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 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.

Fruitys for Life*

The people in the computer

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

Jenna artist

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.

Ep 33 Writing yourself back to health with Joanna Nell, GP and bestselling author

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’.

In episode 33 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, we talk to Joanna about her focus on on positive ageing. This ep also features what she describes as the most fantastic question she’s ever been asked.

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.

Want to win a copy of The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing HomeSign up for my monthly author news here and enter the upcoming draw >>

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

Listen to episode 33 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 Joanna on her website and across social media, and get The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home from all book retailers – bonus points for supporting local booksellers, who support local authors!

The key to being smarter, healthier and happier

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.

Or check out James and Ashley Stay at Home, a podcast that features interviews with a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction authors.

Still not sure? Get in touch and I’ll recommend you a read that I’ve loved!

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!

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.

The relative shape of a human

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

You can watch the full interview here.

Wishing you your full humanness,
Ashley
xo

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.