Unleash your creative genius

Humans are creative creatures. Look at everything we’ve created, from the Eiffel Tower to competitive hot dog eating to this amphibious bicycle.

Ready to bike across the Atlantic!

I’m always bursting with ideas (though none as great as that Floaty the Bubble Bike). And I’m sure you are too – even if you don’t know it.

This has been one of the delights of becoming an author. When I was writing my first book, one of my 8000 worries was that I only had this one idea. What if I wrote the book, and it got published, but then I couldn’t think of anything else to write about?

But learning to write meant, in part, learning to pay attention to my creativity. And the more I paid attention to it, the more I realised the problem wasn’t too few ideas.

It was too many.

Now I have a list of about a dozen ideas for books, some more far-fetched than others. I have ideas for essays scrawled all over the place, and no time to even start them.

More and more research is showing how creativity is a muscle, and that even if our adult selves have been conditioned to tune out our creative impulses, they’re still there. We just need to rebuild them, which basically means to start listening again.

Elizabeth Gilbert has lots of wonderful things to say about this in Big Magic. Do yourself a favour, listen to her narrate the audiobook. She advises having an affair with your creativity – sneak it into your life however you can manage, get excited, let it be joyful.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Big Magic - Vogue
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

And creativity is worth pursuing, not just for the joy, but also because it can be healing! As art therapist Karin Foxwell explained in an interview, creativity can help people discover why they feel the way they do and how they express meaning in their lives.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that creativity is a practice – that means just sitting down and doing it. There’s incredible freedom in that. There’s no right or wrong way to be creative, whether you’re writing or dancing or gardening.

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss all of this with author, Story Room Aus host and positive ageing activist Karen Sander for her podcast, Ageing Fearlessly.

Ageing Fearlessly Podcast

In my work at Writing NSW, I’ve met a lot of people who started writing later in life, often in retirement. They usually say that they always wanted to write, but that they never had the time. I always admire them for finally making time to reconnect with their creative selves.

In my interview with Karen, I talk about the process of developing my writing practice and prioritising creativity, and share tips and resources for doing the same.

Wishing you creative joy,
Ashley
xo

Ep 38 How to survive an earthquake with Michelle Tom

‘I went on a post-mortem enquiry. How did we end up here? We were five and now we’re two.’

Michelle Tom began her writing career as a print journalist in her native New Zealand. Michelle was selected for the ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY 2019 program and for a Varuna Memoir Masterclass in 2017. Michelle lives in Melbourne with her husband and two youngest children.

Her vulnerable and cathartic memoir, Ten Thousand Aftershocks, explores two key traumas – the multifaceted abuse she experienced during childhood, and her survival of the 2021 Christchurch earthquake.

Together, we discuss how she began writing the memoir, the process of re-examining trauma, and her choice to tell the story in fragmented vignettes.

The fragmented narrative style wasn’t her initial choice. When she attend a one-week masterclass with one of Australia’s best-known memoir authors, she realised a lot of her early draft wasn’t working.

‘I’d gone to Varuna thinking that week was going to clarify everything and I went to Patti Miller who was running the course and basically said, Tell me how to structure this and she said, Darling, you’re going to have to figure that out for yourself.’

This episode also features a record-breaking What Are You Reading segment, in which James recalls the time someone recommended he read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series because the main character is 6’9, the same height as James, and we determine that main character height may be the worst motivation for reading a book we’ve encountered.

Plus, is it going to be just James from now on?! Join us for an emotionally turbulent episode of James and Ashley Stay at Home!

Books and authors discussed in this episode:
Memoir Writing For Dummies by Ryan Van Cleave
Trespasses: A Memoir by Lacy M Johnson
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
– Lee Child’s Jack Reader series
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Return by Rachel Harrison
It by Stephen King
Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke
Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon (of course!)

Plus Michelle’s fellow 2021 debut authors:
Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke
The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens
Echoes by Shu-Ling Chua
What Does it Feel Like Being Born? by Jodie Miller
The Sentinel by Jacqueline Hodder
Eye of a Rook by Josephine Taylor (who we interviewed in episode 20)
– Smokehouse by Melissa Manning
– Sha’Kert by Ishmael Soledad
– Modern Marriage by Filip Vukašin
– The River Mouth by Karen Whittle-Herbert

Listen to episode 38 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

PS. Looking for more great bookish podcasts? Ep 382 of Words and Nerds introduces you to FIVE.

Ep 37 ‘The diagnosis was everything to me’

In episode 37 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, we speak to two neurodiverse authors about receiving diagnoses as adults, oversharing, figuring themselves out through their writing, and so much more.

Anna Whateley is an #OwnVoices author and proudly autistic, with ADHD and sensory processing disorder. Her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, is about 16-year-old neurodivergent Peta Lyre, who is the success story of social training until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Her next novel, Tearing Myself Together will be released early 2022 with Allen & Unwin. She lives in Brisbane.

Kay Kerr is a freelance writer and YA author from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. She was writing her debut novel Please Don’t Hug Me when she was diagnosed with autism, and she is passionate about autism and wider disability representation in YA fiction. Her second novel Social Queue is a romantic coming-of-age story featuring an autistic teenage girl, and it’s coming out in October 2021.

Their humourous and recommendation-filled newsletter, The Overshare, features seven sections:
Listen Up–for all things auditory and musical
All The Feels–for sensory gadgets and neurodivergent products we are loving
Off The Shelf–bookish things including what we are reading and upcoming events
Uh Oh–life disasters, bloopers and social mistakes
Leaving The House–pretty self explanatory
Who Put Me In Charge–challenges in parenting, executive functioning, and life admin
Scratch Pad–to share new writing bits and pieces.

Books and authors discussed in this episode:
Late Bloomer by Clem Bastow;
The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough;
Henry Hamlet’s Heart by Rhiannon Wilde;
Future Girl by Asphyxia;
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro;
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro;
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro;
Vodka and Apple Juice by Jay Martin;
A History of My Brief History by Billy Ray Belcourt;
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Listen to episode 37 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Ep 34 Secret podcast stuff

In episode 34 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, we speak to bookish entrepreneurs and writers Amy and Laura about how Secret Book Stuff evolved from a kindness-generating project into a business, how books have been transformative in their lives, and how reading makes you better in bed.

Secret Book Stuff is an online bookshop specialising in book subscriptions and gifts for book-lovers. For every book sold, Secret Book Stuff plants a tree.

One of this episode’s highlights was learning Laura’s and Amy’s favourite books.

Laura’s Top 5 Books*
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Felicity by Mary Oliver
I’ll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell
– anything by Joan Didion

Amy’s Top 5 Books
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
– Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
– Animal People by Charlotte Wood
– Hot Little Hands by Abigail Ulman

*Because why stop at five?

More books and authors discussed in this episode
Hold Your Own by Kae Tempest;
Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson;
Women by Chloe Caldwell;
– Samantha Irby;
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien;
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende;
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel;
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid;
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid;
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel;
The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay;
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez;
A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet;
Ghost Species by James Bradley (read James’s review here)

Listen to episode 34 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Ep 32 Writing the story you want to write with author RWR McDonald

When RWR (Rob) McDonald was writing his award-winning debut novel The Nancys, he was working full time in a high-stress job, studying a master’s degree, and was also a dad to two young girls.

Around the time he got a literary agent, he decided to take a step down, career-wise, into a lower-stress role. Which seemed like a great decision for his health and sanity.

But then he ended up with shingles, and a serious chest infection.

Rob is an award-winning author, a Kiwi and Queer dad living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. His debut novel, The Nancys, won Best First Novel in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, and was a finalist in the Best Novel category. It was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, and Highly Commended for an Unpublished Manuscript in the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Nancy Business is his second novel.

(And you might remember Rob from the fantastic job he did launching How to Be Australian!)

In episode 32 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, Rob discusses how pushing himself through parenting, study, high-stress work and creative ambitions was the likely trigger for ongoing health issues.

But, as he reveals, he’s now stepped back from high-stress work and is writing full time.

We also talk about using Nancy Drew as his inspiration for The Nancys, a series very much for adults, and writing his newest novel, Nancy Business.

We get into grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, and my favourite fictional character, Devon (no last name, it’s like Cher).

Want to win a signed copy of Nancy Business? Sign up for my monthly author news here and enter the upcoming draw >>

Books and authors discussed in this episode:
– Harold Robbins (contact Rob for title recommendations);
– The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene;
Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke;
The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart;
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake;
Goat Mountain by David Vann (who we interviewed in episode 23)

Listen to episode 32 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

You can find Rob on his website or across social media, and get Nancy Business from all book retailers – bonus points for supporting local booksellers, who support local authors!

And the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize goes to …

Huge congratulations are due to my podcast co-host, writers’ group member and fellow health-challenged friend, James McKenzie Watson, who has won the won the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize for his manuscript Denizen.

Launched in 2017, the Penguin Literary Prize was established to find, nurture and develop new Australian authors of literary fiction.

I’ve read a draft of Denzien and loved it, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world next year. In the meantime, I thought I’d ask James to introduce the book. And then while I was at it, I asked a bunch of other questions.

Ashley: What is Denizen about?
James: Denizen is an Australian gothic/literary thriller that explores rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points. In it, a volatile eight-year-old in Western NSW struggles to subdue the chaos in his head, unaware of how profoundly his actions will one day affect his own fatherhood.

A: When did you start writing it? Do you remember the day you started?
J: Like many of my early manuscripts, Denizen had its origins in a home movie. As an adolescent, one of my creative outlets was short (and far too long) film – a lot of which were feature-length epics whose production and post-production scales go a long way to explaining why my year ten attendance rate was 40 per cent. My earliest ideas for Denizen were that it would be based loosely on a 90-minute film I made when I was 15, called The Creek.

In 2015, when I was 23, I woke up one day to find that I couldn’t feel my feet. Soon after, I was in Royal North Shore Hospital being treated for Guillain Barre Syndrome, a progressive neuropathy that causes rapid paralysis. Part of the work up to diagnose GBS is a lumbar puncture, after which I had to lay flat on my back for two hours. I distinctly remember being rolled onto my back, staring at the ceiling and thinking, “well, now seems as good a time as any to start planning this novel.” I spent the next two hours working it through in my head until I had a clear idea of what the book I would look like. I started the first draft almost as soon as I was discharged from hospital.

In the five years and six drafts since then, Denizen has evolved from being a recognisable adaptation of The Creek into something very different. That said, evidence of its origins remains, particularly in the middle act.

A: What was the most difficult part of writing Denizen?
J: I struggled a lot with characterisation, which I suppose is an expected challenge when writing from the point of view of a deeply flawed protagonist. It took a lot of work to make Parker, the main character and narrator, someone readers could empathise with. In the end, realised it was more important to make him relatable than likable, and so I focused on that.

A: One year into James and Ashley Stay at Home, what’s the best episode for listeners to start with?
J: I’m very biased, but whenever anyone asks me this question, I tell them episode 23. In it, Ashley and I interviewed David Vann, one of my all-time favourite authors and literary heroes. The conversation was everything I’d hoped it would be – a raw and fascinating exploration of his motivations and process, peppered with his insights into literature, philosophy and politics.

That said, there are probably more accessible entry points into our rapidly growing catalogue. Episode 17 (The Best Writing Tips from 2020) showcases just some of the many wonderful writers we’ve spoken to and is also a miniature masterclass in the writing craft. It’s hard to pick out specific interviews from all the amazing conversations we’ve had, but episode 9 (Karen Foxwell), episode 14 (Kate Mildenhall), episode 14 (Elizabeth Tan), episode 16 (Ada Palmer), and episode 18 (Nardi Simpson) would all be good places to start. If you prefer your health and writing podcasts a bit more health heavy, you could do worse than to start with episode 25 (in which Ashley and I discuss our health). It was a hard one to record and listen to, but I was blown away by the wonderful response it received.

A: What’s your favourite Australian animal?
J: The Australian magpie. They’re only bastards if they’re nesting and you’re in their space, and even then, they’re just protecting their babies. They’re gorgeous. They have such a beautiful song. Have you ever seen a magpie sun itself? They lie on their bellies with their wings outstretched – it’s hysterical. And they play like dogs do! They lie on their backs and wrestle with each other. Young magpies look so ridiculous and adorable with their fluffy grey baby feathers, and their weird, spherical bodies. They’re incredibly clever and resourceful. They’re a lot more than just that vicious, swooping bird that takes people’s eyes out. I’d probably swoop at you if you rode a bike through my house too.

You can follow James on Twitter and Instagram, and listen to James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app.

Ep 30 Recovering from childhood with Ruhi Lee, author of Good Indian Daughter

After growing up suffering emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse within what was ostensibly a loving family, author Ruhi Lee decided to speak out.

But before she could do that, she had to learn how to articulate and process her own feelings. Beyond basic terms like happy and sad, she didn’t have a language of emotion. In episode 30 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, Ruhi tells us about her childhood, the process of writing her book, and a lot more.

Ruhi articles, poetry and book reviews have been featured in the Guardian, ABC Life, SBS Voices, South Asian Today and the Big Issue among others. In 2019, she was a recipient of the Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund and her manuscript was shortlisted for the Penguin Random House Write it Fellowship. Good Indian Daughter is her first memoir.

Books discussed in this episode:
Yes Please by Amy Poehler;
This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay;
Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas;
Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon;
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby;
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Listen to episode 30 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Ep 28 Burning out with Dr Yumiko Kadota, author of Emotional Female

Yumiko Kadota was a junior doctor and working hard towards her goal of becoming a plastic surgeon in NSW. But the demands of her workplace became increasingly extreme, and she found herself dealing with bullying, sexism and racism, as well as unreasonable hours. If anyone should know how important sleep is for the body, it should be health care professionals (and the people who manage their rosters). Right?

Instead of sleeping, Yumiko was working longer and longer hours, and was constantly on call. Her health started to deteriorate.

By the time she left her job, she was so unwell that she ended up back in hospital – as a patient.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast yumiko kadota quote

She recounts her journey from ambitious student to junior doctor to patient suffering burnout and depression in her new memoir, Emotional Female.

In episode 28 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, we talk to Yumiko about putting your health first, how burnout affects empathy, and the stigma of invisible illness.

We also discuss Yumiko’s experience with chronic fatigue and the research it inspired: ‘I knew that what I’d experienced was real, and I wanted science to back it up.’

We also discuss why the working conditions of doctors are important for everyone: ‘One of the features of burnout is a lack of empathy [which] really affects the quality of care given to patients.’

Books discussed in this episode
– ‘A Room Called Earth’ by Madeleine Ryan
– ‘Earthlings’ by Sayaka Murata
– ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy
– ‘Thus Spoke the Plant’ by Monica Gagliano

Listen to episode 28 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Ep 27 Writing for connection with Emily Maguire, author of ‘Love Objects’

‘It’s really important to me, as a writer, to get under the skin of my characters.’ In her new novel, Love Objects, Emily Maguire does exactly that, exploring one woman’s experience with hoarding disorder as a way to better understand our relationships with objects – and with each other.

Emily is the author of six novels, including the Stella Prize and Miles Franklin Award-shortlisted An Isolated Incident, and three non-fiction books. Her articles and essays on sex, feminism, culture and literature have been published widely including in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the Observer and the Age. Emily works as a teacher and as a mentor to young and emerging writers and was the 2018/2019 Writer-in-Residence at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney.

In episode 27 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, we talk to Emily about her interest in hoarding disorder, our relationships to material possessions, and why it’s often so difficult to talk about what causes us pain.

She also draws on her experience as the longtime teacher of Writing NSW’s Year of the Novel course and shares her key advice for writers.

Books (etc) discussed in this episode
Friends and Dark Shapes by Kavita Bedford (who we interviewed in ep 24)
– The Shape of Sound by Fiona Murphy
– Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
– Emotional Female by Yumiko Kadota
– Writing in your pyjamas: a writing metaphor from Sandra Cisneros

Listen to episode 27 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.