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 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 23: Sinking a hotel room with internationally bestselling author David Vann

When we spoke to David Vann, he was on his final day of a two-week covid quarantine in a hotel room in Cambodia. He had with him an AED (an automatic external defibrillator) and an EPIRB (an emergency position indicating radio beacon), in case of sinking. He wasn’t specifically concerned about sinking the hotel room, but if it happened, he was ready for it.

David Vann is the internationally bestselling author of seven novels and three works of non-fiction. Published in 23 languages, his books have earned him literary accolades worldwide, appeared on 83 ‘best books of the year’ lists and seen him featured at nearly 100 international literary festivals. Among many publications, he’s written for Esquire, Men’s Health, the Observer, the Financial Times and National Geographic Adventure. He’s currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Warwick in England.

David spent his childhood in Ketchikan, Alaska, a setting which features in much of his work. When he was 13, his father Jim committed suicide by shooting himself. The pivotal event in David’s youth has been explored and alluded to in many of his novels, but never more directly or confronting than in his 2019 novel Halibut on the Moon.

Halibut on the Moon is an excruciating depiction of a downward spiral to suicide, written from the point of view of Vann’s father.

In episode 23, James and I speak to David about his writing process for this novel and others, and what he considers to be great writing (to James’s dismay, it’s not Knausgaard). We also speak about gun proliferation and mental illness in the US, and the current challenges of the publishing industry, even for authors as accomplished as Vann.

Books discussed in this episode:
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Goat Mountain; Aquarium; Legend of a Suicide; Bright Air Black; Last Day on Earth by David Vann
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Shadow Child by PF Thomése
Eight Lives by Susan Hurley
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

You can listen to episode 23 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app. Find out about past episodes here.

Ep 20: Up against the limits of medical knowledge with author Josephine Taylor

“I was pretty well bedridden, unable to move very easily for about the first year … I’d sort of have to shallow breathe into the tops of my lungs.”

When Josephine Taylor first began to experience chronic pain, she started to reduce her commitments. She was a career woman and a mum. But gradually, she had to shut down her whole life. Meanwhile, she struggled to get a diagnosis.

  • James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast
  • James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

Eventually the doctors concluded she had vulvodynia, chronic vulva pain lasting three months or longer that is medically unexplained. “That doesn’t mean it’s not real,” she adds. “It’s a very real medical condition.”

Josephine is a writer and freelance editor who lives on the coast north of Perth, Western Australia. She is Associate Editor at Westerly Magazine and an adjunct senior lecturer in writing. Her debut novel, Eye of a Rook, is drawn in part from her experiences with vulvodynia.

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Trapped with condition, she began to learn its history and write about it. “It seemed to me very important that people understand that actually there hasn’t been a great deal of movement forward in understanding or awareness since the 1860s.”

Eye of a Rook is a novel with two narratives, both about women suffering from vulvodynia. One storyline is set in contemporary Perth, and one set in England in the late 1800s. The historical narrative includes shocking details about women’s medicine and treatment at that time, drawn in part from research into “The London Surgical Home for the reception of Gentlewomen and Females of Respectability suffering from Curable Surgical Diseases”, which opened in 1858. Taylor describes the barbaric surgical procedure, called a clitoridectomy, which is proposed in the opening chapter as the solution to one of your main characters’ suffering.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

For both women, their illness affects their personality, and robs them of themselves, as well as affecting Alice’s career in Perth. We discuss how vulvodynia affected Josephine’s life, medical victim blaming, the difficulty of being diagnosed with a little-understood condition and the ongoing confusion of it, and the ‘finitude of possibility’ that chronic illness inflicts on a life.

Josephine is full of excellent advice and reassurance for anyone suffering chronic and/or invisible illnesses, about surrounding ourselves with people who believe us, and not letting our past dictate our futures.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

You can listen to episode 20 of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about our past episodes here.

Check out Josephine’s #FridayCookBook on Instagram and join her at this free Avid Reader online event with Lee Kofman on 9 February.  

This episode’s book chat
The Fifth Season by Philip Salem
Wintering by Krissy Kneen
‘The Wife’s Story’ by Ursula K LeGuin
Imperfect by Lee Kofman (who we spoke to in episode 3)
Unlike the Heart by Nicola Redhouse
Pain and Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson
Show Me Where It Hurts by Kylie Maslen
Hysteria by Katerina Bryant
One Day I’ll Remember This: Diaries 1987-1995 by Helen Garner
In the Woods by Tana French

For more information about vulvodynia and support:
The International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease
The Australian and New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society
The Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia
The National Vulvodynia Association (US)
The Vulval Pain Society (UK)