Ep 58 When your body betrays you with author Rae Cairns

After a broken finger brought on a debilitating illness, author Rae Cairns lost two years as her doctors searched for the right treatment. A bad reaction to drugs caused her hair to fall out. When her health had stabilised enough for her to return to writing, she lost her literary agent.

Undeterred, Rae self-published her first novel. After being shortlisted for a major award, she had a new agent and a two-book publishing deal with HarperCollins with a few weeks.

In episode 58, Rae talks to James and Ashley about living with chronic invisible illness, coping with brain fog, and cultivating the resilience to share a story that, in her words, she just had to tell.

Rae Cairns’s debut novel, The Good Mother, was shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Awards for Best Debut Crime Fiction, and was published by HarperCollins in 2022. Her second novel will be out in 2023. Rae lives in Sydney.

Rae’s rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis came out of the blue. ‘My body had been my strength, and all of a sudden it was betraying me.’ Later she learned that at least one other person in her family had the condition, but when she first began experiencing the onset of symptoms, they came as a shock.

To return to novel writing and go on to achieve the huge success she’s had with The Good Mother, Rae has had to learn how to manage her symptoms, including the brain fog that still causes her to lose entire days and struggle to recall even the simplest words.

She wrote the first draft of The Good Mother by hand – ‘now, with joint issues, that’s not possible.’

‘I had to get a new relationship with everything in my life,’ she says, including her husband, her children, and her writing.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
The Missing Among Us by Erin Stewart (ep 54);
Daughters of Eve by Nina D Campbell;
Black and Blue by Veronica Gorrie;
Autumn by Ali Smith;
The Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet;
Negative Space by BR Yeager;
My Name Is Revenge by Ashley Kalagian Blunt;
Goat Mountain by David Vann;
It by Stephen King

Listen to this episode 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 57 Experimenting with form and place with author Yumna Kassab

In her exploration of life in rural Australian, author Yumna Kassab draws on horror, crime and gothic inspiration to craft a thematically linked experiment in form and style.

Yumna Kassab is a writer from Western Sydney. She studied medical science and neuroscience at university. Her first book, The House of Youssef, was listed for prizes including the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Queensland Literary Award, NSW Premier’s Literary Award and The Stella Prize.

In episode 58 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, she speaks to us about her own experiences of rural life, how her science background has influenced her experimental approach to writing, and books as time travel.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
– Karl Ove Knausgaard
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
Divorce Is in the Air by Gonzalo Torne
Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler
Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke

Listen to this episode 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 55 A very overcomeable fear with author Katherine Collette

The first time Katherine Collette attended a Toastmasters meeting, she immediately thought, ‘This would be great for satire.’

Toastmasters is a public speaking organisation that started in the US over 90 years ago, and now has over 300,000 members in 149 countries – and both Katherine and I are past members.

Toastmasters is also the inspiration for Katherine’s second novel, The Competition.

Author Katherine Collette James Ashley Stay Home Podcast

Katherine Collette is a novelist, podcaster and engineer living in Melbourne with her husband and two children. Her debut novel, The Helpline, was published in Australia, Germany, Italy and the US and UK. She co-hosts the writing podcast The First Time with author Kate Mildenhall.

Authors Ashley Kalagian Blunt and Katherine Collette pose with a copy of The Competition.

If you’ve ever dreaded public speaking, ep 55 of James and Ashley Stay at Home is for you! We explore why public speaking is so intimidating for most people, and how that fear can be overcome.

We also discuss Katherine’s personal experience with public speaking clubs, and how they can build both confidence and empathy. As she says, ‘You sign up to learn to speak. But the real power is in having to listen.’

Two authors who really like salted caramel gelato

Finally, we answer the question – is some discomfort in life necessary?

Books and authors discussed in this episode
After Story by Larissa Behrendt
– David Sedaris
Found, Wanting by Natasha Sholl
– Sarah Krasnostein
Love Stories by Trent Dalton
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
– Ben Hobson

Listen to episode 55 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 51 Finding something purely for yourself with award-winning author Dinuka McKenzie

When Dinuka McKenzie first sat down to write a novel, she had no dreams of publication – or understanding of the craft of fiction. She was the working mother of two young kids, feeling like everyone wanted something from her all the time. All she wanted was to do something that was purely for herself.

Now she’s the award-winning author of The Torrent, a police procedural set in small town Australia.

In episode 51, we talk to Dinuka about why she chose a pregnant small town detective as her main character, how her own experience as a working mum influenced her story, and how she even managed to find time to write with everything else going on in her life (especially when she had a grumpy four-year-old hiding her phone after a Very Important Call)!

Dinuka also shares what it was like to win the 2020 Banjo Prize, the anxiety that comes with achievement, and how she needs to remind herself to step back and enjoy it all.

Dinuka McKenzie is an Australian writer and book addict. Her debut crime-fiction manuscript The Torrent won the 2020 Banjo Prize. She works in the environmental sector and is part of the Writers’ Unleashed Festival team. She lives in Southern Sydney with her husband, two kids and their pet chicken.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
The Housemate by Sarah Bailey
The Others by Mark Brandi
The Shadow House by Anna Downes (from ep 5)
The Good Mother by Rae Cairns
Wake by Shelly Burr
Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor
Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding
How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998 by Helen Garner
Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris

Catch Dinuka at her upcoming events!
Thurs 17 Feb 6.30 pm AEST via Avid Reader online
Thurs 24 Feb 6pm AEDT via Bad Sydney Crime online

Listen to episode 51 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 48 Building community after loss with author Shankari Chandran

How do we build community and a sense of self after loss, especially the kind of loss that echoes for generations?

In episode 48, James and I talk to Australian author Shankari Chandran about her latest novel, Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, and how her efforts to find connection in the writing community echo her Tamil family’s work to build community after being dispossessed from their homeland in the Sri Lankan civil war.

As she writes, ‘Possession of land is nine-tenths of the law. Possession of history is nine-tenths of the future.’

Shankari Chandran was raised in Canberra, Australia. She spent a decade in London, working as a lawyer in the social justice field, before returning to Australia, where she now lives with her husband and children. She is the author of two previous novels, Song of the Sun God, and The Barrier, and has been shortlisted for the Fairway National Literary Award and the Norma K Hemming Award for speculative fiction.

In this episode, we discuss the reshaping of historical narratives, how families live with the legacy of genocide and dispossession, and Shankari’s struggle to find a publisher for her novels in Australia, and how her writing has helped her find a sense of community and connection.

This episode connects to our conversations with previous guests Nardi Simpson (ep 18), Luke Stegemann (ep 26), David Heska Wanbli Weiden (ep 40), in which we explore the legacy of mass traumatic events on the health of communities and society.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
A Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson (from ep 18)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
– David Heska Wanbli Weiden (from ep 40)
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian translated by Mabel Lee
Amnesia Road by Luke Stegemann (from ep 26)

Check out Shankari’s essay on writing and resilience published by Writing NSW, and get your copy of Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens from Booktopia or your local bookshop or library.

Plus, join Ashley for her Laneway Learning online workshop, The Joy of Creative Writing (Monday 31 January, 7:45-9pm AEDT) and her upcoming online event with Anna Downes (Thursday 3 Feb, 11am AEDT).

Listen to episode 48 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 top 10 most popular episodes of James and Ashley Stay at Home

James and Ashley Stay at Home, the podcast I co-host with author James McKenzie Watson, is about to hit 50 episodes.

We’ve been exploring writing, creativity and health since way back in June 2020, and we’ve talked to an amazing variety of guests. If you live with chronic illness or have a writing or creative practice, we’re bringing you guests that we hope you’ll love and learn from, as we have.

To celebrate our (almost!) 50 eps, here are our all-time top 10 most popular episodes.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast yumiko kadota

10. Burning out with Yumiko Kadota, author of Emotional Female (ep 28)
Dr Kadota shares shares the devastating effects of burnout, the difficulties women of colour face in the public health system, and the possible future directions of chronic fatigue research. Her revealing memoir is a bestseller so it’s no surprise this ep is so popular.

Author Ruhi Lee on James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

9. Recovering from childhood with Ruhi Lee, author of Good Indian Daughter (ep 30)
Ruhi Lee (who recently revealed her real name, Sneha Lees) discusses what it means to be a girl in a South Asian family, the notion of unconditional parental love, and how one generation avoids making the same mistakes as the last. Her memoir is raw and real, and full of unexpected laughs.

Woman in art studio

8. The healing power of creativity with Karin Foxwell, art therapist (ep 9)
In this fascinating interview, Karin describes the profound therapeutic power of art, as she’s observed in her work with military and emergency services personnel who’ve sustained PTSD in the course of their service. She also describes a ‘standard’ art therapy session, discusses the therapeutic power of writing, and explains why she thinks everyone should engage in some kind of art therapy.

This is an incredibly heartening episode, and I recommend it every time I teach about creativity.

Man and woman in Australian woods

7. Living with chronic illness: James and Ashley talk health (ep 10)
James and I discuss our own illnesses, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) respectively. We explain these conditions, discuss how they affect day to day life, and explore how illness has impacted our senses of self.

6. Where’s my Man Booker? James and Ashley share writing tips (ep 6)
It turns out we should all listen when James discusses writing tips, since he went on to witn the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize! He knows what he’s doing.

Author Anna Downes headshot and book covers

5. The year that almost killed Anna Downes, author of The Safe Place (ep 5)
Anna discusses the role motherhood and post-natal anxiety played in the development of her internationally bestselling debut The Safe Place, and how sacrificing one creative career helped pave the way for success in another. Anna’s second book, The Shadow House, is now in bookstores – and I’ll be in conversation with her about it for an online library event on Thursday 3 February. Join us!

Kate Mildenhall author headshot cover

4. Navigating creative anxiety with Kate Mildenhall, author of The Mother Fault (ep 13)
Kate generously discusses the craft of novel writing, the challenges of penning a second book, and the creative anxieties that plague creatives. This is another episode I recommend in every one of my creativity workshops.

3. Introduction episode! (ep 1)
If you’re new to James and Ashley Stay at Home, this is the place to start. (We hadn’t figured out how to write titles back then!)

michelle-tom-james-ashley-stay-home-podcast

2. How to survive an earthquake with Michelle Tom, author of Ten Thousand Aftershocks (ep 38)
We discuss the captivating and highly original structure of Michelle’s memoir, the strange parallels between childhood trauma and earthquakes, and the transformative power of owning your narrative. This was our most popular episode of 2021.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

1. Living in different universes with Ada Palmer, author and historian (ep 16)
Ada Palmer is an historian, composer and author of the Terra Ignota sci-fi/fantasy book series. She’s also an incredible speaker who lives with invisible illness. Here, she discusses how she’s managed to achieve her astonishing body of work while living with chronic pain, and the relationship between identity and disability. Ada offers valuable advice to all creatives who experience illness, so it’s no wonder it our most popular episode yet.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

Listen to  all episodes 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.

My big acting debut

Like everything else this year, my big acting debut happened while I was alone in my apartment, staring into the tiny green dot glowing above my computer screen.

And here it is!

Okay, yes, it’s just a quick video highlighting the great audiobooks available from my first publisher, Spineless Wonders, and the best app to get them from, Authors Direct.

But the raw emotive quality of my performance is clearly what carries the video, right?

Plus it’s no secret that Hollywood actors have larger than average heads, and mine definitely qualifies. It’s not just the hair! Although that does add several inches on top.

In conclusion, you should definitely listen to My Name Is Revenge on Authors Direct (or any good audiobook app) (or request it from your local library) and also don’t be surprised when I announce my role in the next Thor movie (probably playing a giant floating head intent on destroying New York City or at least lower Manhattan, I haven’t seen the script yet).

Ep 45 Writing the book you need with Jacinta Dietrich, author of This Is Us Now

When Jacinta Dietrich’s boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, she turned to fiction to find this new terrain explored on the page.

Except she couldn’t find her story.

While there were lots of narratives involving cancer, Jacinta was looking for a story that involved a young couple involved in a newer – but crucially, established – relationship, who had to navigate the progression of their romance while one of them also went through cancer treatment.

Jacinta Dietrich is a writer and editor who holds a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne. Her first book, This Is Us Now, was published in 2021 by Grattan Street Press.

In episode 45 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, Jacinta talks about fictionalising her story, writing confronting emotions, and telling her partner that the book she’d written based on their relationship was going to be published.

Plus, things go off the rails as we get into a heated and cryptic discussion of Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, and also exactly which co-host asked author Lyn Yeowart what she was wearing. (If you’re looking to give James a gift, maybe don’t go with a photo book.)

Books and authors discussed in this episode

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
  • Lee Kofman (featured in episode 3)
  • Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
  • Late Bloomer by Clem Bastow
  • Kay Kerr (featured in episode 37)
  • The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan
  • Tana French
  • Dinuka McKenzie
  • Andrew Solomon, of course
  • Ten Thousand Aftershocks by Michelle Tom (featured in episode 38)
  • Lyn Yeowart (featured in episode 39)

You can order This Is Us Now from Booktopia and bookshops across Australia.

Listen to episode 45 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 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.