Ep 64 If you kids don’t behave, I’ll turn this podcast around

Authors Ashley Kalagian Blunt and James McKenzie Watson at the launch of Denizen at Gleebooks

Heads up, episode 64 of James and Ashley Stay at Their Respective Homes in Separate Cities is full of spoilers for Denizen – but this post isn’t.

If you haven’t read Denizen yet (where have you been?), you can still enjoy reading about our special double-guest episode, and then get even more excited to go and read Denizen so you can listen without spoiler concerns.

Double guests? That’s right, we finally got to speak to Hayley Scrivenor, plus we welcomed back our only repeat guest, author Jacinta Dietrich!

Hayley Scrivenor is the author of the number one Australian bestseller Dirt Town, also out now in the US and UK. She is a former Director of Wollongong Writers Festival. An earlier version of x was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize and won the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. Hayley lives on Dharawal country, on the east coast of Australia, and has a PhD in Creative Writing.

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. We first spoke to Jacinta back in episode 45.

We jump in immediately by talking about that ending then discuss the ethics of writing violence, one-star reviews, and, of course, the great lasagna-with-a-side-of-peas debate.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– Robert Gott; 
This Is Us Now by Jacinta Dietrich (from ep 45); 
Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor; 
– Petronella McGovern (from ep 12);
Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix), directed by Skye Borgman;
Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (from ep 23); 
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura;  
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; 
– Karl Ove Knausgård (of course);
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach;
The Keepers by Al Campbell;
Dark Deeds Down Under, edited by Craig Sisterson;
Reacher Said Nothing: The Making of Make Me by Andy Martin;
Dancing Barefoot by Alice Boyle;
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata;
– The Whispering by Veronica Lando

Authors Ashley Kalagian Blunt and James McKenzie Watson at the launch of Denizen, laughing

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.

Crafting feisty females with author Felicity McLean

When researching for her second novel, Felicity McLean learned there are more books and songs about Ned Kelly and his gang than any other Australian historical figure.

Kelly is pervasive in Australian culture, but McLean wondered how representative he is of who we are as a nation in 2022.

Her new novel plays around with just that question, through the distinctive, captivating voice of Ruby Red McCoy.

Felicity McLean’s debut novel, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone, has been published in numerous countries. It was a Barnes & Noble ‘Discover Great New Writers’ pick in the US, and was shortlisted for the Indie Book Awards. Her book, Body Lengths, co-written with Olympian Leisel Jones, was Apple Books ‘Best Biography of 2015’ and won the 2016 Australian Book Industry Awards ‘Reader’s Choice’ for Small Publisher Adult Book of the Year.

As a journalist she’s interviewed authors including Irvine Welsh, James Patterson, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Gillian Mears, Charlotte Wood, Tom Keneally, Nicholas Sparks, Judy Nunn, Wayne Macauley, Chris Flynn, Kirsten Tranter, Jo Nesbo, Kathy Lette, Anne Rice, Michael Robotham and Tara Moss. (In other words, who hasn’t she interviewed?!)

Photo credit A Hollingworth

In this takeover episode of Dani Vee’s long-running Words and Nerds podcast, Felicity and I discuss what drew her to this contemporary retelling of the Ned Kelly story, how she developed the character of Red and her striking voice, and her deep love for the New South Wales Central Coast.

‘Would we sympathise with an angry, feisty female?’ Felicity asked, in developing the book’s concept. ‘Would we judge her more harshly than the larrikin Ned Kelly? And how far could I push it?’

We also discuss Kelly’s Jerilderie letter of 1879, drinking undiluted cordial, the hitchhiking ghost and other Central Coast miscellany.

Catch my interview with Felicity on ep 532 of Words and Nerds, a podcast about all things books and writing. Available on Apple all podcast apps.

Ep 63 How not to write a memoir with author Bronwyn Birdsall

After contracting glandular fever as a child (aka mono), Bronwyn Birdsall ended up with such bad chronic fatigue, she missed six months of school. This was at a time when there was still significant stigma surrounding the illness.

Bronwyn grew up in Sydney. At age 24, she moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and worked as an English teacher. The four years she spent there provided the inspiration for her first novel, Time and Tide in Sarajevo. Her writing centres around contemporary life and finding meaning in the everyday. She writes from her home on Bundjalung Country, in Northern New South Wales.

In episode 63 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, a podcast about writing, creativity and health, Bronwyn joins us to discuss her life after chronic fatigue syndrome and the writing of Time and Tide in Sarajevo, which started not as a novel, but as a memoir.

Bronwyn worked on the memoir for years before one day suddenly finding herself writing fiction. he describes how the story opened up from there.

We discuss living with a mindset of rest and recovery, moving overseas and reinventing yourself, and the question at the heart of the book – how do we find hope in a world that feels beyond repair?

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– Sarah Sentilles
– Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
– Indelible City by Louisa Lim
– The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman
– Songs of a Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
– A Kind of Magic by Anna Spargo-Ryan
– The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis 
– The Whispering by Veronica Lando 

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 60 How to write a prize-winning novel with James McKenzie Watson, author of Denizen

When he was 22 years old, James McKenzie Watson began to experience the first symptoms of what doctors suspected was Guillain–Barré syndrome. To test for this, they gave him a spinal tap (not the rock and roll kind). After the procedure he had to lie on his back for two hours. In that time, he typed out his initial plan for what would become his prize-winning novel, Denizen.

James McKenzie Watson writes fiction with a focus on health and rural Australia. His novel Denizen won the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. Denizen also received a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship and a 2021 KSP Residential Fellowship. His writing has appeared in Meanjin and the Newtown Review of Books.

James was eventually diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), the relapsing form of Guillain–Barré syndrome, and lives with the condition today. Born in Coonabarabran and a past resident of Sydney, he now works as a nurse in regional New South Wales.

I realised early on that the idea I felt very strongly about was probably not marketable or readable in the form it was in. I do believe passionately about the issues that I’m addressing … but I have to have more consideration for the reader.

In episode 60 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, James opens up about the hurt and mentally unwell 22-year-old he was when he started the novel, and the 29-year-old author he’s become.

He also tells us about the process of writing the novel, how it developed over a series of drafts and through feedback from other emerging writers, and why he decided to enter it into the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. James shares his number one tip for aspiring writers.

I feel very lucky to have a physical, tangible thing that people who know me can read and know that I am okay in a way that I’m sure a lot of them were worried I never would be, when I was a teenager.

He also shares what his mum thinks about the book!

Plus, are James and Ashley married?! Or did they just not think through their podcast name? Find out in episode 60, along with the alternative (and even worse!) name they ultimately rejected.

Join us for the the launch of Denizen!
Thursday 28 July, 6:00pm
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe
Tickets $0-12

A gothic thriller from the winner of the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize, exploring rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points. Join me for an in-conversation to launch one of the best books of the year! Get your ticket here >>

You can find all of James’s upcoming events on his website.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– David Vann (of course);
– Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor;
The Liars by Petronella McGovern (from ep 12), out in September 2022;
– The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman (from ep 4);
– RWR McDonald (from ep 32);
– Lyn Yeowart (from ep 39)

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 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 56 How to survive a stalker with Ellis Gunn, author of Rattled

‘If he wants to follow me, I can’t stop him.’

After a random encounter with poet and author Ellis Gunn at an auction, a stranger decides to stalk her. Years later, she sits down to write about the experience – and realises it’s connected to a lifetime of gendered abuse, including surviving both sexual assault and domestic violence.

Episode 56 features a wide-ranging and compelling interview with Ellis. She discusses what she learned through the experience of writing her debut memoir, Rattled, including the psychological impacts of stalking, the reactions of her family and friends, and the concepts of agency deletion and radical empathy.

Ellis Gunn is a Scottish writer and poet who now lives in Australia. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published widely in the UK and she has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, Edinburgh Book Festival and the British Embassy in Berlin. She lives near the beach with her partner, two children, a cat and some ants.

One of the concepts she learned about in researching her experience is agency deletion, the way we use passive language to talk about ‘how many women are raped’, not ‘how many men raped women’. Ellis references #FixedIt, a website where Jane Gilmore dissects agency deletion in newspaper headlines.

Ellis also describes links between gendered violence and physical health, and offers the example of her own deteriorating health condition.

“Shortly after being stalked, I noticed a sudden increase in joint pain. It was painful to hold a book up to read when I was lying in bed, to carry bags of shopping back from the supermarket. When it started to affect my ability to do the cleaning and polishing necessary for my work upcycling furniture, I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and, some months later, osteoporosis which often goes hand-in-hand with joint inflammation. As far as I know, no one in my extended family suffers, or has suffered, from either of these normally hereditary conditions. As I came to the end of writing this book, I received a further, devastating diagnosis: stage 4 cancer, a rare and aggressive kind. I have no hard evidence that this is a direct result of being stalked, or raped, or living with domestic violence, but I do know that none of this could have helped.”

“In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk shows how the body is changed physically and mentally when exposed to trauma and stress, particularly if we have no outlet for our emotions. These changes can remain in the body and leave us vulnerable to all kinds of autoimmune diseases, including cancer. This has particular significance for women, who are at greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse and/or domestic violence in their lifetimes, but the implications are much wider. Children who live with domestic violence or neglect frequently have no way of processing the resulting trauma and therefore end up living with high levels of stress and often a disturbed view of themselves or the world. Van der Kolk argues that, if things are to change, we need to go to the root of the problem and help parents with their mental health issues, addictions, poverty or isolation. The result would be fewer children growing up with stress and the associated health conditions as well as the type of mental health issues that can lead to abusive patterns of behaviour. Financially, an investment in parenting programmes for disadvantaged families could save the US billions every year in health and criminal justice costs.”

Books and authors discussed in this episode
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
– ‘Tribes and Traitors‘, Hidden Brain podcast from Shankar Vedantam
Troll Hunting: Inside the World of Online Hate and Its Human Fallout by Ginger Gorman
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood
How to Be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Break by Katherena Vermette

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 52 Epiphanies, obsession and vulnerability with Lech Blaine, author of Car Crash

Writing a memoir is all about taking the mess of life and shaping into a coherent, moving narrative. This is what author Lech Blaine did for his memoir, Car Crash. Then, when writing Top Blokes, a Quarterly Essay on Australian politics, he found himself weaving memoir into his writing once again.

What’s the cost of so much vulnerability, especially when writing about trauma, grief, personal mental health?

Lech Blaine is the author of the memoir Car Crash and Quarterly Essay ‘Top Blokes’. His writing has appeared in the Monthly, Guardian Australia, Best Australian Essays, Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings and Meanjin. He was an inaugural recipient of a Griffith Review Queensland Writing Fellowship.

In episode 52, Lech speaks about the challenge of writing and releasing these two publications back to back during the pandemic, and the burnout that followed. He also discusses the epiphanies that writing memoir can bring despite unresolved feelings about events that are carefully distilled on the page, and the emotional toll of sharing so much vulnerability with readers. 

Books and authors discussed in this episode
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Timeline by Michael Crichton
Sphere by Michael Crichton
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
State of Fear by Michael Crichton
– Lee Child
– John Grisham
Know My Name: A Memoir by Channel Miller
Specky Magee by Felice Arena and Garry Lyon
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Glory Gardens by Bob Cattell

Listen to episode 52 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.

If you’re interested in writing memoir or joining for any of my upcoming writing workshops, check out my events page.

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.