Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anne Deveson talks about Waging Peace

Stephanie Dowrick, co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club, has reviewed Anne Deveson's new book earlier this month, and also discusses it in her video review with Walter Mason.  Now, in this short, fascinating Q & A, Stephanie asks Anne for some further insights - and we are so lucky to have them in these busy, immediately post-publication days for writer and peace activist Anne Deveson.

Q: Waging Peace reads as a book of the heart. Was there any particular moment in which you knew, "I have to write this"?

Yes - when I went to London in July 2000 to attend a big international conference on War and Peace and I found all the emphasis was on war, rather than peace. In the section where books and articles were on sale, 111 titles were on war, only three on peace.  And, at the conclusion of the conference, which was addressed by an eminent war historian, Professor Sir Michael Howard, Yale and Oxford - General of the Grenadier Guards, Military Cross, Fellow of All Souls - he wrapped up his scholarly speech by declaring  there would always be wars, because boys would be boys. It was a throw-away line - almost a joke - but it filled me with dismay.  I felt such beliefs doomed us to eternal war.
       In 2003, when I spoke at the Sydney Writers' Festival, much the same thing happened. The conference was called 'America, Iraq and the Future of War', so that most of this particular conference was directed towards war, not surprising considering the title.  Right at the end, I jumped up in exasperation and said, 'Instead of talking about 'America, Iraq and the Future of War,' why aren't we talking about 'America, Iraq and the future of Peace?'
       And that's why I came to write Waging Peace, a memoir of a life spent growing up in war and living in peace.

Q: You are writing with the glorious wisdom of an older, exceptionally thoughtful woman. How much progress have we made, culturally and perhaps also in our dealings with one another, in our thinking about peace over the last 20 years or so?

I think we have made much more progress towards peace than we realise. Our narrative of compassion is stronger due to a culture of universal human rights; we are far more aware of the horrors of war than we were in the past. We talk openly (but only recently) about post-traumatic stress disorder. Multimedia outlets mean it is much harder to hide war's vicious toll - Arab Spring erupts and we see it unfurl before our eyes. Figures about the cost of war and of armaments are openly displayed. Countries oppose the very wars they also support through their sale of armaments. How much longer will this be tolerated?

Q: I am a little disappointed that feminism did not influence the peace movement more explicitly and, indeed, that it's hard to locate an active "peace movement" these days? What am I missing?

Feminism has taken a visible role in peace protests. Jody Williams won a Nobel Peace prize [in 1997] for her work banning landmines around the world. [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2011.] Women in African countries are playing major roles clearing mines. Women in Rwanda and other African countries have been trained in conflict resolution and networks now operate throughout the world. Women protesting? Women marching? Hundreds and thousands; perhaps more integrated with men than in previous protests. [SD: Jerri Bird was just one of countless women engaged in peace activism in the Middle East. In Australia, International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) works to support women affected by stereotyping, domestic violence and abuse, and intercultural violence throughout the Pacific.]

Q:  My own explicit writings about peace, particularly newspaper articles, always brought protests and sometimes quite extreme ones. What keeps you hopeful that we not only can not only talk about, even "believe in" peace - but that we must?

Protests against writings about peace?  Yes, they come but so do comments that support writings about peace.  I think we are evolving -  evolving slowly - as people realise the terrible price of war, and also the ordinary simplicity of peace. Peace lies within our daily lives - if this should this be the way we choose.
The younger Anne, film-maker, broadcaster, writer

Q: How has writing about peace (and particularly its absence) changed your own views of that crucial issue of self-responsibility: that we have choices about the way we will and should behave?

Which brings me to self responsibility and to a recognition that peace, whether it be manifested by men or women or Bonobo monkeys, is a choice we can make or reject. Turn our attention now to the recent Boston "terrorism" [April 2013] and look how that whole community banded together, gave love and strength each to the other. This may be learned behaviour, but I also think it is innate. Sure, we make mistakes, certainly we can sometimes fail in our generosity but if I think back over a long life of some eighty-two years, I think we have progressed and continue to progress.

'Doucement, doucement [gently, gently],' said the French army officer in charge of loading corpses of men, women and children on to truck  - victims of the Rwandan genocide. 'Doucement, this is someone's wife or mother whose body you are holding, doucement.'

Anne Deveson with Waging Peace

Q:  I'd love you to share some practical ideas about peace-making: what readers can do to create greater peace in their immediate environment, as well as in the wider sphere. Do you have favourite "peace-making" ideals and actions? 

Do I have ideas about peacemaking?  Sometimes I lose them because the issues seem so huge and so difficult. In this case the only way to find peace again is to delve back into the personal - into my own life - into finding love when I am lost in anger; into talking instead of posturing; into listening rather than shouting. And into saying 'sorry' when sorry is called for. I am not an angel. Far from it. I can lose my temper and shake with anger. I can be unfair. But always I have a choice. I can continue along a path of rocks and thorns....or I can turn back and walk with love, all of which may sound a bit soppy, but it usually works.

Q: Thank you Anne!

To purchase Waging Peace, or any book you are seeking, visit our bookstore links (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. We would also love to hear from you...we treasure your comments and responses. You can easily post your comments below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Universal Heart Book Club Episode 8, April 2013

Welcome to the April 2013 video discussion from the Universal Heart Book Club - where your co-hosts Stephanie Dowrick and Walter Mason discuss our special finds of the month. This month we talk about Jennifer Skiff's The Divinity of Dogs, Anne Deveson's Waging Peace and Juliet Darling's A Double Spring.

You will also find our written reviews of these books below, as well as a range of other very fine articles including writer Jane Goodall's hosting of our new and very special feature "The Reading Life" and Sophie Masson's article on a new initiative for those eager to e-publish. You will also find a Manga reviewed, and Jane Meredith might provoke you to think quite newly about the "Dark Goddess". As you read the articles we feature each month, please feel free to share your views in our comments section.  It's easy using "Anonymous" if you don't have Google email. Just watch out for "Captcha": always two sets of letters or words with a space between. Those conversations are essential to this being the "book club" we envision. Many thanks to our dear friend William Suganda for the marvellous support he is giving us to film this short conversation.

This is one of Nick Haeffner's glorious photos. See Jane Goodall's article below.

Stephanie Dowrick reads two brave new books

Anne Deveson
Anne Deveson is one of Australia's wisest elders - in fact, she is one of our global wisest elders. Any new work from her is precious and worth reading. She has just published a memoir, Waging Peace, that focuses on her many years as a tireless human rights activist and peace-maker. It also focuses our attention on the innumerable ways in which, as a global family, we need to get our house in far better order when it comes to giving up war and waging the peace Anne longs for.  Peace is not, she makes very clear, simply a "gap" between wars: peace is a way of living that demands and needs new strategies and, above everything, new thinking.

That so many leaders (and their followers) could, in this 21st-century world, still see state-sanctioned violence - including war - as a "solution" to human problems and conflict is nothing short of tragic. This is something I also wrote about at length in Seeking the Sacred and I, too, feel very deeply about it. In fact, I have come to think that peace making is our most fundamental challenge because it depends so entirely on how we see "others", value their lives...and also see our own lives and values. What we are facing, and what Anne so powerfully and directly addresses, is nothing short of a crisis in consciousness, shaping and affecting countless other private actions and public policies.

Anne is a great story-teller, a very natural communicator and the book is immensely engaging to read as well as persuasive. She has decades of experience to call upon as well as vast writing experience and does this with exceptional skill, never overloading us with too much detail but nonetheless bringing some key situations in her lifetime vividly to life. The subtitle of her book is "Reflections on peace and war from an unconventional woman". Anne Deveson is unconventional. But I hope and pray that her views will become mainstream in our lifetimes. When it comes to peace and war, a radical change in thinking is urgently needed. Waging Peace can be read at so many levels. What matters, is that it is read.

You will find my video review of Anne's book in this month's video, and also of another quite different book that brings our attention not only to the devastation that violence causes but to how more intelligent re-thinking - and plain common sense and compassion - could save us from so many of these travesties.

Juliet Darling's book is also a memoir: A Double Spring: A year of tragedy, grief and loss. Juliet and Anne share a strange link too in that Anne's best-known book, Tell me I'm here, described the years of her gentle son Jonathan's loss of mental and emotional health (and then his life) to schizophrenia. In Double Spring, Juliet is also describing the devastation caused by mental illness, but in a far more tragic and sometimes horrifying way. Her partner, well-known Sydney art curator Nick Waterlow, was murdered two years or so ago by his mentally ill, violent son, along with Nick's daughter, Chloe. Chloe's children were also wounded in the savage attack. What is inescapable in these pages is that the reverberations of that day will continue until the end of the survivors' lives - and those who love them.

Juliet Darling Photo: Jane Campion
Juliet Darling has written a book about the worst nightmare one could imagine, but her focus is throughout on the quality and depth of the love she and Nick shared and celebrated in their ten years together. She is a highly visual, poetic writer, and her reflections are restrained, often unexpected, and memorable. If this book was "only" about the death of Nick and Chloe it might be unbearable to read or unbearably sad - not least because she writes so well. It is not. There is lots of beauty here, including the beauty of mature love, and of sustained and sometimes quite miraculous friendship. I found myself totally absorbed in the poignant story of Juliet's love for Nick, despite years of difficulties with his family who appear to have had great difficulty in accepting her or legitimizing their relationship. The story of her continuing friendships is also rare and moving.

Nick Waterlow, beloved partner of Juliet Darling
There is more, too, in these pages. This writer also uses her first-hand knowledge of the inadequacies of our mental health system (and those who work in it ) to point to a double and doubly inexcusable failure of responsibility. A mentally ill person is entitled in law to plead a lack of responsibility for their crimes due to mental illness...while those who work in mental health services need not, apparently, take responsibility for protecting society and the families by insisting on sectioning those who threaten and frighten their families (as Nick's son did, for many years) - and adequately, even forcibly treating them.

This is controversial, but if we take it as a basic human right that each of us has a right to safety - and both these books implicitly argue that - then a severely mentally ill person's "right" to choose not to be treated must surely be secondary to the "right" to safety of those around them, and especially for those who persist in loving them.  Juliet Darling must have required huge courage to write her book. It is intimate, sometimes lyrical, and also fiercely determined. With this book, too, I hope and pray that decision makers will read it. A a memorial to a great love and a great loss, it deserves nothing less.

To purchase any book you are seeking, visit our bookstore links (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. We would also love to hear from you...we treasure your comments and responses. You can easily post your comments below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!

Circling islands in this month's READING LIFE with Jane Goodall

Jane reading: portrait by Deirdra Drysdale
Writer, essayist and writing teacher Jane Goodall is your "Reading Life" host… our feature where we particularly welcome your experiences and engagement.  This month the lovely theme is "islands" and Jane's words and ideas are enhanced by exquisite photographs from photographer Nick Haeffner.  So much to enjoy. Let's hear from you!

Photo: Nick Haeffner

JANE: Thanks to everyone who participated in last month’s "Reading Life" conversation about a Reading Retreat. What a wish list! The books are chosen across such a wide spectrum. We have some fine novels, including the Australian classic For the Term of his Natural Life, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms,  Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow and (of course) Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Universal Heart readers also love poetry: Yeats, Rilke and Judith Wright are amongst our favorites. Not surprisingly, our respondents have a strong commitment to reading as part of the life of the spirit. Susan includes the Old Testament in her list, commenting: ‘It may not be a trendy choice, but I would like to take the time to endeavour to understand the beauty and power of the parables and my own spirituality.’ Anita opts for a Sufi novel by Elif Shafak, and some Buddhist texts.

And as for where we should go… I am quite taken with Peta’s idea of retreating to a tree house. Did anyone ever do that as a child? Think of what it would add to the sense of adventure in any good story. It’s curious to me that so many writers and readers are drawn to perches somewhere just above the surface of the planet. Tasmanian writer Robert Dessaix has a study he refers to as ‘my tower’ and in his recent collection of essays, As I Was Saying, he speculates about others who write from a tower, including W.B.Yeats, Virginia Woolf and Rilke. By some strange coincidence, all three of these writers are nominated in your list of chosen books. An anonymous "Virginia Woolf fan" would retreat to somewhere near Sissinghurst castle, where Woolf had that legendary room of her own.

Photo: Nick Haeffner

    Another common thread that emerges is our attraction towards shorelines and islands. Sophie is drawn to the pristine sands of the Virgin Islands where, in an intriguing paradox, she would go to read three very challenging novels of conflict and suffering. Marie is off to Norfolk Island. Deirdra (the gifted painter who created the wonderful image of a reader at the head of our Reading Life page) has an attachment to Herm Island which she describes as ‘a tiny lump of land three miles away from Guernsey in the Channel Islands’ with no phones, television, cars, bikes… and just one tractor ploughing a familiar strip from the precarious ferry landing to the hotel.
    From here I go to this month’s theme:


We invite you to share your thoughts on any (or all) of these questions:

-    Why is there such a strong relationship between islands and writing? How have you experienced this?
-   Do you have a favorite writer who captures "landscape" for you in an especially moving way - or captures the idea of "escape"?
-   Do you have a favorite book that is set on an island, written on an island, or that imagines an island?
-    What does the idea or metaphor of the island do for you? Is it a place of escape, or confinement, or both? How does it release or confine your imaginary life?
-  Is there an island - real or imagined - that you long to visit but haven't yet?  What could happen there?

To inspire you, we are featuring three images by Adelaide-born photographer Nick Haeffner. These were taken on the Island of Skye, from the village of Elgol. Nick roams far and wide in his quest to capture the visual presence of a scene, venturing out at all hours. He is a hunter of atmospheres – and just happens to be my brother.

We are looking forward to hearing from you, and to growing this very particular Universal Heart conversation.

Photo: Nick Haeffner
Please keep your responses to fewer than 200 words. You can type them in the “Comments” box below. Easy to use either with a Google email address or using "Anonymous".  If “Anonymous”, you can put your name into the text box. You must bear with us and use "captcha" - which screens out spammers - but the trick there is to note there are TWO parts, with a space between. Or, if you prefer, you can email Jane at: theuniversalheartbookclub @ gmail.com  - close up spaces - making it clear whether you want your name used when we post your thoughts. (200 word max!) You can also purchase any books that inspire you via the bookstore links above right. 
Nick Haeffner's glorious photographs are copyright, 2011. We are immensely grateful to be able to show them here. Please contact him at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickhaeffner/

Walter Mason reads Jennifer Skiff's The Divinity of Dogs

Many of us would, I am sure, have had a canine companion in our lives.

I can remember vividly all of the dogs of my childhood, and for the past sixteen years I have shared my life with an adorably naughty terrier mutt called Mimi, who is the absolute centre of our existence. These are her autumn years, and in recent months I have been attending more and more to her geriatric needs. I find myself rewarding her lifetime of loyalty and friendship by providing a safe and comfortable environment for her last days. She spends about twenty hours a day sleeping and four hours being fed, groomed and hugged.

My own Divine Dog, Mimi

This is partly the reason why this lovely new book, The Divinity of Dogs, spoke so vividly to me. In its pages I read story after story of just how important and how deeply spiritual is the relationship between human and dog. The collected true stories are about people and their dogs, and I delighted in accounts of dogs who can hug, dogs who comfort people during times of grief, and dogs whose own passing teaches their owners important life lessons.

The author, journalist and dog lover Jennifer Skiff, asked a wide range of people to send in their accounts of their relationship with special dogs, relatiionships that might go beyond any casual interpretation of animal companionship and instead reveal the possibility of a divine connection with other beings.

Jennifer Skiff
Each and every story contained in this book is moving, inspiring and thought provoking. I have to warn that it is also tear-jerking, and I had to put it aside several times when I found myself in a fit of intense emotion. It's a book for animal lovers of all kinds, and especially for anyone who has had a special dog friend in their lives.

It is also a testimony to the importance of companion animals in so many people's lives, a fact that is frequently trivialised or diminished. For many people in this book their dog has been their lifeline, the one true and constant friend who has stood by themn in times of great trauma and emotional need.

The author herself has had her life transformed by caring for dogs and in many ways becoming an advocate for their rights and importance in our culture.

This is such a life-affirming and love-filled book. I know that you will love it, and I urge you to send a copy to any dog enthusiast in your life.

To purchase The Divinity of Dogs or any other book you are seeking, visit our bookstore links (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. We would also love to hear from you...we treasure your comments and responses. You can easily post your comments below. If you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and do put your name in the text box if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jane Meredith reveals a bright journey to the Dark Goddess

Jane Meredith, author of The Dark Goddess

We are delighted to bring you a Q&A between Book Club co-host Stephanie Dowrick and Jane Meredith, author of Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul, an intelligent, beautiful book that invites you into a journey of personal depth and discovery.
Jane herself says that her book "is not so much about the Dark Goddess herself, as about our journeys towards her and the time we spend in her realms".

Q: What is the "Dark Goddess" to you personally. Is this more than an archetype?
The Dark Goddess is far more than an archetype to me. She is winter, she is night; she is that moment down the bottom of the pit, when things can’t get any worse and suddenly I see something, know something, have myself revealed to myself… She is Ereshkigal, she is Kali and Persephone, she is my nemesis and she guards my soul – compromises I might be prepared to make, she never makes and so when I need to return to myself, she always remembers my truth.
                Really, I would say she is not an archetype at all; she is tangible, she is part of myself and she is Goddess; one expression of the Divine, and particularly the Divine Feminine. It’s not that she is ‘like’ winter, or night, or not that they remind me of her (though they do). It’s that literally the night is of her, literally winter is an aspect of her. She is as real as the black cosmos that lies between the stars, as real as the night I gave birth to my son; she is a truth of nature, of endings, change, dissolution; she holds the secrets of the cycles of life, the beginnings-and-endings place.
                She is my map when I am lost. She is the voice inside, whispering the truth I don’t want to hear. She is the grace of rest after hard work, comfort after grief.  She is clarity, she is healing and release, she is the mystery.

Q: I'd also love to know what the personal meaning for you is of the "Divine Feminine"?
The Divine Feminine for me is the life-force; that impulse towards life; it is the birth-giving nature of the universe, of nature itself, of ourselves. It is there when stars explode, in the life-bearing seas, in the eyes and the bearing of women everywhere. The Divine Feminine can be named as Goddess, or recognised in names such as Aphrodite, Inanna, Mary, Cerridwen, Isis and thousands of others. We all participate in the Divine Feminine – all of nature and certainly all of humanity, is part of this vast life-becoming. I have a very strong feeling for and relationship with the Goddess, as earth, as this life-impulse, and as reflecting my own woman’s being. I work with different myths, and different aspects of Goddess as I am called to; but even when I study or experience something not intrinsically Goddess-related (such as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, for instance) I will be exploring it for its resonances with the Divine Feminine.

Q: Your book offers the "Dark Goddess" as a journey towards soul strengths. I am wondering if "dark" is off-putting for some readers. Can you give us some hints of the positive frame of reference you develop?
Which of us has not had times in our lives where we felt lost, abandoned, struggling, deeply uncertain, afraid, devastated? One of the most fascinating things is that after the worst times in our lives – times when we have had to strip away everything, down to the bone – when we emerge we are renewed. This is darkness, and its mysteries. Each of us knows it intimately. To recognise the Dark Goddess is to recognise these times in our lives – even to honour them – and to begin to understand that they are part of the cycles of human life. Once we see this, we begin to understand that this place also holds gifts for us, and that there are paths through this place; paths we have not been taught to tread, but that once we set off with an open mind, into these realms, no longer as victim or in denial or avoidance, that fear of darkness and everything associated with it will begin to change within us, offering us not just truth and healing, but also rebirth which lies on the other side of the dark.

Q: I'd love you to name the particular soul strengths you have developed through writing this book, and through the journeys you describe?
Journey to the Dark Goddess is the culmination of twenty years work, in exploring this mythology, in developing process and ritual and journeying through my own dark realms. It is a major work for me, and I think it’s fair to say it has made me who I am. All of my other work, writing and my personal life are referenced to this material and these understandings. I think I have developed courage, compassion, detachment, willingness, clarity and joy – but they are all put to the test, any time I encounter the Dark Goddess in a powerful way, which is as it should be.
                I was told, by a mentor, to write this book over ten years ago. But I couldn’t do it until now. It took me that long to understand how to write a book on the Dark Goddess that wasn’t an academic or psychological work, as so many of them seem to be. In writing my first book, Aphrodite’s Magic, I learnt how to actually write a book, and learnt what I am good at: personal writing, accessible processes and rituals, offering material simply and clearly, issuing invitation to the mythos. Through that lens I finally was able to commit to writing this Dark Goddess book, which is not so much about the Dark Goddess herself, as about our journeys towards her and the time we spend in her realms.

Q: You write from a very hopeful perspective. What is your greatest source of hope?
I think my sources of hope are very simple. The sun rises each day, and any day one chooses one can get up and watch it arrive. It is stunning, every day. The moon follows its beautiful cycles and I trace it over the month, watching it wax, reach full, wane and enter into the dark, to emerge again a few nights later. These things seem tremendously beautiful and life-affirming to me. My son is a delight; my cat lies on top of me and purrs. I feel the spark of the life-force within me - the living Goddess – and I can express it any way I choose: through song or ritual, walking on the beach, breathing into it, writing or gazing into the eyes of another. I especially love rivers, trees and white cockatoos and they always fill me with an expansive hope and joy.

Q: You treasure ritual and ceremony (and so do I). Are there daily or domestic rituals you particularly treasure?
I am not so oriented to these; though I suppose you could say my morning cup of tea, and writing in my diary (also morning) are rituals. There are two types of ritual I especially love. One is a regular type of ritual; committing to celebrate the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year, for example, or every dark moon for a year, or when I work a myth or process with a group over a certain period of time (anywhere from four months to a year). I usually have a few of these running at any one time, and they create their own patterns and cadences. At the moment I am working through the Norse myth of the Goddess Freyja, with a group over four months; working through Starhawk and Hilary Valentine’s book Twelve Wild Swans over a ten-month period with another group, and undertaking my own Aphrodite’s Magic process with a group over eight months.
        The other sort of ritual I love is when I am seized by ritual – a need comes over me, for understanding, for change, for depth – and I determine on a ritual, which could be clear from the outset, or something I make up as I go along. Recently, trying to recover from a long-term relationship that had broken up I decided to conduct a five-element purge, over a whole weekend which coincided with the Wheel of the Year’s Lammas season. This just fell together for me, as I went through it. It might be something much simpler: walking along the ocean under the full moon, setting up an altar for a particular deity or purpose.

Q: Do you advise most people to make these deep inner journeys in company with others, whenever possible? That would seem wise to me?
It is certainly possible to undertake deep and ritual journeys with others, or parallel with others. But this journey to the Dark Goddess – which is something each of us undertake at least several times in our lives, and often unwillingly – seems to be one we undertake only in the company of our own soul. One of the marks of this journey – how we know that this is what is happening to us – is that we feel so alone. Others may be all around us, deeply interested in what is happening for us, loving us deeply and unreservedly; and yet we feel alone. We are often unwilling to speak of what is happening inside us, or we don’t have words for it, yet. Something is shifting – changing – dying – becoming, and we don’t even know what it is, yet. Or who we are, anymore.
                This is why cultivating a strong relationship with the Dark Goddess is so advisable – because she is there. When there is no one else who has a clue what is happening within us, reading the myths and stories of the Dark Goddess, gazing into a mirror for our own wisdom or seeking out the innermost knowing we carry within us we meet this Dark Goddess piece of ourselves. The myths themselves offer a clarity our own lives usually don’t have, and through their lens, we understand the essence of what is happening to us; so I guess we are in the company of the myths, if we seek them out, and the Dark Goddess herself.
                Differing from the times in our lives where we are deep in our own process, grief, pain, uncertainty, unknowing are times when we might choose to undertake this journey as part of a ritual process, a workshop or an exploration. These can certainly be done in company with others, and because here the learning is much more in the conscious realm, they can be articulated and processed much more immediately.

Q: You write very fluently and poetically. Can you tell us a little more about your "writer's journey", and perhaps also where it is currently taking you?
Thank you, Stephanie. That’s very kind of you, and since you are a writer as well, I take it as a compliment.
          As soon as I could read on my own, when I was six, I knew I wanted to write books. And I have written ever since then. I have written short stories, poetry, memoir, young adult fiction, articles, as well as my books: Aphrodite’s Magic: Celebrate and Heal your Sexuality, Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul, and Rituals of Celebration: Honouring the Seasons of Life through the Wheel of the Year (July 2013). I’m currently writing a book based on a magical system I dreamed up and worked with for many years, The Circle of Eight. Writing, and ritual and magic are the two paths I am absolutely dedicated to, and to have them come together in my books is a fierce joy. I also write a blog, from time to time, at www.janemeredith.com/blog and articles for various magazines and anthologies.

 Jane Meredith is an author and ritualist. She lives in Sydney and conducts workshops and courses throughout the year, in Australia, the UK and on-line. She is a Reclaiming teacher and organises and teaches at CloudCatcher WitchCamp. Jane is passionate about ritual, magic and the invocation of the divine feminine. Some of her favourite things are trees, rivers, cats and dark chocolate.

Jane’s website: www.janemeredith.com
Jane’s blog: www.janemeredith.com/blog
Jane’s workshops and events: www.janemeredith.com/southeast/calender.html
Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul: www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=1508
Aphrodite’s Magic: Celebrate and Heal Your Sexuality: www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=565
Rituals of Celebration: Honouring the Seasons of Life through the Wheel of the Year (forthcoming, July 2013): www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738735443

Don't forget, you can comment below - we welcome that! - using "Anonymous" if you don't have a Google mail account. "Captcha" is always TWO words or letters (with a space between) and numbers. Easy! And please also consider using our BOOKSTORE LINKS above right. Buying your books in this way returns a small % to this Book Club and we thank you for it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sophie Masson takes e-publishing into her own hands (with help from Australian Society of Authors)

 Australian Society of Authors Chair, Sophie Masson, herself an exceptionally prolific and successful author, offers inspiration to those seeking to publish on-line (with excellent help from ASA).

In late February 2013, my eBook on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, was the first member eBook to become available for purchase in the Australian Society of Authors' exciting new initiative: Authors Unlimited.

A collection of practical pieces on all kinds of aspects of writing, which have been previously published individually on various blogs - especially the international authorship blog Writer Unboxed www.writerunboxed.com for which I've been writing for several years -  By the Book is both a fabulous way to "monetize" work I'd not been paid for and to gain new readers in Australia and worldwide within the non-fiction reference field on authorship. 

This is a first publication and release for By the Book. It's not for sale anywhere else yet and I don't intend it to be for some time. I plan to upload it to Amazon, Kobo, etc at a later date. As Chair of the ASA, a committed member and as an author, I felt it was really important that this book go first to Authors Unlimited.

With its author-friendly contractual terms (link: https://www.asauthors.org), AU is also a shining example to the industry. For instance, not only is the 'cut' for the author much greater than on other e-tailing sites, the non-exclusive contract also means you can also sell the eBook on whatever other e-tailing platforms you want. And, importantly, not only has it made commercialization simple, but I also found straight away that discoverability - that great hurdle in actually selling eBooks - is much improved by release on Authors Unlimited, compared to say, Amazon or Kobo, as I found with The Great Deep and Other Tales of the Uncanny, the first e-book I put together for my Sixteen Press list, at the end of 2012 (it's also now available on Authors Unlimited).

On the very first day of the release of By the Book, several copies sold immediately, which had certainly not been the case with the earlier book.  An article I wrote in the ASA March newsletter about the book's journey to Authors Unlimited also drew the attention of more people to the new release. And that momentum has kept building as more people read about the book—and what Authors Unlimited can do for authors - on various authorship sites and online magazines. An advertisement on Writer Unboxed, where I already have a profile, was also a useful conduit for potential international buyers discovering the book and I'm continuing to explore more avenues.

Then why, you may ask, did I venture into these waters at all? After all, I'm a very well-established author, with more than fifty books published. I have good relations with my publishers and intend to keep it that way. However, there had long been things I wanted to do with the hundreds of short pieces I'd written, both non-fiction and fiction that had been published individually over the years, but never collected together. And I knew no commercial publisher was likely to be interested. So late last year, after attending an excellent ASA workshop on e-book creation, facilitated by Simon Groth of if: Book Centre, I launched myself into my own micro-publishing venture, Sixteen Press, www.sixteenpress.wordpress.com, with the objective of publishing carefully themed collections. They would fit in well with the rest of my published works by not being in competition to them—and thereby not irritating my publishers!--but extending my possibilities at the same time.

Very importantly, they had also passed the editing and readership test, as every piece had been professionally edited and published in anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and blogs where I was a guest contributor (in that case, edited by the blog owners). The importance of editing simply cannot be overstated. It is an indispensable part of 'quality control' - and that applies to highly-experienced writers as well as to 'newbies'.

On with the journey: for a very affordable fee I registered as a publisher and bought a block of 10 ISBNs from Thorpe Bowker http://www.thorpe.com.au/en-AU. If you sell on Amazon only, you don't need an ISBN but I most certainly did not want to be limited to that behemoth!

Using the fantastic PressBooks book production platform, http://pressbooks.com - which we had been introduced to at the workshop - I set to work creating my e-books. PressBooks is not only pretty easy (it's based on Wordpress templates which I've used before) and free to use but I also found that its founder/creator, Canadian Hugh McGuire, has a most heartening hands-on approach to his work, answering personally every panicked request for help when glitches arose and fixing bugs in files very quickly. (PressBooks has now moved from beta mode into open source and offers even more possibilities.)

PressBooks made the internal design of books easy to handle. For the covers, I decided I'd use my own images to avoid any copyright problems. I went for black and white photographs, both for their striking simplicity and the fact that black and white looks good on just about every kind of e-reader and screen. An illustrator/designer friend, David Allan, designed the final cover using my picture and text, which gave the covers a nice clean look. That was all the fun part! Then came the slog of making sure the all-important metadata information was in place (PressBooks also makes that much simpler to navigate than it would be otherwise). 

I also thought about the promotion and marketing of the titles I would release, doing such things as creating the Sixteen Press site with a link to a Twitter page, as well as to my own author website, Facebook author page, author Twitter account, and You Tube video book trailers (which I also created myself): www.youtube.com/sophievmasson

Taking the tablets
By way of an ending - and beating the Authors Unlimited drum one more time :) - AU isn't just about selling new publications, it is also designed to give new electronic life to our backlist, rights-reverted titles, even those that aren't digitized yet. Within Authors Unlimited there's a service to transform hard-copy books into digital files for a very reasonable fee. It's potentially one of the most important member services the ASA has ever devised and I thoroughly recommend it to every full member (or those who wish to become members) with new or backlist titles just waiting to be breathed into electronic life.

Please note there are two useful links for Authors Unlimited. The SALES LINK takes you to books already published. The INFORMATION LINK takes you to... further information! Sophie also adds this: insight LINK from Publishing Perspectives newsletter for writers and would-be writers seeking greater confidence and clarity about rights and licensing.

You can ONLY buy Sophie's By the Book via this SALES link. To buy any other book - those we recommend and any others - please make use of our bookstore links above right. The small % of sales returned to us is vital support for this Book Club. We also love to hear from you! Your comments add much to these conversations. So don't hesitate to add your thoughts below - use "Anonymous" if you don't have a Google email address.

Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than fifty novels and many short pieces. Most recent is Scarlet in the Snow (RHA, May 2013). She has also written under the pseudonyms of Isabelle Merlin and Jenna Austen. Sophie loves experimenting with new forms and has used the internet and digital media as part of her creative work for many years. Her Isabelle Merlin novels, for instance, all feature an interactive internet element, which she created herself—character blogs, band pages, social media pages for characters. Her pioneering work in hybridizing print and e-elements was highlighted in an Australia Council report on writers using new media forms. Sophie also makes book trailers for her You Tube channel, blogs at several different outlets, and is a regular user of social media networks. Creating her own e-books was a natural progression!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jo Anderton explores the spirit of Manga

Jo Anderton is a young Australian sci-fi novelist who has published two acclaimed novels in America. We are so happy to have her review of a very special Manga she has discovered. More about Jo at the end of this review:

Natsume's Book of Friends
Story and Art by Yuki Midorikawa

I've always believed that the ultimate expression of empathy is to care about something that isn't human. Natsume's Book of Friends speaks to me because it is about just this kind of empathy.

Natsume Takashi is a high school boy who can see yokai. Yokai are spirits, ghosts and monsters -- sometimes dangerous, sometimes horrific, but just as likely to be tiny, uncertain or lonely. This ability has left Takashi feeling ostracized from the rest of humanity. No one else sees what he does, and no one believes him. For most of his life he has drifted, orphaned, between relatives and foster families, unable to form real friendships. Until one day he accidentally frees a powerful yokai named Madara, who tells him about his grandmother, Reiko.

The hero Natsume
It turns out Reiko was just like him. She saw yokai too, and just like Takashi it left her lonely and isolated. Her way of dealing with this was to bully yokai into giving up their names, which she trapped in her 'Book of Friends'. The book now belongs to Takashi, and with it the ability to use these names to command yokai.

But Natsume Takashi is not his grandmother. While others would use the Book of Friends to their own ends -- including Madara -- Natsume, attuned to the suffering of others, takes it upon himself to free the yokai instead.

This is where Natsume's Book of Friends begins: with Takashi's act of empathy towards creatures that could not be more different from himself -- and yet, are remarkably similar. As he reaches out to help yokai (even though they have made his life so miserable in the past), he learns that they are just like him. Some are outcasts, some are bullied, and so many are lonely too. Even Madara. This powerful yokai says he's only staying with Takashi to claim the Book of Friends when he dies, but they soon establish a strong bond. He guides Takashi, protects him, and in turn they both find companionship.

Takashi also begins to make friendships in the human world. His dealings with the yokai and, I believe, the support of Madara gives him the confidence to create bonds with fellow students, and to tentatively accept the love of his current foster family. He even meets a few people with abilities similar to his own. Fear of rejection is always there -- it will never leave -- but so is the strength to push through it.

You could say that Natsume's Book of Friends is a very Japanese manga. The artist draws on an ancient tradition for the design of her yokai, and the themes of isolation are well covered in modern manga and anime. But I think it also has a broader connection to a deep part of human nature.

It's hard to be different, and it can be risky to open yourself up to others. Natsume's Book of Friends is a study in loneliness and unusual companionships. As someone who has always relied on animal friends, I saw a lot of myself in Natsume Takashi and Reiko. He and his grandmother represent two opposing ways of dealing with a very human fear -- loneliness. We all have some Takashi in us, and some Reiko. It's up to us to choose whether we want to be the healer, or the bully.

Natsume's Book of Friends is a beautiful manga series. The art starts out a little wobbly but soon settles into a light, ethereal tone that matches its themes perfectly. Takashi's lines are as delicate as his personality. Madara changes between two forms. He is adorable in his lucky cat body, and powerful in his true body -- the great white wolf. The yokai themselves are amazing. From fox spirits, to emaciated ghosts to deformed figures, they fill Takashi's world and make it feel solid. Real.

I came to this manga having watched some of the anime while in Japan, because the story and the characters stayed with me. It is a delight, both heartbreaking and uplifting, and one that I would easily recommend even for readers unfamiliar with manga (of any age!)
Jo Anderton is an author of science fantasy fiction whose two books, Debris and Suited, are published by Angry Robot. Jo writes about future worlds where technology and magic are entwined. She is based in Sydney.