Monday, July 24, 2017

Researching a new talk: Monsignor R. H. Benson

Sadly this subject DID prove too obscure - I have found out the talk is not going ahead :-(  But keep an eye out - I will attempt to resurrect it in some other form in the future. And I have become so absorbed I am seriously considering doing a book....

One of the ways I love best to explore my creativity, learn new things and force myself to work hard is to give public talks. On Friday I am giving a two hour talk on Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, an admittedly obscure subject, and it has been tough getting people to book in. But, as with most obscure subjects, it is absolutely fascinating, and I have been loving the research.

My research always begins at home, and not online. I have a substantial personal library which I have been building since I was 17 years old, so for almost any subject I could prepare a talk just using the resources I have on my own bookshelves. This morning I am looking up tidbits about R. H. Benson in Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd's E. F. Benson as He Was.

This is a charming book, with a smattering of facts about baby brother Hugh's life. I will see if they are sufficiently interesting to include in my presentation, or to flesh out a point I have already made in what I have written so far.

My next step is always the NSW State Library.

I love being there, for a start, and there is something about being stuck in the reading room that makes you work really hard.

My research notes from a gorgeous 70s biography of Monsignor Benson written by a nun. I didn't even know about this book until I visited the State Library of NSW

It's also handy because I can go off on a research tangent.

A list of new research directions I plan to follow up. I note these down as I discover them in other books. As you can see, I went in principally to research Monsignor Benson and ended up looking into upcoming talks about Dickens and Kenneth Grahame

I can also work on multiple projects while I am there, filling up pages in my daybook with notes and research for future projects as well as the one I am working on. I actually have to limit myself with my library visits, as I could easily spend my entire time there going down research rabbit holes.

And finally it's ebooks and the net, never my favourite place to research, though perfect for finding out essential last-minute information.

And it's also cheap and convenient. So, instead of going to abebooks and ordering an Edwardian hardcover and waiting 2-6 weeks for it to arrive from Maine or Ireland, I can get a free ebook of R. H. Benson's famous dystopia Lord of the World from Project Gutenberg and start reading and highlighting relevant sections.

I am also reading his book on Lourdes, and the brilliant and quite eccentric biography of Mary Benson, his mother, As Good as God, As Clever as the Devil.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gay May Reading list

Seems I will be going gay for the month of May, my list being made up of books by, or about, gay men. It comes about because this month I did a talk about E. F. Benson, and I am in about the fourth month of a Denton Welch obsession, courtesy of a previous Barbara Pym obsession. So, here is my Queer Lit. reading list for May (from the top):

The Challoners by E. F. Benson - I don't think I have ever truly enjoyed Benson's non-Lucia fiction - it is all very much of its time. But I am going to give it another go and try this one, written in 1904.

Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau - Oh, I didn't mention my Jean Cocteau obsession as well. I am going to France in September so looking forward to visiting all of the Cocteau spots. I am also, slowly, piecing together a talk about him which I haven't pitched to anyone yet. If you want me to come and give it, let me know.

The Journals of Denton Welch - Enough said, really. And do listen to the podcast about Denton Welch on Backlisted.

Lucia Victrix and Lucia Rising by E. F. Benson - These are compendium editions which contain all six novels between them. Because I deserve it.

A Voice Through a Cloud and Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch

Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady - I have twice given a talk on Beaton in Sydney and it has been surprisingly very popular with big attendances each time. re-reading this diary of his time making the movie of My Fair Lady and considering doing the talk again somewhere else.

Three Extraordinary Ambassadors by Harold Acton - Acton is one of my favourite writers and should be better known. His books always enchant me.

Lucia in London by E. F. Benson - This means I will be reading this book twice in May, but why not? It's my favourite of the Lucia novels, and I read it at least once year. He lets Lucia get truly horrible in this one, and it's great.

As We Are by E. F. Benson, this work of memoir written late in his life is just beautiful, and at times very funny. Right up there with the Lucia books in terms of entertainment value.

Jean Cocteau by Claude Arnaud - Yep, I have to bite the bullet. I know I will love it, but gosh it's huge!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My cultural 2017 in lists

This is a fabulous idea I have blatantly stolen from the fabulous Andy Quan.

I have long kept a record (in a special journal) of my reading, but I love Andy's idea of listing the other stuff I have seen. This list will be maintained throughout the year, as a record of how I found creative inspiration and where I went to find it.



Lectures and Author Talks

Neil McDonald talking about his Chester Wilmot book at both State Library of NSW and Ashfield Library Feb. 2017

Jo Henwood on the Icelandic Sagas at Ashfield Library  Feb 2017

Collins Hemingway on the Napoleonic wars in the time of Jane Austen at the Jane Austen society of Australia, Feb 2017


Beyond Words - calligraphy exhibition at AGNSW, January 2017

Margaret Olley exhibition at S H Ervin Gallery, February 2017


Ransacking Paris by  Patti Miller

Coffinman by Shinmon Aoki

Tales of Wonder by Huston Smith

The Way of the Traveler by Joseph Dispenza

55 Keys by Alana Fairchild 

The Memoir Book by Patti Miller 

Kali: the Mother by Sister Nivedita 


How Green Was My Valley


Narcos Series 1 and 2

Real Housewives of Melbourne Seasons 1, 2 and 3

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The 1947 Club

I like online reading challenges because they are often so bizarre and arbitrary that they encourage me to read something I normally would never consider, or that I have a long way down my "Must Read" list.

I have already signed up for the 1924 Club, but then I noticed that, the week before, they are running the 1947 Club. How could I resist?

So basically, to take part in this challenge you have to read in the set period (10-16 October) one or more books written in 1947. My first instinct was to go to Nancy Mitford, but the book she published in 1947 was The Pursuit of Love, and I have already read that twice this year. It would be cheating to do it the third time, and besides, despite my great love for that book I don't really feel like reading it again just now.

So I checked Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings and one of the books suggested over there was Elizabeth Taylor's A View of the Harbour, so I am taking the opportunity to finally read Elizabeth Taylor. I have also decided to read Evelyn Waugh's obscure novella Scott-King's Modern Europe. In fact, until I googled "Evelyn Waugh 1947" I hadn't even heard of it.

So won't you join me?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A successful talk about Cecil Beaton at Ashfield Library

Photo by Thang Ngo

I did one of my Saturday illustrated lectures at Ashfield Library yesterday and it went swimmingly.

The subject was the fabulous and glamorous Cecil Beaton.

Cecil Beaton and Alice B. Toklas

Good numbers, which was encouraging. I spent some money, for the first time, on doing a sponsored post on Facebook, and I think this made a difference - more of my friends came than usual, I am sure because they had noticed the post. Not sure it had any impact in bringing in new faces, though, but there were certainly plenty there.

I was happy to note quite a few people who usually only go to weekday sessions coming along to a Saturday morning talk, so that was good.

The celebrity-studded audience included Women's Weekly astrologer Jessica Adams, Lindfield Bookshop owner Scott Whitmont, lecturer and literary historian Joanna Penglase and writer and guru Maggie Hamilton.

The talk went seamlessly, except for one slip-up where I showed a slide and said it was Greta Garbo when it was in fact Katharine Hepburn. Embarrassing :-) But they were a forgiving crowd, and I soon got over that little slip up.

These talks take  up a lot of time and requires hours and hours of reading a research, so I am glad that people come along and enjoy them. These kinds of activities are an increasingly important part of the public service that libraries offer their communities, but they can only continue if people actually support them. To see so many there yesterday was heartening indeed. The program at Ashfield Library is particularly good, rich and varied - do check it out, and do schedule in all of the amazing talks and activities you can.

On that note, here are some of my upcoming activities at Ashfield Library:

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Doing the meaningful things first

Sometimes we don’t get around to doing our creative work.

We get busy doing all the things that need to be done and before you know it it’s 3 in the afternoon and we are too tired or have a headache or think we might be more creative tomorrow.

It’s never going to happen if you do it that way. Let's face it, you’ve tried it, and it didn’t work.

Instead, make a small commitment to do something creative every day, and do your small creative commitment first thing. I know some people who even do it before breakfast, but I need food and caffeine too much for that. But you do need to move your creative expression right up the list, right to the very top. Then things will start happening.

Be aware of how you’re spending your time and who you are spending it with. Create your days with some intention – don’t let them drift by in chores and distractions.

Let’s answer these questions:

What did you learn to do better this year?

What activities have been taking up more of your time than you would like?

Do you have enough time for the people you love?

Are there any things you’d like to be doing that you don’t do?

Is there any way you could make faster progress in doing the things you’d like to be doing? 

These questions come from p. 9 of David Riklan’s excellent book 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

40 days of journal writing....

Yep, that's it.

I am making a pledge to journal every morning for 40 consecutive days, and I will chart my progress on here. Of course, I journal 4 or 5 times a week as it is, but I want to explore this as a creative and spiritual discipline and see where it might take me.

We need to create a habit of journal writing.

I would invite you to join me, from today, in your own 40-day challenge of journal writing.

The best thing about a challenge is that, if the well really is dry, we can write about that very sense of not knowing what to do.

But in our creative life there is always something to write about – some challenge, some question, some joy, some realisation.

If we are on the creative path, every day offers a new insight – at the very least a sentence we can write.

Even if we did a sentence a day – what a fascinating 40 sentences that would be!

But I would urge you to consider 40 days, 5 minutes a day, simply asking the page: what do I need to know right now?

There is no right or wrong answer!

Sometimes our creative spirit is expressed in the quotidian. Perhaps the very best and most powerfully creative thing you could do that day is the ironing – it’s been piling up for days.
But write about how you feel – what were your thoughts during the ironing? How might we have made it a creative task? Or perhaps it already was?