Refugees – message of hope – 13 days to reach target

My friend and neighbour Lorraine Vogel has written a song with a very different message for refugees.



This message offers hope, warmth and welcome.

Lorraine aims to professionally record the song and have it translated and made accessible to refugees in detention centres.

Please click on the link below and see the video for more info:



The song could also be a unifying force for those who care about the rights of asylum seekers. It’s a great song!

Lorraine has raised $1,730 towards her target – and needs to raise another $2,270 in the next 13 days.

Lives of the Dead Reading – Friday 13th September

I’ll be reading from my book Lives of the Dead at the Art Deco Paragon Cafe Cocktail Lounge on Friday the 13th. I hope that the cafe’s ghost who haunts the ladies toilet and loves to slam the door with gusto, will be a little sympathetic and keep the noise down!

The evening will also feature a Celtic harpist, Martyn Cook and poetry by Sue Wildman and Simon Lenthen.

One of the friezes that adorn the walls of the Paragon Cafe

One of the friezes that adorn the walls of the Paragon Cafe







The atmospheric cocktail lounge at the back of the Paragon

The atmospheric cocktail lounge at the back of the Paragon










Street view Paragon
Street view Paragon








Paragon cafe
Paragon cafe








The evening kicks off at 8pm. Tickets are $10.

Books will be available for sale.

For bookings and enquiries please phone 0414 325 676



Walter Mason’s new book Destination Cambodia out soon!

My friend Walter Mason’s new book, Destination Cambodia is due to be on the shelves in September! I can’t wait to read it. I’ve long wanted to explore Cambodia, and now will be able to do so vicariously via Walter’s new book.DestinationCambodia_1-small Thang Ngo writes in Noodlies “Destination Cambodia takes us on a joyful and constantly fascinating literary journey in which Cambodia is vibrant and its people excited about the future while never denying their haunted past. This book isn’t a history lesson about the troubled past of this beautiful, yet mysterious country, though you do see it’s impact on the people throughout this travelogue. Nor is it a Lonely Planet guide – it’s not intended to be another ‘how to’.”

Walter’s previous book, Destination Saigon was named one of the ten best travel books of 2010 by the Sydney Morning Herald. I found it un-put-downable, and hilariously funny. There are only a few books that have ever made me laugh out loud, but that one certainly did.

For more info about the book and videos of some of Walter’s Cambodian food experiences, tempting or otherwise, see:

Book launch ‘White Light’ by Mark O’Flynn

Mark O'Flynn

Mark O’Flynn

I’m greatly looking forward to the launch of Mark O’Flynn’s short story collection, intriguingly titled, White Light. The launch is to be held at the funky Blue Mountains Youth Hostel in Katoomba. Mulled wine is promised, which will be just the thing on a cool Katoomba afternoon.

 White light invite frt 







I’m also very interested to hear writer and critic Geordie Williamson, who is launching the book. I’ve long enjoyed Geordie’s erudite literary reviews. He was the winner of the Pascall Prize for criticism, Australia’s only major national prize awarded for critical writing. And he’s a Blue Mountains local, and an interesting writer, who recently published his fascinating, The Burning Library.

Mark O’Flynn is a prolific writer of novels, poetry and short stories, and has also recently published a novel, The Forgotten World, set in the Blue Mountains in 1800s. 

forgotton world

Read an interview with Mark about his writing processes and inspiration on the Spineless Wonders Website at: and view the book trailer at:

White light invite bk


Should be a great event – see you there!





There’s a boat that’s lost out there


there's a boat that's lost out there
there’s a boat that’s lost out there









A recent postcard by Virginia Shepherd and Kit Kelen which is part of Elsewhere, a collaborative postcard art blog with Carol Archer, Anna Couani, Kit Kelen, Sue Rawlinson, Loene Furler and Virginia Shepherd. A participant sends a ‘starter card’ via snail mail which is then finished by the recipient. Stamps, postmark and nibbles by slugs are all a part of it. View these beautiful, poignant, images at

Interview – Anna Couani on experimental writing, influences & reading

Anna Couani

Anna Couani is a poet and writer of experimental prose. She was born in Sydney in 1948 and is from a Greek and Polish background. She was involved in small press publishing and writers’ groups from 1975 till 1992. She was a founding member of No Regrets Women Writers Workshop, and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She taught art in mainstream schools and Intensive English Centres and she is currently a full time ESL teacher. She has degrees in Architecture, Art teaching and TESOL. She is the partner of sculptutor Hilik Mirankar. Some of her work is available for download from her website at:

1. What attracts you to writing experimental poetry and prose?

I was originally attracted to various experimental writers in the 70s, mostly prose writers because they were using forms that I found interesting, exciting and new. I think that non-conventional forms are good for expressing alternative ideological positions.

2. What are the main influences on your (creative) writing?

I have read a lot, especially fiction, in English and in English translations, so its difficult to pinpoint specific influences from literature. I still read a lot of conventional novels and watch a lot of movies and I tend to routinely read contemporary Australian poetry. However, experimental writers, both poets and prose writers from Australia, France, Germany, USA and Japan excited me a lot when I first started writing and I adopted an experimental perspective that has continued till today. I was expecting experimental writing to become normalized over the last few decades but it hasn’t exactly, although a lot of writers adopt stylistic aspects of experimental writing such as verb-less sentences, discontinuous narrative etc.

Outside of literature, I have a strong interest in the visual arts and have studied architecture, painting and film. I didn’t do a BA at university and never studied English at tertiary level although I teach English as a Second Language with qualifications in TESOL. Those fields inform my work as much as literature. Training in the visual arts teaches you to observe in a particular way.

3. Do you read paper-based publications or do you tend to read off the screen these days?

I read constantly, paper-based, online and on an iPad. For me it’s a matter of how something I want to read is available. But my house is so full of books, I try to read ebooks if I can, rather than bring another book in. Most of the reading I’ve done in my lifetime has been through libraries. I read masses of student writing which is mostly paper-based although they have the option of sending digital texts.

4. What are you reading at the moment, and what are your thoughts about it?

I’m reading a novel called The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver because I try to read texts that my colleagues recommend. It’s about a man who comes in contact with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I recently read Lives of the Dead by Jane Skelton. It’s an interesting collection of stories that evoke parts of the Australian landscape in a rather eerie way. I’m also reading Notes for the Translators, a book of poems by Australian and NZ poets, including myself. The notes of the poets are fascinating.

5. What do you see as the future of small press publishing?  

I think the future of small press publishing is online and in arty paper products. It’s now possible to publish your own work online and use online distribution networks. But obviously paper products are still very much with us right now.

Thank you Anna

See an extensive interview with Anna on her website at:

 Virginia Shepherd’s review of Anna Couani’s small wonders appears at:

small wonders (2011) by Anna Couani 








 Other books by Anna Couani include:

Italy (Rigmarole Books, 1977)

Were All Women Sex-mad? (Rigmarole Books, 1982)

The Train (Sea Cruise Books, 1983)

The Harbour Breathes (Sea Cruise Books and Mastertheif, 1989)

The Western Horizon (a serial novel published in HEAT magazine, Giramondo Press late 1990’s.

You may also like to check out:

 Mud map: Australian women’s experimental writing

Mud map: Australian women’s experimental writing


Edited by Moya Costello, Barbara Brooks, Anna Gibbs and Rosslyn Prosser.

and the Joanne Burns Award 

Writing to the Edge. The Joanne Burns Award. Prose poem & microfiction
Writing to the Edge. The Joanne Burns Award. Prose poem & microfiction


A few of my favourite things…

And speaking of cholesterol, moving on from my previous blog post…

The Unique Patisserie

This unprepossessing Katoomba café-restaurant-cake-shop offers not only wedding cakes, Aussie cakes, hot pies, deserts and fish and chips, but top Penang cuisine. Proprietor, chef and mother Hiang Hwa Yong (Wei Wei) sculpts incredible carrot birds and rice rabbits to adorn your meal.

Walk in and settle into a booth and let the music take you back in time – the soundtrack when we were there cruised through schmultzy ‘Spanish Harlam’, Matt Monroe, and ‘you’re just too good to be true’. As well as cuisine from Penang you can enjoy the old favourites, done to perfection – Sweet and Sour Chicken, for instance. The Aussie cakes are more perfect than perfect. There’s nothing like a lamington or a custard tart, to bring back memories.

The Unique Patisserie

The Unique Patisserie

Virginia about to enjoy a custard tart at the Unique Patisserie

Virginia about to enjoy a custard tart at the Unique Patisserie








A menagerie of macaroon animals

A menagerie of macaroon animals









Proprietor and chef Hiang Hwa Yong (Wei Wei) with son Thomas

Proprietor and chef Hiang Hwa Yong (Wei Wei) with son Thomas


Ah nostalgia – it isn’t what it used to be

Is a favourite saying of a friend of mine. But on a nose-freezing day in the mountains, with stark trees clawing at heavy skies, and a bone-chilling wind or drizzle, I find there’s nothing better than to seek reassurance in things that not only provide comfort, but remind us of comforts past.

Nostalgia is to do with the senses, with taste, feel, touch and smell. It’s about atmosphere. Nostalgia is a yearning for times past, characterised by objects, by significant things.

Watching an old black and white movie I’m reminded of childhood. A blazing hot Saturday in Queensland, lolling on the lounge, drinking glasses of cold milk with bobbing fragments of Milo on top, and watching Hollywood films, old even then: The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Rebecca, All about Eve. Those films incongruous with my life experience, country and place, nevertheless are a thread to the past, to where I lived in the past and are nostalgic, comforting. Those films form a part of my personal canon, a creative wellspring, just like books I’ve re-read and loved. There’s an over-enjoyment in knowing the lines, what comes next.

Why isn’t nostalgia what it used to be? Nostalgia has become marketable. Clothes are sold with rents and rip marks to emulate old, well-loved garments. You can buy a new windcheater with that ‘stretched’ look. Country-style furniture is patterned with fake borer holes. Replica 70s stuff is everywhere, from Planet lamps to toys, to signs.

This duplication of the old and well-loved tells us that nostalgia is not dead. Nostalgia is ‘cool’.

I looked up the origins of the word. A Swiss doctor, Johannes Hofer invented the term at the end of the 17th century, in reference to Swiss mercenary soldiers, as a replacement for the term, ‘homesickness’. It described a medical syndrome characterised by persistent memories of home, and the yearning to return, and included physical and psychological symptoms such as melancholy, sleeplessness, anxiety.

Is nostalgia dangerous? 

According to academic Avishai Margalit (2011), nostalgia may seem harmless, and often is, but in its idealisation and distortion of the past, its shrouding of the object in purity and innocence, it can forget the bad, or evil. Nostalgia is the cousin of sentimentality. It can become “the fuel of kitsch”(p. 274). As an example, he points to contemporary German Ostalgia, the nostalgia for life in former East Germany, which sentimentalises the Skoda and ignores the Stazi. Threats to such innocence and purity, anything different, can be perceived as demonic.

Patrick White explored these kinds of ideas:

Mrs Jolley listened, hoping she might hear a body fall. She hoped Miss Hare might die, even. Then all that was bright and solid, all that was known and vouched for must prevail.

So Mrs Jolley rushed at the oven, to bake a cake, although it was not a day of celebration, but she liked to bake, a pink cake for choice, with non-parelles, and something written on it. With the Mothers’ Union and the Ladies’ Guild, with the Fellowships, Senior and Junior, pink was always popular, and what is popular is safe. (p.59)       

Mrs Jolley’s pink cake is symbolic of all that is good, true, sure and safe. The atmosphere evoked by the baking cake brought with it thoughts of “little girls with fresh frocks” and “lovely little boys”. But Miss Hare begins to fear the housekeeper following the presentation of the cake, becomes haunted by it, and recognises the presence of evil in the virtues Mrs Jolley has brought to her life.

Nostalgia can distort the past and create an illusion of the loss of innocence, which can then invite brutality. But nostalgia’s longing can also create a sense of continuity and home. Over the centuries, migrants and refugees have described symptoms ranging from loneliness and listlessness to severe psychosomatic illnesses  as well as hallucinations and delusions.

Psychologist Alexander Zinchenko (2012) writes about the loss of home triggering such symptoms, and equating with a loss of sense of self, of orientation in time and history. The loss of place and home can be the loss of your personal world, your self. One of Zinchenko’s study participants told him that, “People do not know what awaits them.” He says that this is not just about the unfamiliar language or the strange climate, but the absence of home, because “…home remembers us and defines our sense of self-constancy”(Zinchenko, 2012. p. 74).

Nostalgia then, can provide a resting place, a connection to the past and to the future. Objects, and photographs, if we are lucky enough to retain them, can connect us to previous generations, to places. Memories can help define who we are, can connect us to home.

Margalit discovered this when attending a reunion of North African and European refugees he’d worked with in the past as a social instructor in a youth village in Jerusalem. These were young children at the time, born in displaced persons’ camps or abandoned in orphanages. He was surprised by how nostalgic they were about the village, their idealisation of the time they spent there, how detailed and vivid their memories were, much more so than his own memories of that time. The Youth Village children, now ageing adults, recalled a sense of belonging to the place, remembered it as ‘home’, as for many of them it was the only home they’d known.

Margalit writes that we should treat nostalgia as we do cholesterol. That we should distinguish between good nostalgia and bad.


Margalit, A. (2011). Nostalgia. Psychoanalytic Dialogues: The international Journal of
      Relational Perspectives
, 21:3, 271-280, doi: 10.1080/10481885.2011.581110

White, P. (1961). Riders in the Chariot, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books

Zinchenko, A. (2012). Nostalgia: dialogue between memory and knowing. Russian
Social Science Review
, 53:1, 86-81. Retrieved from

Lives of the Dead


Lives of the dead and other stories was launched last month by writer and spiritual tourist Walter Mason, and is out there in the world. 

The book was launched at the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba, as part of the Sydney Writers Festival, as well as at Berkelouw Books in Newtown. See photos, below.

Walter had the audience laughing at both launches, with tales of secretly reading the book during a Buddhist retreat. I talked about the book’s title, how it was inspired by a quote from Sylvia Plath’s poem The Rabbit Catcher, and the connection between memory and landscape.

The lead-up to the book being published, and finally released has been a long road. The collection was first accepted by Spineless Wonders in March 2012, fifteen months before the book’s release. Editing began in September last year, and continued until about December. And then came the final proofreading, decisions about the internal photographs and the cover and whether to have endorsements or not, and numerous other decisions about the look and feel of the book. Spineless were fabulous, and checked in with me all the way, about everything about the book. A fifteen month turn-around from manuscript to book is really quick.  A larger, established publisher may hold a manuscript it’s trying to decide on for many months – even a year, before making a decision. And then, if accepted, the turn-around-time could take another 12 months, depending on the publishing schedule, and where you are on the list.

Lives of the dead was many many years in the making, before it was ever submitted to a publisher. Some of the stories took years to write. Most were previously published in literary journals and anthologies, some accepted immediately and others rejected many times and revised, before finding a magazine editor who would accept them. Although a first collection, these stories are a selection that seemed to go well together – and are part of a much larger body of work, a lifetime in the making.

Now this collection of stories is published, and out there in the world, what happens next? I’m experiencing a lull, a quiet time after the long build-up. I’m gazing out at the garden, at the fine-powder rain, at the cockatoos sitting like sad, puffed-up chooks in the winter trees.  The rollar coaster ride is over, and this is the quiet after the storm, and the beginning of another period of hard work.

Thank you to everyone who has been emailing me with your comments about the book. I love getting your feedback and knowing that someone, out there, is reading it and hopefully enjoying it, and maybe identifying with it in some way.

In answer to what happens next – this is my first blog post, the first in a series. I’m working on the next topic – a secret at present. I hope that you might like to join with me in a conversation – about nostalgia, nature, dogs, books, writing, reading, food and…who knows. I’ll keep you posted!

Jane Skelton