New non-fiction, ‘Buddhism for Meat Eaters’, coming July 2019

BUDDHISM_FINALAnd now for something completely different… Coming in July from Simon & Schuster Australia is my second non-fiction title and they have done a beautiful job with this book. Two books hitting the shelves this year. Lucky me!

The blurb reads:

“An engaging, challenging and contemplative guide on how to live a compassionate life in a consumerist era.

For many years, Josephine Moon struggled with the question of eating meat; fervently wishing to live as a vegetarian yet requiring meat in her diet. From Josephine’s philosophical, spiritual and physical battle with eating meat came, Buddhism for Meat Eaters – a book for animal lovers, the environmentally and ethically conscious, and generally thoughtful people who eat meat but perhaps aren’t entirely comfortable doing so.

Open, honest and utterly without judgement, Buddhism for Meat Eaters encourages readers to be more mindful about their choices, rather than berating themselves for them, and offers ways for people to live ethically, honestly and guilt-free, whether as a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan. This highly practical guide also includes workbook-style activities and topics for consideration to guide you in your own journey to making wiser decisions on how you consume, how you live, and how to change the world around you.”

Grieving the loss of a dog, and how I learned to help myself and others

daisy hanging about

There are seriously so many photos I could show you of Daisy, but this one does capture her joyful-seeking nature so well, just hanging about in the sunshine, next to the blooming lavender she so loved to roll in, maybe thinking about the twelve pancakes she just stole from the kitchen bench, her eye probably on a pile of manure she’d like to tuck into next. A clown, through and through.

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I usually write something whenever we lose an animal, but Daisy’s loss (on February 10) was so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t do it. But this post is not just about Daisy, it’s about dealing with grief for an animal that has been as much, if not more, a part of the family as any human, and it’s about supporting others during times of loss too.

In our society, there is a culture of not valuing animals as much as we value humans. The laws of our country consider them to be ‘property’. There are ‘minimum standards’ of animal care in our legislation but these are, in my opinion, not nearly adequate enough as they don’t even begin to take into consideration an animal’s emotional welfare (boredom, loneliness, despair, fear). Indeed, many people still believe animals don’t even have emotions. It’s little wonder then that we don’t have recognised grief pathways when one of our four-legged loved ones dies.

We have a lot of animals, so we’re always going to lose a lot (something that distresses me every time we do lose one and I realise I will have to endure this pain over and over). But there is also truth in the fact that not every loss is the same, just as not every human loss will impact us in the same way. For me, there has never been an animal that would break me down (and open) as much as Daisy’s loss.

So what do we do?

In the depths of my crippling pain, I found comfort in the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers, by David Michie, largely because it gave me very practical steps on what to DO after the loss of Daisy. In Buddhist philosophy, when any living creature dies, their soul goes to the bardo (the space between lives) for up to seven weeks, and during this time you can influence the future life of your loved one. This is not dissimilar to the Catholic tradition of saying prayers for the deceased. There were specific things I could do: dedicating actions of merit to Daisy’s fortunate rebirth; donating to charitable organisations; saying mantras; meditating; and holding her close mentally and emotionally, continuously sending energy of good fortune.

Out of the blue, my writer friend Kim Wilkins (aka Kimberley Freeman), made a donation to the RSPCA on Daisy’s behalf and when the notification came to me it meant so much to know it wasn’t just me holding this vigil for Daisy. Support often comes from the outer reaches of our circles, I’ve noticed. Of course, my mother was holding great thoughts for Daisy (her granddog) and some friends too. There were several friends who held long conversations (in person or online) with me, who knew the pain and could validate it. These conversations were so necessary, taken with time and care, and never with a hint of hurrying me on. All of them turned up at just the right time and I’m so grateful for their care.

Recently, two of my friends have lost animals and I’ve done the same for them, making donations in their name. I now have an action plan for myself and for my friends in the future. So here it is. This is how I will support my friends when they lose a treasured animal friend.

  • I will make a donation to an animal charity in their name.
  • I will send them a bereavement card, just as I would with the loss of a human.
  • I will light a candle for their animal and I will say a prayer/mantra for them to move through the spiritual realm with ease and find only good fortune on the other side.
  • I will dedicate good works of merit to their animal’s name for the same reasons.
  • I will offer support and I will listen, allowing as much time and space as is needed to grieve.

Perhaps this list may help you too, if you have recently lost a furry friend or you know someone who has. Rituals are the guide maps through the big moments of our life. By embracing some of these, we might be able to start to navigate our way through the long, dark night of the soul after our best friend is gone.

We had Daisy cremated. She currently resides in the back of the wardrobe because on the day her ashes came back I simply couldn’t face them. But I have been building a garden, slowly, and it is nearly ready for her plaque to go out there. Daisy was such a huge fan of lying in the sun in the garden. I’m sure she’d approve.

How to Throw a Tuscan Feast This Easter

Last Easter weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to a night we’d always remember: a Tuscan-inspired feast, right in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland. Everything came together to create an evening in which it felt as if a huge magic bubble of wonder and love had descended on our house and infused us all with a lifetime of memories.

The heart of a Tuscan-inspired feast is, of course, family and friends. The joy comes from sharing your home, your beautiful produce and cooking, and most of all your love. So invite as many people as you think your time, energy and budget can handle.

As far as the menu goes, Tuscan-inspired food is rustic ‘peasant’ food. The produce should be so fresh and bursting with flavour that it speaks for itself, rather than having to be fussed over and ‘dressed up’.

From my experience travelling to Tuscany, and my research for my novel, Three Gold Coins, I’ve learned that Italians by nature are incredibly regionally focused and fiercely proud of the food their local area produces. As they should be! What better way to honour a community’s history and culture and look after our planet at the same time?

For our feast, we chose cheese from our local cheesemaker and fresh fruit and vegetables direct from our local farmers. The result was scrumptious!

Here are my top ten tips for throwing a Tuscan-inspired feast.

  1. Keep your menu under control. Although Italians are known for their dining experiences to go on for five (or more!) courses, three great course (antipasto, secondi, and dolce) should do it. Trust me, you’ll still be fit to bursting.
  2. Try to set up your long table outdoors and under trees, if you have great weather. Otherwise, you could do was we did and bring the outdoors in with potted citrus and olive trees and plenty of terracotta pots filled with herbs.
  3. Buy as much of your produce locally as you can—it will have loads more flavour and freshness. Save your food miles for special items, such as prosciutto, which might have actually come all the way from Italy.
  4. Style your space with simple yet elegant finishings, such as wood, branches, leaves and candles, and don’t be afraid to use the food itself as table settings. Fresh honeycomb was a huge hit for us, a gorgeous feature and talking point and it was all gone by the end of the feast.
  5. Consider a separate eating table for the really young children and indulge them with their own special activities and treats. Hire a nanny if you can.
  6. Be flexible with your menu. We decided on tiramisu (naturally) for our dolce (dessert) option, but in the end only four of twenty-three people actually wanted that, instead choosing a far more English option of strawberries and cream!
  7. Flowers and cuttings will make any space feel more welcoming and can give an instant Tuscan feel. Think about the colours of Tuscany—blues, olives, greens, purples, maybe a splash of red. Depending on what’s in season, look for lavender, rosemary, geraniums, olive leaves, roses or perhaps even sunflowers for a big statement. Bunches of herbs of sage, thyme or oregano can look beautiful too.
  8. The right music will add another powerful layer of atmosphere to your feast. Unless you’re lucky enough to have musicians and singers in your family who are happy to serenade you, the easiest thing to do is to create a playlist with your favourite music provider and let it run on random repeat throughout your event.
  9. Remember the red wine, your camera and fairy lights (you can never have enough). Forget checking your phone, clothes with belts or tight waists.
  10. After all is said and done, the biggest thing you can offer to bring this feast to fruition is your love, joy, tenderness, generosity and sense of fun. That’s what will make it a night to remember.

Book Research Gratitude

Research is the bedrock of my novels. It is the place where I find inspiration, joy, meaning, characters and story. I am never happier than when I am in the free-flowing state of inquiry, following my curiosity and passion as it emerges, taking a right-angled turn here, or a big swooping deep dive there.

Many people help me along the way and never want anything in return (though I do always gift them something in gratitude); people who are passionate about what they do are more often than not, I have found, utterly delighted to share their knowledge.

I’ve collected a raft of people of late who have helped me with my future stories. So let me take a moment to thank them and perhaps you will find some inspiration here, or if you are able, you might be able to support their wonderful business.

Firstly, I visited Noosa’s only coffee farm, Noosa Black, in Kin Kin and was treated to a lovely luncheon on the deck overlooking Traecy and Peter Hinner’s plantation. They were so generous with their time, knowledge and passion. Their single origin coffee is sold through local IGA supermarkets on the Sunshine Coast and through their online store. The really beautiful thing about Noosa Black is how community powered the business is. Traecy and Peter’s vision from the start was ‘local’, and everything they’ve done, from planting the trees to roasting the beans has been driven by local labour, and then it is sold locally too, so the food miles are short! It is a vision that means all the dollars associated with the farm circulate within a small geography, which is really very cool.

Next, I got to travel to the beautiful Barossa Valley in South Australia and visit Trevallie Orchard’s fruit farm, with my expert guide Sheralee Menz, who knows the business and history of the farm from the ground up. The fruit orchard is a piece of living history, still growing heritage varieties of apples and with a magnificent fig tree over one hundred years old! To my greatest disappointment, I had a total camera fail and only got this one lovely shot of a fruit tree flowers (a pear, I think?). You can buy Trevallie’s beautiful fruit from their online store or in Farmland stores or at the truly magnificent Barossa Farmers Markets each Saturday morning in Angaston. (We had the BEST breakfast there!)

And most recently, I spent time at Padre coffee in Noosa, first with owner and coffee expert, Marinus Jansen, who shared so much information with me I truly couldn’t write fast enough. One of the most fabulous things about Padre is their ‘open door’ policy of information. They train people who want to be roasters and hold regular cupping sessions. Soon after my time with Marinus came to an end, I joined coffee roaster Vanessa Joachim for cupping, and then she invited me back the next day to watch a roasting session. And then barista, Kayla Byles, talked me through siphon brews, batch brews and V60s! Needless to say I was pretty high on coffee when I left!

Other than that, I have been chatting to some special people who are helping me with my next book; but I can’t quite tell you about them just yet. However, I want to say again how grateful I am that people are so willing to share their experiences and knowledge with me, which eventually comes out in my writing.

One of the things readers tell me frequently is how much they’ve loved learning about food in the books I write and behind it all are the people on the ground, with their hands in the dirt, literally and symbolically.

From me to you, thank you!!

 

 

How to Write a Book (for those who want to, but have a hundred excuses not to).

Consider this post both a gentle, supportive hug, and also a loving butt kick. I’ve had too many conversations in the past month with beautiful, talented, creative women that go something like this:

  • “Yeah, I’d love to write a book but I don’t want to do it and have it be bad.”
  • “I don’t want to write a book and have people criticise it.”
  • “I’d love to write a book but I know it’s so hard to get anything published [and therefore why would I bother].”
  • “I really want to write a book but I know hardly anyone makes money out of it and I need to be able to support myself… I can’t give up my day job.”

Look, to be blunt, none of this is new. All of this has been said before, by me and every other person with a creative wish. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “your fears are boring”. (Ouch! Hurts just a bit, doesn’t it?)

People get so messed up in their heads thinking about the outcome of their creative project that they fail to even start it.

And in my experience, what happens to your book  after it is finished is largely out of your hands. You have very little control over it after it leaves your laptop and flies off into the world.

Maybe it will sell, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will start a revolution across the world, or maybe it will change a single person’s life and help them through a difficult time. Maybe it will make you really rich, or maybe it will pay a phone bill, or maybe you’ll end up in debt.

Like bringing a child into the world, there is only so much you can do to protect, shepherd and guide her where you want her to go. She has her own journey.

Is this poking at your deepest fears? Can you feel your stomach knotting and your breathing constrict?

Here is something terrifying.

That fear never goes away.

I emailed my lovely fairy godmother, Monica McInerney, not long after getting my contract for The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise and asked her how to deal with the paralysing fear that was stopping me writing. She laughed (lovingly) and told me it wouldn’t ever go away and she was going through it right then too, on her tenth novel.

Julia Cameron, master of living a creative life (and famed author of The Artist’s Way) confesses in her book, The Creative Life, that as time goes on, the mind’s tricks, which it plays to stop us from writing, only get trickier.

Please, beautiful people with creative dreams, don’t be a slave to the ego’s fear.

You are stronger than that. You are wiser.

Accept it.

Name it, if you like. (My creative monster, my ever present fear, is called Maureen. Julia Cameron’s is called Nigel.) It is like an unwanted relative. You can’t get rid of it. It will always be at the table, eating your food.

Give it a job if you like. Many years ago, I listened to my saboteur tell me that everything I wrote was crap, turned to the corner of the room and said, ‘Really? Thanks for that feedback. Now go do something useful and find me a book contract.’

But please, write.

Please write.

Write.

Write for the sake of writing. Write because you want to. Write because in this hour, this day, that is what your soul calls you do to. Write because you love it. Write because you have something to say.

What happens to it after that?

It’s irrelevant. The important thing is that you wrote.

Much love,

Jo x

 

 

Juggling Motherhood with Being a Writer: You CAN do it!

The final proofed pages of my latest novel, on their way back to my publisher, complete with Random Toddler Attack

The final proofed pages of my latest novel, on their way back to my publisher, complete with Random Toddler Attack

Top Ten Tips for Being a Mama and Getting Your Writing Done!

I see so many interviews out there where a female writer is asked how she manages to write while also being a mother. And I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but I’m yet to see or hear the same question asked of a male writer. Now, I could pose a lot of theories of why that is the case, but since it is a topic that doesn’t seem to go away, I thought I’d put my two cents in as well.

Firstly, I want to be very clear in that I don’t think there is any difference between a working mother/writer and a mother who is also working as a teacher, nurse, psychologist, chemical engineer, astronaut, television host or cleaner. Right? It’s all a job or career and so we’re all faced with the same challenges. In fact, the ADVANTAGE of being a working writer and mother is that your time is infinitely MORE flexible. (That can also be a double-edged sword, but see below for that.)

So like all working mothers, working writers have to make choices about what is right for them and their career, their time, their family and their children. Nannies, daycare and grandparents are all considered, perhaps working part-time to allow for some sort of ‘balance’. Or, you might like to work full-time with full-time childcare. In my own case, we battled on with (expensive) in-home nannies for the first two years after our son was born (I got my literary agent five weeks after he was born… yikes!), and then he showed us he was ready to go to daycare two days a week. My dad and stepmother (luckily) adore him and they have him with them another day a week. So that gives me three days a week dedicated to writing. This works for all of us right now.

Before I had a child, I could write whenever I wanted to, for the most part. Now, I have to do it on my ‘working’ days. It’s not always easy but, again, any other job is the same. Some days we don’t want to go, right? But if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid. Sometimes I will work at night or on weekends, and every now and then I throw in a weekend away for a writing retreat to get some intensive uninterrupted time with my novel.

The tough stuff for me is when things happen on days that aren’t ‘writing days’: stuff like interviews, photo shoots, interstate travel, publicity events and commitments etc. Then the juggling does get tricky and this takes some whole family commitment to changing timetables and so on. And of course, often those other commitments DO happen on ‘writing days’ (because it is impossible to do a photo shoot with a toddler in his “Hulk” phase testing out his power by upending furniture), so that means that no writing actually happens and that puts pressure on the word count targets.

But I wouldn’t change any of it because I think I have the best job in the world for me.

I do know that the big pressures come when you are as-yet unpublished and are trying to work out how to work, and raise children, AND write a book. That’s tough. But still do-able. It takes a lot of compassion for yourself and belief in your need to write, as well as some creative thinking and support from your family. And it’s okay to ask for help, ya know?

Some tips:

  1. If you can, take back some time by hiring a cleaner to come for a few hours a week and spend every minute of that time writing. And if you have mama guilt about that, USE it to fuel your word count goal to prove to yourself how useful and productive you’re being. (As an aside, I don’t actually subscribe to this sort of fear-based motivation, but if you need to use it in the short term to get yourself moving then by all means DO IT!)
  2. If you can write in ten-minute or thirty-minutes snatches of time, I bow at your feet! If, like me, you’re not really like that, try to find at least ONE HOUR at a time (many writers do it at 4.30am or 9.30pm) and write like a demon for sixty minutes. Better yet, maybe it’s even more valuable to negotiate one whole weekend every month or two and just delve down deep into your book. You might get more done in that time than you would in six months of half-hour snatches.
  3. Writing brings with it incredible flexibility in terms of the time of day you can write and where you can write. This is awesome. Use that flexibility…
  4. …BUT! Be warned. This type of flexibility also means that when the child is sick and can’t go to daycare, when the car needs to go to the mechanic, when the plumber needs to come to the house etc. etc., it will likely be YOU that is asked to give up your writing time to deal with the domestic need. And, often, this happens because ‘your job’ isn’t ‘earning any money’ at that time while your partner’s job is. Oh, the mama guilt that goes with that! And look, the reality is that you do need to keep money coming into the house, right? But just be very aware of this trap. Learn to set boundaries and be patient with yourself as you learn to protect them and learn to claw back that time that you lost with the plumber on another day. Learn to negotiate. It can be tough; I get it. (Even now, as a published author whose income contributes considerably to our household, I still find it difficult.) But you need to do it.
  5. Work while disconnected. I use Freedom, a cheap, neat little program that BLOCKS THE INTERNET on my computer while I’m writing. What a difference it makes! We are too distracted and too distractible. If you’re on limited writing time than for goodness’ sake, suck the marrow out of every minute you have.
  6. Remember that you can plan a lot in your head while you’re playing with train sets and play dough. You can THINK about your book at any minute of the day.
  7. I think having a child actually makes me a better writer. It focuses my attention and time and forces me to move through procrastination and blocks much faster than I would do if I didn’t have the time ticking down to when I had to leave to pick him up from daycare. He is pure imagination and play and makes me laugh all the time and provides an incredible wealth of new experiences, emotions, ideas and material for books. And I swear that reading children’s books makes me a better writer. This is all valuable stuff for your career.
  8. Working on hard copy (writing by hand, or editing on paper) is much easier to do when you’ve got little people around than carrying your laptop around or locking yourself away in a room. Your supervision is still good, the little person won’t try and take over your laptop, you can hand over paper and pens so that you can ‘work together’, and the cup of juice that gets spilt won’t ruin your notebook like it will your laptop. You can always type up words later when you’re tired and don’t actually need too many brain cells simply to read and type, rather than create.
  9. Fatigue can be a problem. Oh boy, I get this. You need to train.
  10. Finally, it all comes down to this. If you want it enough, you’ll make it work. You can do it. You can. You absolutely can. You MORE than can. You can…. I promise.

Happy writing!

How to Keep Writing (When Life Gets in the Way)

I’m far from an expert at this, but I’ve had to learn really fast how to deal with high levels of writing commitments (i.e. publishing contracts with deadlines and money and stuff) with a baby/toddler in tow). And right now, I’m in the middle of my structural edit for my second novel, with a deadline this month so it can move through editing and onto the printers in time to hit the shelves in April next year (yay!).

And, timing of all timings, our household has been hit with one nasty virus after another–I’m talking flu, gastro, and now my toddler has a strain of a particularly nasty chest virus that’s knocked him down for more than a week. And when your very young child is sick, there’s not a lot you can do other than drop everything and look after them. They can’t go to daycare (if that’s what they do) and no one else (even the most doting aunties and grandparents) will want to look after your germ-infested, dripping, feverish, sneezing, snotting, wailing darling child. Quite reasonably.

Act like a squirrel: prepare, prepare, prepare

Act like a squirrel: prepare, prepare, prepare

Add to this the extra effort required with washing, sterilising and disinfecting, trips to the doctor, late-night runs to the pharmacy, the emotional stress of watching your little darling crying with fever or pain, or simply because they can’t breathe well enough to actually get any sleep, their rabid wrestling when you try to administer medication five times a day, and their likely constant need for affection and comfort, and you’ve got yourself a pretty intense time, and not a lot of mental space.

And then there’s the stress that your work is falling way behind.

So here’s what I’ve learnt to do: act like a squirrel. Be singled-minded about preparing for the future. Give up any idea of getting any serious work done and simply nest. Shop for food. Cook food. Freeze food. Plan meals. Do tidying and cleaning where possible. Wash clothes. Order supplies. Pay bills. Make phone calls. Send emails. Essentially, pretend you are leaving home soon to go away for a two-week holiday. You can do these things in little snatches of time between nursing, and they don’t take much mental power. And then the very second that the crisis has passed, you are set to go. Leave all that domestic chaos behind and sink blissfully into the newfound time and freedom you have so efficiently created while nesting alongside your sick child (or sick dog, or couch-surfing nephew, or whatever else turned up unexpectedly at your door). Right now, my freezer is filling and I’m on top of the washing. I’m just waiting for the season to pass so I can dive back into my book and enjoy all those nuts I squirrelled away during the storm of relentless ills.