At work and in daily life we are often confronted with decisions to make and problems to solve. We employ our knowledge and experience and come up with a set of possibilities, enabling us to act accordingly. But have you ever had the feeling that you could’ve done something different or better? This gets at the heart of the Sydney Writers’ Festival talk that NY Times best-selling author, Robert Greene gave “On Creativity”.

Greene has performed years of research into this field and specifically into the area of the science of learning and human behaviour. This enabled him to write his latest non-fiction book, Mastery. His aim was to get to the bottom of why it is that some humans seem to have superior brains. We are all capable of thoughts and making decisions but he wanted to know what makes the Leonardo da Vincis and Albert Einsteins of this world tick and have such higher levels of creativity then the rest of us.

The answer – according to Greene – lies is the fact that these geniuses have the ability to see more options and possibilities. They also rely on a certain level of experience and knowledge – like we all do – but they are not bound to sticking to a predetermined set of outcomes or rules. Greene also mentioned that in 2013 we face additional challenges like information overload and operating in a competitive environment.

One possible solution is to engage in meditation practices. This enables you to form the most incongruous, random and bizarre free associations. It works in much the same way as your thought processes operated when you were a child. Do you remember when you were young and more imaginative and open to certain things than the adults? It helps if you ignore negative thoughts and step outside your comfort zone. And by tapping into this lost state of childhood consciousness you open up the floodgates to fluidity of the mind, where the possibilities for creativity are endless.

Robert Greene’s talk was ultimately an informative and rather practical one (well, when he wasn’t posing ideas that should have already been intuitive to the majority of us). He came to the table full of his own ideas, which people could employ to develop their own creative muscles. In short, this is one exciting and fascinating area and this discussion certainly got some creative juices flowing.


Originally published on 26 May 2013 at the following website:

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They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But if you’re anything like writers Alisa Piper and Cheryl Strayed then it’s also a good idea to have a pen and some paper in your pocket. These two strong and fearless women appeared in conversation with Caroline Baum for the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival. What ensued was a frank discussion and description of their unique, life-altering journeys.

Strayed set off on her walk after her mother – and her self-confessed “only parent” – had died. At the time Cheryl was only 22. After some navel-gazing and soul-searching four years would pass and in 1995 she embarked on a 1770 kilometre trek along the Pacific Crest trail through California and Oregon. It was a different world back then but it would ultimately spawn the New York Times best seller, Wild.

Piper’s journey was a thoroughly different one, which she had initially intended to be the subject of a theatre monologue. She walked from Granada to Galicja in Spain chasing an idea not seen since the Middle Ages. She had read that slaves were once paid to carry the burden of people’s sins to the holy land. So she decided to do the same thing for her nearest and dearest. Only problem was that the road was a long one – even for a self-confessed walker – and she came perilously close to committing a misdemeanour or two of her very own.

Neither woman’s tales were designed to be a how-to or survival guide. In the case of Strayed it was almost the opposite, as she would set out with “an impossible to lift pack” that weighed over 35 kilos. Her boots were also the wrong size resulting in her loosing six toenails and both women carried large libraries of books with them. These included ones that they had already read in what was a most impressive form of sadistic punishment.

Although the masses have caught Eat, Pray, Love fever, it’s fair to say that these two women have embarked on their own individual, thought-provoking journeys that ultimately lead towards redemption because they took charge of their own destinies. And as this particular day’s session proved, they completed their mighty tasks with dignity, courage and unreal levels of stamina.

The pair would eventually exorcise some demons and experience some intense feelings and emotions but above all, the exercise was an important one in the getting of wisdom. Having shared their experiences with such forthright honesty there is no doubt in my mind that they had inspired at least a few audience members to go forth and take a walk.

Originally published on 26 May 2013 at the following website:

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Few people can do comedy well. Lesser people still can be seriously funny. And for some, the idea of taking a serious topic and finding the comedic element is completely absurd. But thankfully, Ruby Wax managed to achieve all this and more during her show at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

It had been 12 years since Wax had last been in town but it was worth the wait. The comedian known for working with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders certainly proved to be one flamboyant character. For starters, you get the sense that she thumbs her nose at any kind of authority. So there was never a chance that this was going to be your run of the mill festival piece. Instead it was more like a one-woman show that was one part cabaret, mostly comedy and with a twist of dancing thrown in for good measure. Her hour-long set was filled with anecdotes, facts and her trademark, witty one-liners.

The statistic goes that one in four people are or will be mentally ill. Wax knows exactly what this is like first-hand because she became the quote “Poster Girl for mental illness” a few years ago. She says that she had trouble switching from being the clown to getting back to normal life. It wasn’t like the audience member sitting there smiling for no apparent reason. This was serious stuff because Wax in effect shut down and it would take her some time and work to recover.

For the first part Wax was her typical, vibrant self, at times the brash raconteur filling the room with her larger than life personality plus plenty of laughs and fun just like our very own, Kathy Lette. At other moments she was rather thought provoking because she’d ask the audience questions like “Does anyone here know how to act like an adult? A married couple? A mummy?”

It’s difficult to imagine someone as ebullient as Wax getting depression. But one thing we did learn is that the disorder doesn’t discriminate when it comes to victims. Wax’s own mother had fought her own demons over the years but was often told she was just experiencing the “change of life” (never mind that her menopause lasted 87 years). And then there was Wax’s “helpful” friend who told her that all she needed to do was “Perk up!”

If nothing else this show helped to dispel two common myths in society. One- that women cannot be funny. And two- that all mentally ill people need is a back rub and a good lie down. Wax had been funny (irrespective of her gender) and did pose the interesting point- why is it that you illicit sympathy when you have illnesses in other parts/organs of the body but not when it’s the brain?

Wax ultimately struck a fabulous balance between sarcastic asides, her acerbic wit, personal anecdotes and physical comedy (lots of stuff you just can’t do justice with in print). Her salsa dancing re-enactment of when she was institutionalised was priceless. Imagine a class run by an ex-Marine and former Chippendale (I’m not making this up) wearing a canary yellow crop-top and matching pants. Sure, we got a half hour Q&A between this funny lady and Women Of The World Founder, Jude Kelly afterwards, but it was this scene that stayed with people as they left the venue. Because THAT was seriously funny!

Originally published on 24 May 2013 at the following website:

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Lorraine Elliott is so obsessed with food that she’s named after a quiche. She also started her own food and travel-themed blog because she considered herself, “Not quite Nigella”. What was a hobby and passion in September 2007 soon became a full-time career. By early 2009 she was able to give up her “corporate job” in advertising and this enabled her to become one of Australia’s most popular food bloggers. Not Quite Nigella is the blog’s name and the eponymous title of her autobiography.

The memoir is a fascinating and engaging read. Elliott uses a direct, conversational and self-deprecating style to document her journey from being a weary cook who was afraid to venture into the kitchen after her mum told her she was burning something to a talented “chef”. The tipping point came when Elliott read Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Because Elliott soon took a shine to what proved to be her newfound cooking mother’s sumptuous culinary delights and kitsch recipes in particular.

Elliott’s writing style is very similar to Kathy Lette’s in that it’s humorous and easy-to-read. Although it’s not as funny as the latter author, the book isn’t trying to be strictly comedy. The main subject is food, glorious food and the recipes, reviews and degustation descriptions make for something as tantalising as a close-up from the film, Julie & Julia. The book is also as easy to consume as a succulent steak cooked to perfection or a melt-in-your-mouth piece of chocolate.

Not Quite Nigella started off as “One hungry girl’s ramblings” and a document of Elliott’s meals for her family living abroad. She’d go on to record her own cooking and experiments with different recipes (some successful, others not). The proceedings are like one joyous adventure and series of fun, food capers with particular highlights including scouring the city for the best Peking duck dish; hosting dinner parties based on a specific theme or ingredient; and the pièce de résistance, a guide to gatecrashing a party with nothing more than a wine glass.

This memoir also includes a practical but short chapter with blogging tips and about 16 recipes – some of which are completely new – and range from the nostalgic party favourite of fairy bread to family specialties like wontons and Singaporean Chilli prawns. Elliott’s major love – aside from her husband, Mr NQN – is also desserts (red velvet cake and vanilla macaron options are also offered). The only criticism is that the recipes are buried in the book to support the chapters but they are not indexed at the back. They also fail to include a summary of their total preparation times and the amazing photography we associate with Elliott’s blogging. Hopefully this can be fixed in subsequent editions.

Not Quite Nigella looks poised to become as popular as Lorraine Elliott’s blog and indeed, the domestic mother and goddess herself who proved the inspiration. This uplifting autobiography would make an excellent choice for a book club discussion or ten and would be a great gift for a foodie, traveller or writer alike. In short, this is one interesting and informative read that’s as easy to enjoy in one sitting as a packet of Tim Tams.


Originally published on 20 May 2013 at the following website:

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A Canadian and an American-Australian with a Canadian surname walk into a bar wielding guitars. They are Tim Chaisson and Mark Lizotte AKA Diesel. When you put the two gentlemen together what ensues is an excellent night of blues, folk and pop music.

Chaisson was visiting from Prince Edward Island, near Nova Scotia and he’d had an “interesting journey”. Put mildly this had involved a horrible plane ride and a bout of sickness but you wouldn’t have known this on the night. Chaisson was all smiles as he divided his time between an acoustic guitar and a violin or fiddle. He performed his own compositions including songs he’d written with The Trews plus at least one cover of a traditional tune.

“Speak Easier” was a soaring ballad that seemed to embody the spirit of three chords and the truth. It was a pleasant enough track but Chaisson’s strongest material was when he was playing, looping and rocking out on the fiddle. He told us his Dad had said to stick with the violin and it seems like Chaisson-senior was right. His cover of a traditional number was just like The Chieftains and was easily the best cut of the set.

Just recently, Chaisson had noticed a tweet by Leann Rimes where she had talked up “The Healing”. This evening’s rendition proved to be a sweet love song not unlike a Neil Finn creation while the following “Come Clean” reminded me of Glen Hansard’s work. The support slot would be a full 45-minute show from this down-to-earth artist. His songs “The Other Side” and “Slippin’ Away” were good but you really couldn’t go past the veritable smorgasbord of sound he had offered earlier on the fiddle.

Diesel took to the stage at 10:05 and the rather appropriate sounds of Link Wray’s “Rumble”. Lizotte had set it up so that his fans could help choose the set list from a collection of predetermined songs but the night was all about his own individual take on the blues. The set focused primarily on Diesel’s first two albums and also featured some covers by way of love letters to guitar greats that Lizotte has clearly worshipped at the altar of.

“One More Time” was the first of many songs to showcase how brilliant a guitarist Diesel actually is. He said he’d spent years learning songs from his Dad’s record collection (including playing loudly with his bedroom window open, much to the annoyance of his neighbours). He also remembered the early days he spent gigging, playing to a handful of people and having difficulties filling the full-half hour set. But times have certainly changed. He had just performed shows in far North Queensland and he managed to coax more guitar sounds out of the one instrument then some musicians could hope to achieve in a lifetime.

“Soul Revival” made me think of The Backslider’s album, Starvation Box, as it had a hungry blues sound mixed with just a hint of influence from our homeland. For “All Come Together” Diesel had the audience clapping and asked us if we could keep it up for the ensuing four and half minutes of groove-filled pop. In this one Diesel made me think of Sting as his range and musical taste is so variable, whereas at other moments during the night you could definitely see this guy sharing a beer or two with Jack White.

A cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” also got a look-in and this proved my own personal favourite. It was a perfect rendition with just the right amount of distortion and if I’m honest, this was a more faithful version of the hit then Mr Young did when he was in town in March (well, the grumpy one had cut it short for a start!) The same cannot be said for Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary” because this one felt too much like Diesel covering the guitar legend rather than making it his own.

The covers continued thick and fast with “Spoonful” (made famous by Howlin’ Wolf), Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and the start of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. The highlight of the night was Diesel’samazing “Tip Of My Tongue”. It had everything a good song should have from his beating along on the guitar and Chaisson on the fiddle to the audience being swept up in the wave of nostalgia and showing their appreciation by clapping and singing along, as Diesel the master muso switched between electric and acoustic guitar sounds. Unfortunately, the following track and finale, “Crying Shame” paled in comparison as it was a little too slow and laboured.

I must say that I’m a new convert to Diesel, having only seen him for the first time at Stone Music Festival this year when he played with a full band. That show was fantastic, as was The Vanguard one where he was stripped back and in solo mode. Lizotte has to be up there with being one of the best guitarists this country has helped produce and on this tour he played an excellent selection of covers and his own classics that you couldn’t really want for anything more – not even dessert – and there’s always room for that!

Diesel’s Sydney set list:
1. One More Time
2. Since I Fell For You
3. Love Junk
4. Soul Revival
5. All Come Together
6. Cinnamon Girl (originally by Neil Young)
7. 15 Feet Of Snow
8. Wind Cries Mary (originally by Jimi Hendrix)
9. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (originally by Otis Redding)
10. Spoonful (originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf)
11. For What It’s Worth (originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield)
12. Come To Me
13. Tip Of My Tongue
14. Crying Shame


Originally published on 19 May 2013 at the following website:

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Back To Stay (Abrir puertas y ventanas) is the debut film from Milagros Mumenthaler. The winner of numerous international awards (including best film at the 2011 Locarno Film Festival); it is ultimately a low-key family drama. It’s also a semi-autobiographical tale from this first-time director.

The movie is actually a concentrated character study that is based on the domestic lives of three sisters Marina (María Canale), Sofia (Martina Juncadella) and Violetta (Ailín Salas). The trio have recently lost their grandmother who had doubled as their guardian. The trio range in age from eighteen to their early twenties, but they are rather aimless and require adult intervention as they flounder in the aftermath of her death.

The three are still growing up and finding their individual places in the world. The eldest, Marina acts with maturity and takes on some of the extra burden and added responsibility. Her two sisters however are just lazy, directionless and self-absorbed.

The film itself is beautifully shot and the three female leads are attractive young women but it all feels like there is too much style and no substance. The protagonists are also dysfunctional and not particularly engaging or likeable.

The pacing itself is tediously slow. There is little dialogue save for the occasionally bout of bickering, sibling bonding and platitudes. It’s also quite sparse in providing any detailed background information about the family, meaning it can lack real depth in the present. It also means that a lot of this story feels contrived and artificial at times.

In short, Back To Stay is a forgettable drama. While it attempts to be intense and nuanced, it fails to show little more than a family of pretty young things in their house and garden. This coming-of-age tale feels like there’s a whole lot that’s missing or left out as the true emotions of loss, growth and identity are not properly actualised or explored.

Originally published on 16 May 2013 at the following website:

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Steve Kilbey admitted this the record he would be making if The Church were still producing albums and also believes it’s the best one he’s ever made. But that high praise is not always lived up to on his latest collaboration with All India Radio’s Martin Kennedy.

The 11 tracks on the final part of their musical trilogy are a series of epics that sound like postcards from a futuristic space vacuum.

There are also additional nods towards the atmospheric music synonymous with Brian Eno’s work and David Bowie’s Low, but the mood is generally stuck in the slow to mid-tempo range.

“East Side West Side” is the only exception to this rule. This one sees some New Order-inspired synthesisers fluttering between a beat-driven wonderland and absolute stillness. It’s a stark contrast to “All The World” where Kilbey sounds like a choirboy delivering a pure folk hymn.

You Are Everything is a slow-burning album layered to the nines like Van Dyke Parks’ work. These mini, indie-folk orchestras can be overbearing and boast motorik percussion, glistening synths and Kilbey’s silken croon. It’s an abstract work where lightness and shadows collide to make something rather mysterious.

This is ultimately one ambitious undertaking that won’t register in the minds of the masses. But for the fans that enjoy their adult contemporary music with more than just three chords and the truth, there is a whole lot wrapped up in the history, spirituality, melody and classic prose here.


Originally published on 9 May 2013 at the following website:

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Paul Sings wasn’t strictly a comedy show. Or a concert. It may have been considered a cabaret. But what we did see was Paul McDermott, the former Doug Anthony All Star, GNW Host and star of The Sideshow singing songs from the different guises he’s adopted over the course of his career.

McDermott was joined by a four piece band with musicians on the guitar, bass, keys and drums playing what was essentially, some mid-tempo pop rock music. The group had played the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festivals and were now playing their final show in Sydney. McDermott was in a jovial mood as front man and star, spinning madness into his songs and anecdotes (some of which verged on angry old man rants).

Some of the jokes hit the mark more than others. But there were also moments where it felt like the show was a grand-old exercise in name-dropping. There was an anecdote about Paul Stanley here, a tale about Flacco (AKA Paul Livingston) there. There was a “story” about GNW producer, Ted Robinson and McDermott also took the mickey out of Marina Prior.

The show and its format didn’t always work. Having a full-band set-up meant the audience mind-set had shifted so that if the jokes and asides were too long, it felt like those times when boring banter is stretched out at a concert. Plus, the songs themselves weren’t particularly funny (unlike say, David O’Doherty, Tim Minchin and Tripod who have all managed to successfully marry the concepts of music and comedy together so well).

Paul Sings was ultimately a light comedy show. It had a quite silly feel but it’s also possible that most people left the venue feeling that Paul McDermott is funniest when he has another person with a mic as a comedic foil. The show was rather hit-and-miss but you couldn’t go past how fun it was to have the encore in The Enmore’s foyer. And next stop, the local watering hole.

Originally published on 5 May 2013 at the following website:

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Diminutive Canadian twins Tegan & Sara have been regular visitors to Australian shores since 2005, but it was their 2013 show that saw the girls make their debut at the Sydney Opera House. The night proved to be a special one, not least because the pair had taken many an awkward tourist photo outside the landmark over the years, and had made good on a dream to play there. This time, they were energetic, enthusiastic and victorious with their new album in tow.

With Heartthrob, the pair have moved away from the indie folk tunes that originally won us over. They’ve started to write more upbeat party anthems and they work. Tegan and Sara have added to their fan base without alienating the oldies.

The set list was comprised of all ten songs from the new record, plus some old reworked favourites. ‘I’m Not Your Hero’ symbolised the aforementioned seismic shift early on with ample glittery pop. The stage lights bathed the band in day-glo pink – fitting considering Heartthrob’s toe dip in the 80s. ‘I Was A Fool’ continued on within that buoyant mould in a musical sense, while the lyrics took a darker turn. But Tegan & Sara never let the mood become too melancholic, instead they lifted us once again with some soaring sing-song vocals during ‘I Couldn’t Be Your Friend’.

The classic ‘Back In Your Head’ received a riotous round of applause and the girls seemed to feed off the positive response from the audience. They waved and continually thanked us for being there and exclaimed how happy they were to play at the special venue. A group chuckle was had when Tegan Quinn said, “We made a poppy dance record and have made all you guys sit down”. Quite true, but no so much of an issue in our book.

At times the lovely ladies reminded me of the late Chrissy Amphlett. On the one hand they could sing so sweetly and sound so pure, but you also knew there was a bark to their bite. Their tales of broken relationships and being fed up with love also nodded towards Sarah Blasko. The girls wanted to make honorary Canadians out of us and the feeling is most certainly mutual.

During ‘Alligator’, Sara Quinn had keyboardist John Spence play the tune’s opening all over again. It was a slight, but the band hit no further setbacks. ‘Closer’ was delivered as another of our highlights of the night and their take on Tiësto’s ‘Feel It In My Bones’ during the encore was equally awesome.

Tegan and Sara’s set list:

1. I’m Not Your Hero
2. I Was A Fool
3. I Couldn’t Be Your Friend
4. Goodbye, Goodbye
5. Back In Your Head
6. The Con
7. Walking With A Ghost
8. Arrow
9. Shock To Your System
10. Love They Say
11. How Come You Don’t Want Me
12. Living Room
13. Where Does The Good Go?
14. Alligator
15. Drove Me Wild
16. Now I’m All Messed Up
17. Closer


18. Call It Off
19. Nineteen
20. Feel It In My Bones

Originally published on 1 May 2013 at the following website:

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