Monday, June 6, 2016

Something to hold in your hands...keeping a travel journal

One of my favourite books on journal writing is Sheila Bender's exquisite Keeping a Journal You Love. In it, she suggests that one of the reasons we should keep a travel journal is so that we can have "something to hold in your hands when you get back home."

Before you leave, you need to ask yourself – why am I really keeping this journal?

Do it now – spend a minute or so considering the possibilities. Are you keeping it purely for yourself? To record memories? For possible publication? For future reference and usefulness? For future generations?

The reasons why you are keeping it matter, and they change what you record and how you record it. Take this into account too.

And experience tells me that when you are travelling you won't just be using your journal to write in. It will become a de facto wallet, filled with tickets, brochures, pictures, cards and other things. Taking a tip from Lynne Perrella’s Artist’s Journals and Sketchbooks, I now paste en envelope into my journal before I go.

You can glue or tape one in.

It's good for newspaper clippings, extra notes you made on other things, cards, menus, fliers, receipts, leaves, tickets...well, it's just damn handy.

If you have talents in the visual arts area, do take a closer look at Lynne Perrella’s book – it is filled with useful ideas, even for non-artists like me.

Maybe you can bring a small stash of photocopied images of favoured spiritual figures and symbols? You can stick these into the journal when you visit associated sites to remind yourself more quickly when you review your journal. You might also use them as prompts for more spiritual and reflective writing, or as a guide for those times when you feel like getting grumpy and complain-ey.

Use them to mark out special work and to inspire new work and thoughts.

Quite often we might avoid writing in our journals because we fear our thoughts aren't profound enough, that we're not thinking big. Please don't let this get in your way. I am a big advocate of the beauty of the small. Observing the small and writing about it can lead you to some really big places.

The ego mind tricks us into thinking that what we do is not important and that we must always be doing something big.

We have to be working on the 100,000 word novel, the entire exhibition of paintings, the history of everyone who ever had the name “Chester” and on and on.

One of the most liberating things to realise creatively, and one that I think you will find all professionally creative people work with, is that we only ever have to concentrate on the small and the immediate.

I am working simply on a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word.

For the time being I am bringing beauty to one line, one stitch, one pose.

I can forget about the end, about the editing, the choreography, the dramaturgy, the Booker Prize, the adoring fans leaving roses at my mausoleum.

This too extends to themes. I think that, at the heart of a lot of terrible art, is this idea that I must be writing only about Things That Matter.

But anything matters in the scheme of things, especially when we are travelling. Our minds are much more alert to the wonder of the everyday.

Any observation, any encounter, any shade of blue or curve of clay. Any piece of glass.

We create beauty, grandness, piece by piece. You can forget about your social duties just for a moment and just be in touch with what you need to do in that second. It will be beautiful and it will have meaning.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Walter Mason to talk with Antonia Pesenti and Hilary Bell about their Sydney-based books for kids, Ashfield Library, Tuesday April 26, 2016, 1pm

Numerical Street & Alphabetical Sydney 

A talk with the wonderful creators of these delightful books about Sydney, growing up and the way the landscape inspires them. 


Pesenti’s illustrations are witty and textured: a collage of black-and-white photocopied photos and bright, bracingly clean-cut drawings. […] All too unusually for a picture book, the text, written by playwright Hilary Bell, is an equal match […] it is a playful, often sly, pleasure.
Delia Falconer on Alphabetical Sydney, Sydney Morning Herald

About the Books

Numerical Street

Numerical Street is a counting book set in a colourful, quirky streetscape where there’s always something new to find. It celebrates the jostle and chaos of a busy shopping street, playfully documenting familiar shops and businesses: Coin-op laundries, cake shops, panel beaters and hair salons. These unremarked shops are a disappearing species.
In the two years spent photographing suburban and regional shopfronts for Numerical Street many have vanished, including much-loved urban icons like Sol Levy’s Tobacconist Extraordinaire on George Street and Perkal Brothers Bespoke Bootmakers in Surry Hills.
Numerical Street captures a moment in time and place, distilling the beauty and charm of these everyday shops into bold double spreads – using the language and type of their signs, architecture and product display.




Alphabetical Sydney

This is our Sydney, the brightest and best of it,
North to the south to the east and the west of it.
Bats and cicadas, lawn bowls and the zoo,
This is our town. Let us share it with you.

A playful and vibrantly illustrated picture book that celebrates Sydney in all its diversity – from A to Z. It is a best-seller and won the 2014  Australian Book Design Award. It has also been  been shortlisted for the Australia Book Industry Award and nominated for several awards, including the AABA and the Independent Booksellers’ Award.

About the Authors



Antonia Pesenti and Hilary Bell have been friends since they met in Paris 20 years ago. Antonia is an architect and illustrator, and Hilary is an award-winning playwright. Their friendship turned into a collaboration when they created the bestselling Alphabetical Sydney together. They enjoyed the process so much that they have continued to collaborate, celebrating the beauty and charm of the ordinary in our urban environment.


Do join us for this free event - and bring a friend!



Tuesday April 26   1pm Local Studies Room - Ashfield Library
Walter Mason in conversation with Antonia Pesenti and Hilary Bell about their delightful picture books, Numerical Street and Alphabetical Sydney.
Books available for sale and signing from Better Read Than Dead Newtown



Monday, December 14, 2015

Keeping a meaningful travel journal - some tips from around the web

I am a compulsive keeper of travel journals. Indeed, I keep a journal all day, every day, no matter where I am in the world. I have my own particular system, which I have developed after many years of travel and writing about my travels. Here are some other great travel-journal keeping tips that I have discovered online:

1. There are no rules - The pacsafe blog says that you should just forget all of your pre-conceptions about journal keeping and use your travel journal as a source of pure pleasure, to be written in whenever you want, however you want to.

2. Find a vintage map of your destination and put it in your journal before you go - Cities and places change, but they also stay the same. Writer Yolanda Edwards uses old maps she has printed out from the internet as a visual aid and prompt in her journals.

3. Work out who you are keeping the journal for and why - Is it for your own future reference? For future publication? For your children? On the Wanderlust blog Lyn Hughes reminds us to be realistic about what we are using our journal for, because our intent should influence the way we write and what we are writing. She is so right.

4. Maybe you should be keeping a travel blog? - At Solo Traveler Janice quite rightly reminds us that there is a technological solution to our urge to record. A travel blog is open and immediate and can let everyone we know see what we are doing on our journey.

5. Pick the right journal - This one is about as subjective as you get. One woman's perfect journal is another's nuisance. All writers are particular about their tools, and Amanada Kendle at Vagabondish wants you to make sure you have the journal that feels just right for you. Moleskine? Spiral bound? School exercise book? You be the judge. It's going to be your constant companion. One more thing: When you look back over the old journals, just seeing the book's ccover and picking it up will remind you of the thrill of your old journey.

6. Make sure you have written down all the practical stuff - It is essential you record the date and location at the very least! You want to know where you were when you came up with that amazing insight. Debbie Busch on BootsnAll even suggests you have a template of necessary information that you can check off: Destination, Date, Accomodation, Restaurant, Site etc. It's a great idea.

7. Create an acrostic - Yes it's corny, but it can spark your creativity and help sum up your feelings about a place. Kelly Westhoff on Go Nomad uses this technique when she is journalling abroad.

8. Information gathering - When you get home and your friends ask you about a particular destination, having a journal to turn to can be immensely useful. Women on the Road says we can use our old information-gathering to remind us where a good restaurant was (write down its full address and how you got there - i can guarantee you WILL NOT remember!), or a location to avoid.

9. File postcards in there - This is a tip I use a lot. When you visit a location, the available postcards can often be quaint, and will always feature the most important visual cliches of the area. It can save you having to describe, say, the Taj Mahal, but remind you that on Saturday the 18th you were there. I also stick in tickets and fliers and smallish brochures. I love seeing them later.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Travel Writing with Spirit - a wokshop with Walter Mason and Laneway Learning Sydney, August 4, 2015

In August I am so excited to be working with Laneway Learning Sydney teaching a travel writing workshop.

Please note that it is essential you book ahead for this workshop.


Travel Writing with Spirit

Wednesday, August 5th
7:00pm to 8:15pm
Waverley Library
Register now

Please note:

We will have some fun colorful Archie Grand hardback notebooks for $8 at the venue, or choose ticket option 2

What’s it all about?

We are all travelling more and more, and we all ache to make something more meaningful of our experiences. To be able to write down our adventures in a way that is both entertaining and engaging moves us beyond the mere collection of sights and destinations. Get in touch with your spiritual side by turning your next holiday into something more transcendent: a soul journey. Learn how to be a special kind of travel writer, one who engages the heart as well as the head and seeks to make a greater understanding of the incredible insights and connections made during travel. Eat, pray, love and get it all written down – who knows where the journey might take you?

What will we cover?

    Thinking about your soul, not just your airline ticket

    How to begin to write with spirit about your experiences at home before you even head abroad

    The importance of journaling and the various tools you can use

    Beginner’s mind – cultivating a mood of awareness and allowing amazing things to happen to you

    Enriching your experience – what to look for when you write it all down and how to make it sing

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fabulously Creative Course with Walter Mason at WEA Sydney, June 2015

For the first time I am offering my Fabulously Creative course over four weeks at the centrally located WEA in the Sydney CBD.

This is a fun, high energy and intensely practical class where we go on a creative journey to explore our options, get daring and spend some time discovering that spark of sheer fabulousness within.

You will learn to say yes to your creative impulses and crash through the barriers - real and imagined - that have held you back till now. You will believe again in the wonderful world of possibility that makes you so special and your stories so unique. Whether it's beating writers block, creating a truly tremendous life or writing things down and making them happen, this course is just the thing to give you the tools to energise and inspire a creative new you.

So if you are free during the day, do think about joining us - there are still a couple of places left.

Cost: $126.00 (Concession $114.00) for 4 Sessions

Time: 10:00 AM - 12:00 NO
Starts Thursday 04/06/2015
For online enrolment at Fabulously Creative at WEA Sydney.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Right Speech - The Buddhist Eightfold Path

Lately I have been thinking a lot about Right Speech (samma vaca), which is the third step along the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. It is absolutely essential to the practise of Buddhism, but it is also amongst the most difficult of spiritual disciplines. Controlling your speech is a lot like dealing with a food addiction - you simply have to do it every day, so it's harder to control it when it gets out of hand.

Right Speech
is hard because wrong speech can be so much fun and infinitely satisfying. It feels great to gossip about our friends, criticise and condemn those people we disagree with and bitch and moan about the difficult conditions in our lives. Let’s face it, everyone does it. But the Buddha points out that that doesn't make it right. Spiritual discipline calls for us to carefully control, and even censor, our speech. And every time we want to give rein to the negative tendencies in our daily talk we need to bring our minds - and our hearts -  to bear and remind ourselves: will this next sentence be for everyone's ultimate good? If not, it's best we zip our lips.

Australian-New Zealand spiritual teacher Maggie Hamilton, in her superb book Coming Home, writes about it:

Right speech and right action and right thoughts (meaning 'good' speech, actions and thoughts) are all cornerstones of Buddhist teachings, not just because these are appropriate things to do but because they positively impact on our soul vibration and on our progress towards lightness of being.

I think that in Western culture it has become kind of OK to give vent to some bad speech. We tell ourselves: "that person is wrong, so they deserve my condemnation," or "I'm just being realistic here - not everything is rosy, you know." All well and good, but if we stop and really examine our motivations we often find that they aren’t so pure. And even if we can, in all honesty, stand up and say we are saying cruel things from the very most compassionate grounds, we must then pause and think about the effects our harsh words have on others. How will we make someone feel when we ‘put them right’ ? How much might we wish people to exercise patience and understanding towards us if we say something stupid or ill-considered or unknowingly offend someone?

We do have a moral obligation to be kind towards others, and the most common way that kindness manifests is in our way of speaking and interacting with each other. Buddhism is very clear on this, as are many other of the world's philosophies. If we make kind, loving and wise speech the cornerstone of our own personal ethics it will make it very difficult indeed to go far wrong.

The American religious philosophy of New Thought teaches that our entire world is established from the words we choose to speak and the thoughts that they reflect. Our words are in fact creative, and those that we choose to give voice to have a very real impact on our life, health, career and relationships. One does not have to practise Right Speech for very long to see how true that that is.

We only have to look at the other extreme to see how quickly unconsidered speech can have a negative effect on people's lives. Tearing apart families, marriages and friendships, getting us in trouble with the authorities and making other people judge us as lesser (or less intelligent) human beings are all the results of unbridled speech. Yes, we are free to say what we want, but we also free to bask in the consequences of such speech - and often they are not pleasant. How often have you heard another person speak and thought to yourself: "Oh but I wish you wouldn't have said that..."? Now pause and think of how often you have allowed yourself the leeway to speak in anger, spite or violent frustration.

Once upon a time our societies were governed by strict codes of speech and conduct which, for the most part, served us well. In a more permissive era we are regularly encouraged to speak our minds, but we are less regularly encouraged to examine the contents of our minds before we let them out into the world via our voluble tongues. It is best to pause with a thought and ruminate on it for a while and wonder about just how important it is that it be expressed. Chances are the rewards of silence might more often be greater than the satisfactions of self-expression.

We cannot allow our perceptions of offense, hurt or hatred to be given voice too easily. To do so is unwise and, ultimately, harmful to ourselves and our culture. To rein in our tongues is an enormous act of goodness and wisdom. The Buddha expresses it best in the Dhammapada (quoted here the classic Juan Mascaro version):

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is a creation of our mind.
If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.