Why Taylor Swift and Benjamin Button Are Inspiration for Us All

Taylor Swift recently adopted a homeless kitten while on set filming her new clip for Me! and it has us purring with delight. Firstly, let’s talk about the adorable kitten, now called Benjamin Button, who is melting the internet with his gorgeousness.

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Check out those eyes!!

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It’s no secret we love cats, with numerous rescues in our family, and we also love Taylor, so this news made us extra happy. Also, Benjamin is an inspiration. What an amazing symbol of hope he is.

Here he was a homeless kitten, a potentially bleak future. His first stroke of good luck came when he ended up in the hands of a rescue organisation. But then he found himself on the film set with one of the most influential, wealthy and kind-hearted women on the planet. And in her words, “…he looks at me like, ‘You’re my mum, and we’re going to live together.’ I fell in love… He literally looked at me like, ‘Adopt me please.’ And I was like, ‘Okay I’m going to do that.”

We too have had that moment of locking eyes with a cat and knowing our fates lay together. Sometimes stuff really does happen for a reason.

Bravo to Benjamin, whose future could well have included starvation, accidents, violence or euthanasia, but instead (in true cat style) decided that that life wasn’t for him, that his situation in life had nothing to do with his self-worth, that he deserved better, and that hey, he might as well aim for not just any home but possibly the best possible cat home on the planet.

And brava to Taylor Swift for listening to inner voice that said she and this little guy were meant for each other. Now that’s a love story we can get onboard with.

Fancy a Writing Retreat in Tuscany? This might be your year!

As some of you may know, I discovered the story for Three Gold Coins while I was on writing retreat in Tuscany in 2016, with fellow writer and friend Vanessa Carnevale. Vanessa is once again running writing retreats in Tuscany this year and you have the chance to go! I asked Vanessa to tell us a bit about her, her work and the value of writing retreats.

Can you tell us a bit about your connections to Italy and what you love most about Italy?
I met my husband in Florence while holidaying over there in the late 90s and ended up living there for several years in my early twenties. I had a job in the city centre and started doing some freelance writing in addition to that. I’m enamoured by the history, the art, the culture, the food, the people! There’s always so much to learn and see over there and one of the things I love most, is the relaxed and much slower paced lifestyle. I’m very lucky that having family over there allows us to travel back as often as we can.
Your first book was set in Italy and your second in Australia. Would you like to share a little about the books and the research for both?
My debut novel, The Florentine Bridge, is set in Florence, and is about an artist by the name of Mia, who travels to Tuscany to find her passion for life again after experiencing a life-changing illness. The setting and its characters were informed by my time living in Italy. So I knew the Tuscan setting very intimately and while the characters, love story and storyline are completely fictional, writing the book was like taking a trip back down memory lane as I wrote about the places I had visited. I spent quite a bit of time researching renaissance art and painting which I love.
The Memories That Make Us, my latest novel, is set on a fictional flower farm in Victoria and is about Gracie, who after an accident, is left unable to recall most of the elements of her life, including her late mother and her fiance, Blake. It’s a story of self-discovery which follows Gracie’s journey as she rediscovers who she is after this big moment which turns her life upside down. For this book I did lots of lovely research into flower cultivation and the way flowers have a positive impact on emotion. Bonus for me is that I now have a beautiful flower garden and can enjoy freshly cut blooms any time I want!
What do you love most about writing retreats and how do you think they help writers?
Writing retreats are a wonderful way to nurture creativity. Getting away from the daily grind, and into an environment where you’re spending time alongside other writers who understand you is so refreshing and re-energising. For me personally, I find that supporting other writers gives me a deeper sense of purpose and in helping others I find my passion for writing amplifies. It’s a total joy and I am so proud of the writers who come along. I love being part of their cheer squad as they go on to make progress with their writing. For some writers, coming to a retreat might be a way of prioritising and taking action on a lifelong dream to write, and for others it might be a way of stepping away to fully immerse oneself in writing without interruption in order to make significant progress on a project.
Can you share a bit about your upcoming retreat(s) and how people can find out more?
I’m leading another two writing retreats in Tuscany this September and have availability for the second week which is from the 24th Sep – 1st Oct. They’re week-long retreats and we stay in a gorgeous 17th century villa not too far from the centre of Florence. Anyone who reads Three Gold Coins will be able to experience some armchair travel there! 😉
[Jo: This is true! The pictures here in this blog post come from the very villa I stayed in and used as inspiration for the setting of Three Gold Coins!]
Writers can come along and attend the workshops on offer and largely spend uninterrupted writing time against a gorgeous backdrop of olive trees and undulating hills. There’s also the opportunity for sightseeing and Chianti tours for those who would like to do that. We also have a swimming pool. It’s gorgeous! It’s a beautiful week away that does wonders for our creativity!Anyone interested can find out more on my website: www.yourbeautifulwritinglife.com
Quick five: Favourite Italian word? Where do you want to travel next? One thing from your bucket list? Last meal? Favourite childhood book?
1. L’amore – love
2. New York. I’ve always said I want to travel to NY in 2019 for my 40th!
3. I would love to renovate a cottage in the country and use it for writing weekends away. THE DREAM.
4. Yoghurt and muesli for breakfast
5. The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton
Vanessa Carnevale is a freelance writer and novelist who has contributed to The Green Parent, The Huffington Post, Muse, and Italy magazine, among others. Her debut novel, The Florentine Bridge, was published by MIRA in Australia in 2017. She was a finalist in the Best New Author category for the AusRom Today Readers Choice Awards 2017. She lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

When not writing, Vanessa loves to travel and often finds inspiration for her stories in locations outside her hometown of Melbourne. She is also the creator and host of Your Beautiful Writing Life retreats held in Australia and Tuscany, Italy. She loves tea, and flowers, and often dreams of escaping to the country.

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!!



Elizabeth Gilbert: “Most in Show”

I just smiled and smiled when I read this today. The ever-inspirational, Elizabeth Gilbert, posted this on her Facebook site and I, like others in her comment thread, just had to share it on my blog. There’s not much I can say to add to this, other than, yeah, sister, right on. (And as an author who’d written ten manuscripts before cracking a publishing contract, I can attest to the value of ‘most in show’.) Enjoy 🙂

1536741_573424569406329_240531612_nI found this photo the other day at my mom’s house, and I burst out laughing.

This is me in 1980, ten years old, showing off everything I had made that year for our local 4-H fair. (That’s an agricultural fair, for those of you who aren’t so familiar with 4-H.)

I had a dream that year. I wanted to win BEST IN SHOW in the Home Goods department. I’d been coveting that giant purple ribbon for years, and wanted to make it mine.

My plan was to enter as many items as I could in every single category (cooking, canning, baking, gardening, sewing, industrial arts) in the hopes that at least one thing would be BEST.

I worked all summer at this. I drove my mother crazy. I cooked, I canned, I baked, I picked (and pickled) beans and beets and cucumbers, I made a teddy bear (!), I built a coat-hanger, I made a automobile first aid kit, I did needlepoint, I was out of control. (By the way — thanks, mom. Because of course I didn’t really know how to do any of this, so she spent the summer helping me as I hijacked her kitchen, her sewing machine, her craft table, her garden…)

After all that, I didn’t win BEST IN SHOW. Another kid did, for a dessert that he had made. I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m sure he was a very nice kid and the desert was probably fine — but seriously, it killed me. I was a sobbing mess.

But then some sympathetic judge must have put it together and noticed that — out of the 300 exhibitions in the Home Show that year — about 175 of them had been made by the same girl. Somebody must have been like, “Oh my god, that poor pathetic child.” Because later in the day, I was given a special award — a giant ribbon upon which some kind soul had written: “MOST IN SHOW”.

Which soothed my sad heart and made me very proud, though today in makes me laugh my ass off because: MOST IN SHOW? That it the best turn of phrase ever. “You, little girl, are not the best at any of this stuff…or even the second best…or the third best…but, by god, you are the MOST.”

But you know what? I’ve always been MOST IN SHOW. I wasn’t the best writing student in any class I ever took, but I was the MOST — I was the one who tried hardest. I think I finally got published because I was MOST IN SHOW — because I spent years writing and writing and writing and writing and sending out those stories to publishers and getting rejected and rejected and rejected, and sending out more and more and more stories until I finally wore them down and they published one at last.

I’m not the best at anything, you guys. Not the smartest, not the most talented, not the prettiest, not the strongest, not the best traveler, not the best journalist, not the best public speaker, not the best with foreign languages, not the best novelist, not the wisest, not the best meditator, not the best yogi, not the anything-est. But by god, I show up with a truckload of effort and participation and preparation, and I give to life the absolute MOST I’ve got. In every category I can.

The uniquely talented guy with the fancier dessert still usually wins the big prize, but you know what? I still wear them down (the great judges of life, that is) and they still have make up special ribbons for me all the time.

Because I just won’t go away.

Persistence forever!



Elizabeth Gilbert will be in Brisbane on 5 March at the Brisbane Powerhouse, talking about creativity and inspiration. You can find more information from the Brisbane Writers Festival program.