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)
Your work has started a conversation Teeth over teeth tattoo
Live fast, die pirate
Think of good things 15 seconds plus, think about how it made you feel!
Chuck black high heels Cupcake with bow Fruitys for life
Thanks to the health professionals and all other essential people. Addicted to hair
Snake bite speeding cop body cam
“No matter how else you suffer, you will never have an itchy spleen.”
Cleveland butcher, torso murderer What a Bobby Dazzlwr! Ah struth — violence in braveheart
Ah beauty Jacqui’s mum
Writing is about the love of strangers I don’t sit down to commit an act of literature. Billy Collins
Tattoo: a noose with the words hang in there
Experience furniture like never before
Increase simplicity Increase flow state time Increase time with people I love
“It doesn’t matter if you’re sick” fuck you.
*This week I opened my Notes app and found the above collection of text. At various points I entered each of those series of words into the note, adding to it progressively, intending to do something with those phrases and concepts.
But what? I have no idea.
Regardless, I still get a kick out of the phrase fruitys for life.
Instead of anything sensible, please enjoy these photos from the 2015 Sydney Vivid Festival.
Joanna Nell worked as a GP until a 10-pin bowling accident led to her becoming a bestselling author.
Now, she jokes that she works part-time as a GP and full-time as a writer. Her novels feature ‘young-at-heart characters who are not afraid to break the rules and defy society’s expectations of ageing’.
Joanna is a Sydney-based writer, GP and advocate for positive ageing. Her bestselling debut novel The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village was published in 2018 with rights sold internationally. Her second novel The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker was published in 2019.
Her latest novel is The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home, which James describes as full of warmth, humour and charm.
Books and authors discussed in this episode – Providing Good Care at Night for Older People by Diana Kerr and Heather Wilkinson; – The Ripping Tree by Nikki Gemmell; – On Quiet by Nikki Gemmell; – Beautiful Kate by Newton Thornburg; – Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon
Mark your calendars! This year Australian Reading Hour is Tuesday 14 September. This is a chance to not only make some extra time in your schedule for reading, but also to celebrate reading and all its benefits and joys.
Australia Reads exists to ‘champion reading, promote the many mental health and lifestyle benefits of reading books, and encourage the next generation of avid book readers to significantly increase book reading by all Australians – no matter the format they read.’
As they say,
‘We believe reading is the key to a smarter, healthier, happier nation.’
And I completely agree! I wouldn’t be the person I am without all the books I’ve benefited from reading in my life time: I have a much deeper and broader understanding of the world around me and the complex and unique lives of the people in my community and my country, and around the globe.
Reading also gives me a chance to get off my devices and allow my attention to focus on one thing (it’s basically a type of meditation, in my experience). I generally sleep better on days when I get more reading in.
I also love listening to audiobooks when I’m walking, driving, doing chores and lying down. This keeps me engaged in the world of the book, which stops my mind from ruminating about my own anxieties. (And unlike podcasts, audiobooks don’t have ad breaks!)
And reading has connected to me to all kinds of wonderful people, and brought me joy through memorable stories, beloved characters, and fascinating insights into human life and history.
So there you go – that’s at least one person who’s smarter, healthier and happier. Imagine that to the power of 25 million!
If you’re looking to try new books and authors, check out my Great Reads, where you’ll find write-ups about many of my favourite books.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
When I first met up with Monica Michelle via Zoom and asked how she was, she replied “A relative shape of a human.”
I recognised the feeling.
Monica hosts Explicitly Sick, one of the podcasts from the Invisible Not Broken network. She lives with Ehlers Danlos Type 3, fibromyalgia and POTS, and after having to give up a career in photography, she now interviews writers, creators and artists with chronic illness.
Ehlers Danlos syndrome is one of many conditions I hadn’t heard of before I struck by chronic illness myself and discovered a community of millions of people living with a wide range of conditions that prevent them from fully participating in their own lives. Ehlers Danlos is actually a group of related connective tissue disorders that result in pain and fatigue, among a complex variety of other issues.
She started her podcast in part to “help others be kinder and more gentle with each other.”
Even while she’s coping with physical pain, Monica is a delight to speak to. In this conversation, we discuss: – chronic fatigue syndrome and my experience with insidious onset – the impact of illness on personal relationships – marriage counselling – the challenge of asking for help – writing about illness – Fiona Wright’s The World Was Whole – what progress means when you’re sick – the secret to fighting project inertia in creative projects
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.
She recounts her journey from ambitious student to junior doctor to patient suffering burnout and depression in her new memoir, Emotional Female.