactly an hour so you can get back to work refreshed and inspired.

The SMSA is right in the middle of the Sydney CBD, about 3 minutes walk from Town Hall Station.

You don't even need to book! Just show up. I'd love to see you there.


Walter Mason — Wind in the Willows, 110th Anniversary

How to give a bad talk

I give lots of public talks and am always (hopefully) improving. I shudder when I think of mistakes I have made in the past, and yes, before you write to me in wounded grievance, I have made almost all of the mistakes on this list, so suck it up - I've had to. And yes, of course there are always exceptions - your entire shtick might be built up around one of these techniques. And that's fine - but you better not be doing any of the others! Let's make a deal - you only get one.

Me - hopefully not being TOO boring. This pic is from 8 years ago, and I wouldn't compose a slide like this anymore.

I also love attending talks and lectures and conferences, and have sat there withering in pain and boredom, and also been transported by a speaker's charm, cleverness and ability to win an audience. I have also observed speakers making all of the below mistakes, and seen their audience slowly fade away.

No matter what your subject, your primary goal is to win over your audience - if it isn't, why are you even giving a talk? You'd be better off at home binge watching Babylon Berlin.

So, in the spirit of helping both speakers and listeners, here is my list of how to give the perfect bad talk:

1. Make political points when you are talking about an unrelated subject: Just remember - 50% of the audience completely disagrees with you. Are you so good you can afford to lose 50% of your audience? This is happening WAY too often lately, and even when I agree with the speaker I die a little inside when they make a clumsy political joke. Yes, you can make sophisticated critical points which may very well be profoundly political, but the moment you re-situate those points in the present moment you have squandered all of your good work. Let your analysis speak for itself, and avoid the temptation to express your current pet political  peeve. People came to hear about the Lives of the Saints or an account of your Journey Through the Greek Isles. They really don't want to know how you intend to vote.

2. Say: "But I won't tell you more because I want you to buy the book": The last time this line was funny was 1948. People don't want to feel obviously manipulated, and they don't want to believe that the whole purpose of your coming was to sell a few books (even if this was indeed the sole reason you turned up). It's rude, it's a dumb tactic and it's counter-productive. Several times I have decided NOT to buy a book because the author said exactly that. Be generous, share whatever stories you want, and make attendees feel like they want to know more. Indeed, be mysterious and leave a few cliffhangers - but NEVER say that deathly line. The audience will work it out for themselves. Leave them wanting to know more - don't tell them they need to.

3. Slam another author or speaker on stage: This is surprisingly common. In almost all cities the literary and intellectual circle is tiny, and you can bet that a friend or relative of the person you are dissing is in the audience. Worst case is that they will stand up and challenge you publicly (I have seen this happen). They might also corner you after the talk and give you a talking to. They might instantly contact the slandered party and tell them what you said. Or (most likely) they will simply seethe in silence and walk out thinking the worse of you. The last time this happened to me the author on stage had just written a book about a subject that had also recently been covered in a book by another author. I was furious as the author being spoken about was my friend and, having read both books, I knew for a fact my friend's book was far superior. I left a strong advocate for the wronged book, and actively encouraged people not to buy the later book. Make your own points, and don't bad-mouth the work of others.

4. Have no visuals: The age is long past when you can hold an audience's full attention with no pretty pictures. I have seen speakers give talks that needed a few key images to make their point. I know that they didn't do it because they were either too lazy, too unprepared, or too afraid of technology to organise it. You need visuals - no exceptions.

*Strangely enough, this is the only point I have received any push-back on. So I am going to double down. You really do need pictures. I know you are a born storyteller who can set imaginations alight. But a quarter of your audience are bored, and always will be. Give them some distraction, for pity's sake. Other people have said that the pictures need to be good and expertly designed. Nah. Just big snapshots that fill the screen will do. That's just an excuse not to do the necessary extra work.*

5. Tell people about your good reviews and your entire back catalogue: Stop boasting and keep to the topic. You only get to tell people about your good reviews if it is immediately followed by an anecdote about someone who hated your book. Audiences HATE braggards and show-offs. If you really do need to tell them about how celebrated your book was/is, have the person introducing say it so you can put on a fake humble/embarrassed face while they say it.

6. Don't give someone a take-home fact or a moment of transformation: You need to start constructing your talks around these things. Think to yourself: "Now this is one of those amazing pieces of info that they will go home talking about," or "this is where I pause to let them absorb the amazingness of the story I have just told them." Give your talks some texture, and some high moments.

7. Don't prepare, but rely instead on your charm/cleverness/experience/intuition: Trust me, you don't have enough of any of these things to sustain a 45 minute talk. If you are unprepared you WILL be boring. And even if you are possessed of these remarkable qualities, imagine how much BETTER you will be if you prepare. And if you don't want to prepare, why on earth did you say yes to this in the first place? You owe it to your audience to prepare properly. And to rehearse after you have prepared.

8. Have slides full of text in 20 point: Unless your talk is a close reading of a particular text, I would avoid having words on the slide at all. Of course, sometimes words can make a nice additional element, but you must NEVER rely upon them to make a point, because guaranteed at least 25% of your audience won't be able to read them. I always have a rule: I can only use 60 point type. This drastically cuts down on the number of words you can put on a slide. But really, let pictures do the talking.

9. Give an intro, a little bit of background, and an overview of what you are going to talk about: Honestly, STFU. We don't need to know how the sausage is made. Just start telling the story with a strong idea and a strong visual. I think this really afflicts people with a corporate background, who somewhere along the line have picked up this ghastly advice on how to structure a presentation. Just tell us what you need to tell us. We couldn't care less about its structure. Stop telling me what you're gonna tell me and just tell me. OK?

10. Don't have a Plan B: This is a special community message to all the people who use Apple products. I have seen so many people turn up at a library/community centre/conference room and see their beautifully constructed presentation show up as a blank screen. Yeah, I know Apple products are superior and all, but there isn't a speaking facility anywhere that offers tech support for them. So A: Make sure your presentation is saved in a conventional Powerpoint format, and B: Have a fully thought out Plan B. I have turned up to speak at places where the power had gone out, where all the IT had just crashed and wouldn't be up again till Tuesday, where the only technical facilities on offer were a lectern and a glass of water, despite my instructions. You must be prepared and able to give a reasonably interesting talk no matter what. And, to be on the safe side, never have a presentation that hinges on a video or a piece of audio, or being online. These things are always the first to go wrong, so I make sure that, if I have them, they are only additional bells and whistles and not the focus of the entire presentation.

So there you go. I hope you find all of the above helpful, particularly if you are just about to give a talk and feel a little nervous. If you avoid all of the above, you should be ok.

I would also point you  towards the work of Michael Port and, if you live in Sydney, go and see the work of an expert public speaker like Susannah Fullerton.

Oh, and one more thing. I'd love to know if there are some points I have missed here. I am sure I have more to learn, and audience expectations are always changing. Leave a comment and tell me about something horrible you've noticed recently during a public talk.

Here are two more good points that have been raised by readers of this piece:

Go over time: The audience will hate you, no matter how good you are. This hatred will increase by a factor of 100 for every 10 seconds you go over time. In two minutes you will have undone all your good work. Always, always stick to the time  - in fact, finish up a couple of minutes early. Doesn't matter if you started late - everyone just has their eye on that clock. This is your contract with the audience - don't break it. And for God's sake don't ask "Is everyone ok if I keep going a little?" Everyone will be polite and nod while they poke pins into your eyes in their imagination. 

Say "I'll talk about that later" and then don't talk about it: I do this all the time! And I didn't realise how annoying it was till a reader pointed it out. You can foreshadow topics, people and points without telegraphing it. This is related to Point 9, I think. Give yourself some space, and don't promise when it is not clear you can deliver later on. 
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