The Secret Garden


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I was asked along to a talk at the North Sydney Community Centre this past week, to hear Wendy Whiteley and the esteemed journalist, Janet Hawley, talk about the paradise behind the lush tome, Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden. Janet has written a heartfelt and intelligent book about her friend, and also of the remarkable history of Lavender Bay. Jason Busch’s photography is outstanding! It is the ultimate coffee table book. Wendy appeared first, her hair wrapped in an elegant black scarf, a sprig of lavender pinned to her jumper. She had a commanding presence, and hypnotic crystal-blue eyes. Janet Hawley sat next to her, an elfin lady with a dulcet voice, and to our delight, Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia was the interviewer. He confessed that he had only been to the garden for the first time the day before. He had fallen under it’s spell in an instant, and plans to help out there for many a year to come.

The garden in question was started over twenty years ago, after personal tragedy touched the artist and muse’s life. Wendy’s husband, the great artist Brett Whiteley,died in 1992, after which Wendy turned her attentions to the wasteland in front of her home. Her daughter, Arkie, was an ethereal spirit, and fine actress. She encouraged her mother’s endeavors; buying her plants for the project. Tragically, she succumbed to adrenal cancer. Losing her only child saw Wendy turn to the garden once more, for comfort and reprieve from the agony of her loss. The garden was built on land adjoining Wendy’s home, which was owned by  Rail Corp and later leased to North Sydney Council. It was neglected and overgrown with weeds. Wendy used her own money to turn it into paradise. Visitors from all over the world come to relax in this spectacular garden, and all that is asked is that they’re respectful and take their rubbish when they depart.

In a sensible outcome, the State Government has extended the lease to thirty years, with a thirty year rollover clause. Wendy would love to be given assurance that a stable of sturdy volunteers shall keep up the garden after she departs, putting in money, resources and time. She needs to have a website constructed, so that people can have a central point to gather information and leave feedback. The Secret Garden will also require a generous soul to manage its social media.  This glorious garden is her gift to Sydney. I believe that a dream team of volunteers shall come forth, and help out in the decades to come. I hope that the State Government can commit in the longer term to her vision regarding the necessity of parkland by Sydney Harbor, to bring in tourists and for the pleasure of locals. How awful it would be if Sydney were to lose it’s soul to developments suffocating every square patch of green land.  It was a daring act by Wendy, to create our first guerrilla garden, and I am in awe of her commitment. She turned a wasteland into a place brimming with life, and her grief into an exquisite  garden. I shall never forget meeting the iconic Sydney artist with the hypnotic blue eyes and the wondrous Janet Hawley.

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Wendy Whiteley and Janet Hawley

-Photography by Jason Busch

For further information, click here.

How to become a Great Writer-Sarah Brennan and Jemma Julian


Sarah Brennan is an accomplished children’s author, and she interviewed a young writer friend of mine, Jemma Julian, for her blog. I am flawed by the wisdom streaming from one so young! Check out the interview here.

Inside Out by Anastasia Amour is out now!


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I have just read Anastasia Amour’s 14 Day Guide. I well remember how it felt to torture my body as a teenager. My eating disorder was created by a combination of insensitive words, feeling out of control of my young life and a desperate need to be perfect. Alternating between bingeing and throwing up, and not eating at all. Exercising to the point of fainting. Feeling that death was less intimidating than shedding the demons destroying me. It’s time for us to loosen the shackles, to stop destroying ourselves in the name of some ideal that we can’t really define. Self-love has to start here and now! For our kid’s sake as well as our own. My weight has fluctuated throughout the following years, due to surgery, recovery, IVF and endometriosis treatments. I have had my weight commented on when I have gained pounds, and again when I have lost those pounds. When my face became rounder after several months in a spinal bed, it was remarked on. There was little I could do about my situation and it left me feeling awful. I look back at those pictures and guess what? I see a girl who is a healthy weight! How about we stop the commentary? Let’s put it into the basket of subjects one doesn’t bring up, alongside enquiring about someone’s fertility. Inside Out is a divine little book, consisting of a 14-day guide, which aims to change how you see yourself and your body. It contains many practical tools and exercises. Let’s redefine what it is to be you, and shake off the shackles of the dieting industry. You can’t improve on perfection! Anastasia’s book contains 14 exercises that will offer practical support whilst you kick-start your body-confidence.

Questions for Anastasia.

What concerns you the most about the media? Is it the images they use, the words, or a combination of both that is so harmful?

The current state of the media is so problematic, and you’ve nailed it. We’re a visual culture and there’s no questioning our saturation of digitally-altered images and ‘flawlessness,’ and when you combine these with language that’s absolutely littered with ideas of fear, guilt and shame- appropriated as marketing tactics…well, you’ve got a very dangerous cocktail. In many ways, I strongly doubt that we’ll move away from the current media format anytime soon-but that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me most is the wide reach that the media has now, particularly to young people. Somewhere along the way, we’ve started to blur the lines between advertising and soft porn and we’ve widely accepted the notion that “sex sells,” to the extent where ad exececutives feel it compulsory to use female sexuality as a commondity to sell everything from cars to boxes of cereal. This is concerning on multiple levels but the biggest issue I have is the age at which the exposure starts. If grown women struggle to not internalize these toxic media messages about worth, sexuality and body image, what hope do young girls have? Girls and teenagers blossoming into women are confronted with more than ever before, and the implications of this are truly terrifying.

The diet industry is more powerful now than ever before. Why do you think this is?

Its simple-because the diet industry have so craftily set themselves up to grow bigger, better and stronger with age. When you set up your consumers to not only feel a perceived demand of their own accord but to experience that demand from your actions, you’ll always have the benefit of being a supplier. That’s well and good, except its not-not at all. This isn’t just selling pens or printer toner…this is screwing with people’s mental health. This is creating insecurities, blaming and punishing people for experiencing those insecurities and then offering them a magic solution to fix the very insecurities that the diet industry itself contributed to. It’s immoral, it’s unethical and it’s damaging so many lives. What the diet industry doesn’t want us to know is that those who are overweight and need to lose weight to keep their bodies healthy don’t actually need the diet industry at all to do this. Diets and fads don’t work. They might help you shed a few kilos initially, but they do nothing to keep you healthy in the long term. Ultimately, we’re building a culture that searches for shortcuts and hacks. When we take a quick-fix approach to our mental and physical health, we’re treating the symptoms of our conditions and not the root cause. This is a huge part of why diets fail to create sustainable, positive lifestyle change-they help you to minimize the symptoms of your condition (excess fatty tissue), but do nothing psychologically to tap into the emotional issues around your relationship with food and your body. That works out just fine for the diet industry because they get the illusion of helping you whilst simultaneously ensuring that you remain a lifetime customer.

Why did you write Inside Out?

Having experienced anorexia and bulimia, I know what it’s like to loathe yourself in every way. Whilst counselling can be helpful, I also know that therapy isn’t for everyone and that many individuals prefer to educate and empower themselves on their own terms-I’m one of those people. Through my personal experiences, studies in psychology and mental health and via my own research, it’s my goal to provide sound and practical advice to women who prefer to do their own introspective work, or who don’t have access to a counsellor. ‘Inside Out’ is a resource that I wish I’d had access to at the lowest points of my self-esteem and body image. There are a lot of self-help books out there that fill your mind with “fluffy” advice on one end of the spectrum, and then highly scientific, psychological textbooks that are delivered in an inaccessible manner on the other end of the spectrum. Inside Out isn’t just for those diagnosed with eating disorders and body image issues. The techniques that it breaks down are applicable to all women who’ve ever had moments of body-loathing. Inside Out is my love letter to the reader. It preaches empowerment, validation from within and fearless body confidence-things all women deserve to experience!

Finally, how can we affirm young girls and help them to seek self-love, rather than praise from outside themselves?

The way that we affirm young girls is symptomatic of our cultural values and often, we end up forcing these ideals onto children through conditioning and selectively complimenting only the “acceptable” traits. How often do we see little girls encouraged to pursue maths, science or sports? How often do we see little boys encouraged to explore the full spectrum of their emotions? Instead, we encourage notions of femininity and masculinity as mutually-exclusive concepts-we compliment little girls for being pretty and packing up their tea sets, and we compliment little boys for being smart and rough and strong. We can make a great start by complimenting young people based on all sorts of positive traits, regardless of their gender. I believe we can go further by encouraging young people to set their own compliments and praise themselves, rather than relying on those around them to tell them that they’re pretty, smart and capable. This starts with setting an open and encouraging dialogue within the family where each member is celebrated for discussing their positive attributes. We’re all happier and more productive when we’re enabled to choose we want to be, rather than being pigeonholed into someone else’s idea of what we should like about ourselves.

Anastasia is offering my readers a very special deal! When the book launches on November 14th, this link will go live. On that date, go to the shop and enter the code below to get 15% off! This is a book that will help redefine what it is to be you, far away from societal pressures.

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For more info, go to Anastasia’s website.

Here is Anastasia’s bio.

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Johnny Nothing-Ian Probert


Johnny Nothing Author, Ian Probert
Johnny Nothing Author, Ian Probert

I have had the pleasure of making a new friend in the form of UK author, Ian Probert. He has recently published his latest book, Johnny Nothing, a rollicking, enthralling book for ages ten and up (mind you, my eight year old daughter absolutely loved it, and was doubled over from laughing in parts)! It is reminiscent of Roald Dahl, and about the poorest boy in the world, who has the nastiest mother in the universe. It is available on ITunes and Amazon. When did you make the decision to become a writer? “I never really decided to be a writer as such. It was a gradual process. At school I was good at Art and English. I used to fill up exercise books with stories about vampires. It must have driven my English teacher to drink. I come from a working class family and becoming a writer was never really an option. After failing most of my exams at school I went from one dead-end job to another. I was a draughtsman, a waiter, a landscape gardener. I worked in  KFC, in motorway service stations, telephone sales, in clothes shops. I was pretty aimless until I managed to get into art college to study painting.It was there that I started keeping a diary and discovered that I could write reasonably legibly. After art college, I managed to blag my way into a job at a newspaper. Somehow, they employed me as a sports writer. After that, I actually ended up editing sports magazines. My articles got longer and longer until it occurred to me that I ought to try my hand at writing books. I was very lucky. I got an agent almost instantly. A publishing deal followed soon after. I was rather blasé about it. In retrospect I didn’t realize how fortunate I was. As you know, it’s very difficult to get an agent to even look at anything you’ve written, and its even harder to get a traditional publishing deal.” Where did the inspiration for Johnny Nothing come from? “It’s a long story, the tale behind its birth. Basically, I was ill for almost 15 years without being really aware of it. I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It’s not exactly an uncommon condition, but can have catastrophic consequences for your life. I did this article for the Guardian on the illness. The end result of this was that I lost my ability to concentrate. I didn’t have anything published for more than a decade. I tried writing things, of course, but would always give up after a chapter or two. I thought I was getting old or something! When I was diagnosed and given drugs to combat the condition, I got the proverbial burst of energy. I wrote a lot of things very quickly indeed. Johnny Nothing was written for my ten-year old daughter. I think it was to prove to her that I could actually write. For years she had been hearing me drone on about how I used to be a published writer. I wanted to give her something that would make her proud of me.” What are you planning next? “I always think it’s a little reckless to tell people what you’re writing. The problem is that one can be really excited about a new project and bore family and friends to death talking about it. Later, when you’ve decided that the idea was actually pretty crappy, you then get people asking you how its going and you look a complete fool. These days I only tell what I’m doing to people whose job it is to know such information. That would be agents and publishers. Over the years I’ve never learned to show anything I’ve written to people until it’s actually on the bookshelves, or nowadays, on Kindle. There’s nothing worse than a friend telling you that they’ve written a book and asking, ‘can you read it and tell me what you think?'” Ian has produced a masterful story, full of darkness, hilarity and light. The hero will have you cheering as Johnny Nothing ends up being everything.