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.

An exceptionally generous gift you can give anyone

Think of a book (or movie, album, whatever) that you really love. Now imagine someone says to you, ‘Let me take the time to read that book, and then let’s talk about it. For an hour.’

Which, if you think about it, is an incredibly generous thing to do.

Image

This is the premise of Ben Hobson’s podcast, Burgers, Beers & Books. Or, part of the premise – the other bit is sitting around enjoying beers and burgers while talking about books. Clearly, Ben’s a genius. He’s also the author of Snake Island and To Become a Whale, and has a new novel forthcoming in 2022.

The chipotle burger I ate an hour before I spoke with Ben, because I forgot that Queensland doesn’t have daylight savings time.

When Ben invited me on his podcast, I knew exactly which book I wanted to talk about – John Sandford’s Certain Prey.

Since winning the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1986, Sandford has become the author of more than 50 books, most of them crime thrillers. His first book, Rules of Prey, introduced Minneapolis Police detective Lucas Davenport, one of my all-time favourite fictional characters.

There are now 31 books in Sandford’s Prey series. I’ve been reading it for over 20 years, since I worked in a secondhand bookshop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and would hole up in the back stockroom listening to audiobooks on cassette.

(I’m also obsessed with the series’s narrator, Richard Ferrone, whose voice is synonymous with the characters for me.)

It was hard for me to pick a favourite for Ben to read. Ideally we would have read the whole series together and spent 31 hours talking about it, but I had a feeling Ben wasn’t going to go for that.

I ended up choosing Certain Prey because I love the antagonist, Clara Rinker. She’s a hit woman for the St Louis mob, and the novel centres around her burgeoning friendship with Minneapolis defense attorney and sociopath Carmel Loan.

I find this particularly interesting because not a lot of thrillers explore female friendship.

There were so many authors and books I could have chosen for this guest interview with Ben (a title from my list of great reads, for instance). I chose Sandford because I’ve recently realised that I don’t know anyone else who reads them, so I’ve never really had an opportunity to discuss them in depth. (So if you’re a Sandford fan, please email me!)

In this very fun interview, Ben and I discuss the different ways to approach a writing practice, the 10,000-hour theory of mastery, and Ben’s Nana’s reading preferences.

We talk a lot about Sandford, Davenport, and Certain Prey, and this is the only series I’ve loved for years.

I also get into the less-violent perpetrator strategy, which I used in my first book, My Name Is Revenge. I explain it in more detail here.

At the end, our conversation devolves into a Con Air love-in, although Ben and I disagree about the film’s fundamental brilliance. For Ben it’s Nicolas Cage and his Alabama accent, whereas I’d prefer a cut that was nothing but John Cusack as US Marshal Vince Larkin.

One correction to our chat: I said the original title for Winter Prey was The Iceman, but I’ve since learned that this was only true in the UK. In the US the title was always Winter Prey.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Redemption Point by Candice Fox
Will by Will Smith
The Torrent by Dinuka McKenzie
David Heska Wanbli Weiden
– Rachel Howzell Hall (check out my recommendation on this summer reading list)
– Anne Perry
– Patricia Cornwell
– Jane Harper
– Dervla McTiernan
– Lee Child
– James Patterson
– and My Name Is Revenge

Listen to episode 11 of Burgers, Beers & Books with Ben Hobson, a spinoff series from Words and Nerds with host Dani Vee.

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.

James and Ashley Stay at Home podcast

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)