Australia’s own Secret Garden … Janet Hawley, author of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asksWendy Whiteley

Janet Hawley

author of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden is about Wendy spending over 20 years turning a vast rubbish dump on unused railway land at Lavender Bay on northern Sydney Harbour, into a glorious public garden.

Wendy began the garden in 1992, grief-stricken when her artist husband Brett Whiteley died, followed by the death of their daughter Arkie. The garden, now almost a hectare, has grown into a joyous haven that Wendy has designed like a living painting.

I’ve watched Wendy transform a wasteland into a beautiful sanctuary, and along the way the garden transformed her into a woman with a newfound happiness and a wish to share. She’s paid for the entire garden, and works daily beside her gardeners – truly inspiring.

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

The sheer pleasure in getting off the grid, finding calm breathing space to be immersed in nature, and re-set your brain. Too long inside the grid is disastrous.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

“Use your eyes. So many people look, but don’t see.” Wendy says this constantly, so did our late artist friend Jeffrey Smart.


4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

Writers spend so much time thinking deeply and widely, trying to get inside other people’s heads, understand people and events from every angle. We can get upset with others when we don’t have enough time to think, see issues in black and white, and cannot see the subtle greys.

I work best in daytime and find it useless struggling over the words at night. Better to sleep on it, and hope you wake up in the small hours, with your thoughts unscrambled. I write those flashes down the moment they arrive. Never go back to sleep and think you’ll remember the words in the morning, you never quite recapture it.

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I’ve always thought that if you are genuinely curious about the subject – whether you’re exploring the life and world of an artist, or of a honey bee – you will take the reader along with you. I’m always thinking about trying to understand the topic/people, and giving a strong sense of person and place, so the reader feels they’re walking and seeing beside me. Hopefully, some readers will like this approach.


6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

A basic book on nutrition, which clearly explains food – calories, vitamins, minerals – what bodies need and don’t need. We are what we eat.

A beautifully illustrated book of great art works – to inspire creative thoughts in young minds.

A song book, maybe Beatles lyrics, or old fashioned hymns, to bond the twenty kids singing together and make them happy.

A dictionary – actually makes fascinating reading.

A blank page diary each – so they can draw and write their own thoughts.

Janet, thank you for playing.


Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

About the Author

Janet Hawley enjoyed a wide readership in her thirty-year career as a senior feature writer on Good Weekend Magazine, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

She’s renowned for her intimate profiles of artists and creative people, and trusted by her interview subjects to explore their private worlds and mysteries of the creative process. She’s published two books on artists, Artists In Conversations and Encounters With Australian Artists. Her book, A Place on the Coast, co-authored … Read more.

Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

Richard Glover talks to Booktopia TV about his memoir, Flesh Wounds

Richard Glover talks to us about his new book, Flesh Wounds – part family memoir, part rollicking venture into 1970s Australia. In this poignant read, Glover delves into his past, understanding that he must come to terms with it if he is ever to lay it to rest. That includes accepting his parents’ past indiscretions, from his mother running off with his Tolkien-obsessed English teacher to his alcoholic father …

Grab your copy of Flesh Wounds here.

Flesh Wounds

Richard Glover

Richard Glover

A mother who invented her past, a father who was often absent, a son who wondered if this could really be his family.

Richard Glover’s favourite dinner party game is called ‘Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?’. It’s a game he always thinks he’ll win. There was his mother, a deluded snob, who made up large swathes of her past and who ran away with Richard’s English teacher, a Tolkien devotee, nudist and stuffed-toy collector. There was his father, a distant alcoholic, who ran through a gamut of wives, yachts and failed dreams. And there was Richard himself, a confused teenager, vulnerable to strange men, trying to find a family he could … Read more.

Grab your copy of Flesh Wounds here.

Did Sylvia Plath’s suicide note reveal a new lover?

Ted hughes biographyThe widespread belief that American poet Sylvia Plath killed herself after Ted Hughes left her for another woman could be…well, false. Jonathan Bate, author of Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, reveals in The Guardian that Plath’s suicide letter may have mentioned another man, one she was intimate with in the last months of her life.

In countless biographies and Hollywood film adaptations, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughe’s life has been depicted as follows: after six years of marriage and two children, Hughes left Plath for Assia Wevill, a woman who he described in his poem ‘Dreamers’ (Birthday Letters) as “Slightly filthy with erotic mystery – A German Russian Israeli with the gaze of a demon.”

On the fateful day Plath took her own life, she called Hughes incessantly, however was unable to reach him. The birthday-lettersquestion then arises: did she call anyone else? Another man she was intimate with? New discoveries suggest that perhaps she did. In his article, Bate outlines compelling insights as to why this could be the case, the below being one:

“The story I have heard is this … Sinclair is convinced of the story’s truth because the source, who is no longer alive, was a woman of unimpeachable integrity, a much-loved editor named Frances Lindley at the publisher Harper & Row in New York. At a book party in the city, she spoke to someone who said that they had seen Plath’s last letter. It allegedly revealed that she did telephone another man that last weekend, in a desperate bid to renew their brief liaison. He told her that he was now in a relationship with another woman. Yet one more male rejection: this could have been the thing that tipped her over the edge.” (The Guardian)

Sylvia and Ted 2So perhaps it wasn’t Hughes who drove her to her untimely demise, but a new lover. However as evidence is inconclusive at present, we’ll have to wait a little longer for the truth.

Read the full article here.

COMING SOON: Keating by Kerry O’Brien

Paul Keating and Kerry O'Brien

Paul Keating and Kerry O’Brien

The long awaited biography of former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, by influential political interviewer Kerry O’Brien will be available this month.

Keating is a treasure trove of anecdotes, insights, reflections and occasional admissions from one of the most loved and hated political leaders Australia has ever seen – a man who was the driving force through thirteen years of Labor government that changed the face of Australia.

Pre-order your copy of Keating here.


Kerry O’Brien


Paul Keating is widely credited as the chief architect of the most significant period of political and economic reform in Australia’s history. Twenty years on, there is still no story from the horse’s mouth of how it all came about. No autobiography. No memoir. Yet he is the supreme story-teller of politics.

This book of revelations fills the gap. Kerry O’Brien, the consummate interviewer who knew all the players and lived the history, has spent many long hours with Keating, teasing out the stories, testing the memories and the assertions.

Keating, who as prime minister personally negotiated the sale of a quarter of the government-owned Qantas … Read more

Pre-order your copy of Keating here

About the Author

Kerry O’Brien is one of Australia’s most respected journalists, with six Walkley awards including the Gold Walkley and the Walkley for Outstanding Leadership in journalism.

In a 50-year career, Kerry has worked for newspapers, television and wire service, and as a foreign correspondent. Thirty-three of those years have been at the … Read more.

Pre-order your copy of Keating here.

Paul Keating being interviewed by Kerry O'Brien on the documentary Keating: The Interviews.

Paul Keating being interviewed by Kerry O’Brien on the documentary Keating: The Interviews.

Martyna Angell, author of The Wholesome Cook answers Ten Terrifying Questions

 The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Martyna Angell

author of The Wholesome Cook

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Martyna Angell Cover

I was born and raised in Poland and real food was always part of my upbringing. I grew up in and around Warsaw, the capital, and the city’s food scene was an interesting mixture of the old and the new. So you would have daily fresh produce markets, neighbourhood grocers selling veggies (I loved buying fermented pickles as snacks after school) as well as the modern fast food chains opening outlets in the city for the first time and big supermarkets setting up shop. It was a very interesting time in terms of exposure to the new but culturally we were still respecting traditions and cooking from scratch. Indeed, it was in one of my fifth-grade home economics classes that I learnt to make sauerkraut (recipe page 69).

I completed my high school studies here in Sydney, then dabbled in law and business administration studies before realising I needed a more creative outlet, so I completed a communications degree. Food, however, has always remained my true passion  and styling and photography followed suit naturally and are a big part of what I do now.

2.What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I was around twelve years old when I first discovered my passion for cooking and the joy it could bring to others as well as me. On weekends, I’d rummage through the fridge, pantry and freezer then write up a dinner menu for my parents to order from. Then I’d get cooking.

Most of my fondest childhood memories revolve around food, family celebrations and meals enjoyed together. When I turned eighteen cooking was not really considered a career choice so I went off to do a whole range of things but none of them made me truly happy. It wasn’t until I got closer to thirty that I realised where my heart lay, and food became the main focus for me again. This time, having recovered from a junk food past that put me on the edge of obesity, I wanted to share my story and make sure that my cooking, the recipes I shared with my friends, family and readers were all about real food, (and an occasional indulgence).

3.What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That life begins at 18. Martyna Angell 1Now I think it really begins at 30, but if you ask me the same question in ten years’ time I have a feeling I know what the answer might be…40?

4.What were three big events in your life or the world around you that had a great effect on you and influenced your cooking?

Moving to Australia definitely opened my taste buds to a whole new world of food — fresh seafood and South East Asian flavour influences and ingredient availability — which I absolutely adored. However, it also introduced me to a whole new range of processed and fast foods. Despite a short-term infatuation with junk food in my early twenties, real food has been one of the most grounding forces in my cooking. I’ve realised it is the easiest single choice we can make for our health and well-being. Cooking from scratch and eating real food that’s best for our bodies with an occasional indulgence is a philosophy I’ve adopted after completing studies with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition — another game changer for me. It’s also a philosophy I now live with my family and share in The Wholesome Cook.

5.What are some dishes you wouldn’t eat as a child that you love now?

I was never a fussy eater: I thoroughly enjoyed tripe and liver and had fermented pickles as a snack almost every day. However, and I think many might agree with me here, Brussels sprouts were not really my thing. Our school diner used to serve soup filled with overcooked mushy Brussels sprouts that sent the pungent aroma permeating through the entire school. It was nauseating. No one was a big fan. I’ve since learnt to prepare them in a more palatable way. They are fantastic shredded into a raw slaw or gently charred, roasted or stir-fried (see page 111 for recipe). They are sweet, slightly nutty and delicious that way.

6.Please tell us about your latest book…

The Wholesome Cook is not a diet book or an eat-that-but-not-this book. It’s all about making a lifestyle change for the long term that suits you; it focuses on eating clean, real food that’s best for you, most of the time. It contains over 170 refined sugar-free recipes for how we eat now — theMartyna Angell 3 bioindividual way. What it means is that every recipe has a gluten-free option and many come with options for other dietary needs such as diary-free, paleo, vegetarian and vegan. Many are also egg- and nut-free. They are all delicious.

As mentioned earlier, I was brought up with wholesome food — packets and processed food weren’t allowed in our house — but when I hit my twenties, I fell in love with junk food. The result? Within a year I had piled on 20 kilograms and when I stopped fitting into my favourite work suits that ran out at size 14, I knew I had to make a change. It wasn’t the size or particular numbers on the scales that scared me, although they helped make it real, it was the threat of being technically and truly obese that made me decide enough was enough. I needed to take back control of my cravings, my weight and my life.  But I wanted this change to be permanent. And so, I went back to basics: the basics of eating real food.

7.If you had to create one dish to show off your repertoire, what would it be?

It would most likely be Pulled Lamb Nachos (page 240) because they are a simple slow cooker number that uses deboned shoulder — a secondary meat cut from pasture-raised animals. Both have become fashionable terms, but having grown up with a grandfather who was a butcher and uncle who had a cattle farm, this kind of sustainable nose-to-tail eating was commonplace in our family. It is something that had, perhaps, waned in popularity but is now starting to see a comeback.

The dish is a favourite with the kids and most of our guests who have tried it are really pleasantly surprised with the use of lamb and a few additional tricks I’ve learned over the years to make the junk food to wholefood makeover easier. It’s served with a good choice of fresh salads, good fats from the avocado and probiotic-rich yoghurt instead of sour cream. Even the corn chips are plain — Martyna Angell 5a little indulgence without the junk.

8.Whom do you most admire and why?

I always find stories of those who have made a sea change inspiring, especially those who have done so to grow real food. I admire the courage it takes to drop everything for a simpler (if not necessarily easier) and happier life.

9.Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My goal is to create a ripple effect by highlighting the merits of eating real, wholefood while at the same time acknowledging that we are all a little different and no single diet fits everyone the same, no matter how fashionable it may be. My goal is also to teach our kids that being able to cook real food from scratch and listening to their body is not hard, nor does it have to be super expensive or time consuming. I believe it’s a skill that will set them up for life of real nourishment. While I will continue to share recipes on the blog, I would love to write another cookbook/wellness guide focused on the benefits of eating well seasonally.

10.What advice do you give aspiring chefs?

Never stop exploring and learning. Practical experience is invaluable, whether it’s through travel, eating out, working in a restaurant kitchen or a farmer’s market or by helping out with animal-rearing. And always keep an open mind to fuel your creativity.

Thank you for playing, Martyna.

Grab your copy of The Wholesome Cook here

The Wholesome Cook

Martyna Angell

Martyna Angell profileThese days we all want to eat the kind of food that doesn’t compromise on flavour or health: clean wholefoods, fresh fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meat. But it’s also true that what works in your diet for you, may not work for someone else. In The Wholesome Cook, talented cook and award-winning blogger Martyna Angell offers 170 nutritious and delicious recipes that are endlessly adaptable, cater to dietary restrictions and inspire lifestyle changes.

Every recipe is gluten – and processed sugar – free with an emphasis on wholefoods, and many also accommodate dairy-free, nut-free, paleo, vegan and vegetarian diets. These recipes are all about options …  Read more


Grab your copy of The Wholesome Cook here



George Megalogenis talks to Booktopia TV about his new book, Australia’s Second Chance

The bestselling author of The Australian Moment asks the most important question confronting the country right now – how do we maintain our winning streak?

For a limited time only, order Australia’s Second Chance and you will receive a signed copy. Please note: offer available while stocks last

Australia’s Second Chance

by George Megalogenis

Most nations don’George Megalogenist get a first chance to prosper. Australia is on its second. For the best part of the nineteenth century, Australia was the world’s richest country, a pioneer for democracy and a magnet for migrants. Yet our last big boom was followed by a fifty-year bust as we lost our luck, our riches and our nerve, and shut our doors on the world. Now we’re back on top, in the position where history tells us we made our biggest mistakes. Can we learn from our past and cement our place as one of the world’s great nations?

Showing that our future is in our foundation, Australia’s Second Chance goes back to 1788, the first contact between locals and migrants, to bring us a unique and fascinating view of the key events of our past right through to the present day. With newly available economic data and fresh interviews with former leaders (including the last major interview with Malcolm Fraser), George Megalogenis crunches the numbers and weaves our history into a compelling thesis, brilliantly chronicling our dialogue with the world and bringing fresh insight into the urgent question of who we are, and what we can become.


For a limited time only, order Australia’s Second Chance and you will receive a signed copy. Please note: offer available while stocks last

About the author

george-megalogenisGeorge Megalogenis is a political commentator, author and Australian journalist, including being a senior feature writer for The Australian newspaper. He was a regular guest on the ABC’s political analysis and panel discussion program, Insiders. In 2014, he wrote and presented a documentary series for the ABC, Making Australia Great: Inside Our Longest Boom, which aired in March 2015.

His books have included Faultlines: Race, Work, and the Politics of Changing Australia, The Longest Decade, The Australian Moment and now Australia’s Second Chance.


the-longest-decade the-australian-moment George Megalogenis

For a limited time only, order Australia’s Second Chance and you will receive a signed copy. Please note: offer available while stocks last

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, Eat Pray Love and much more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

big-magicThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Elizabeth Gilbert

author of Big Magic, Eat Pray Love and much more…

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born and raised in the Berkshires Hills, in Connecticut, on my family’s Christmas tree farm. I grew up around goats and chickens and gardens and woodstoves and an intense, nearly obsessive, ethic of frugality and self-sufficiency. Also: Books. Lots of books. I went to our local public school and then off to college in New York City just as quickly as I could get myself there. I am grateful for my hard-scrabble rural childhood because it taught me how to take care of myself, but I am not a person of the soil. I am a person of the Polis.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Writer, writer, and writer. And also all the years in between. And, one hopes, I will want to be a writer all the years to come. Because I have yet to find anything else I love more than this work. If I ever do, I will change callings. Till then, I’ll stick with this one.

Elizabeth Gilbert high res 20143. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the rules of life do not apply to me. I tested every single one rule. Turns out, they all apply. It would have been a lot easier and less painful to have learned the rules of cause and effect without having to try them all out, but apparently I’m a real empiricist.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

a) Watching my father quit his day job in order to become a full-time farmer, and realising that — yes indeed — one can shape one’s own destiny.

b) Going off to live in New York City — otherwise known as The Field of Dreams — in order to cross-pollinate myself with the ideas of a bunch of other restless dreamers.

c) Getting divorced. Failing horribly at something terribly important. Having to process the shame and loss of it. Thus: Eat Pray Love

5. 1.             Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Not obsolete yet, it appears.

big-magic6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Big Magic is a manifesto on creativity. It’s about liberating yourself from the tired-old artistic stereotypes of suffering, torment, perfectionism, anxiety and specialness in order to simply make things that ignite your soul to life. I’ve been wanting to write this book for over a dozen years, and only recently did I finally feel that I had the chops and the authority to sit down and say, “Listen, people. I’ve learned some stuff over the decades I’ve spent engaging with creativity in a positive and generative manner. Try doing your work THIS way.”

Grab a copy of Big Magic here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

I would like my work to give people permission to live bigger lives.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Sister Mary Scullion — a radical activist nun who lives and works in nearby Philadelphia, and who has single-handedly taken it upon herself to solve the problem of homelessness and addiction on the streets of her city. She’s a giant-hearted, funny, tireless, generous, ferocious powerhouse of a woman, and I love her.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

A very simple goal: I would like to acquire enough wisdom and grace to always know exactly the right way to behave in every different situation in life — no matter how difficult — such that I never cause any trouble or suffering for myself or for another human being as long as I live. Ever. I’m out of my mind, I know. But that is truly what I long for.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t negotiate with the terrorists who live inside your head. Don’t believe a single negative thing that your mind ever tells you about yourself.

Your darkest voices have no idea what they’re talking about. Your inner critics are more deadly and more toxic than any external enemy will ever be.

Your inner critics will always ask of you, “What right do you have to be a creator? Who the hell do you think you are?” Stand up tall and tell your inner critics who the hell you think you are.

Tell them that you are a constituent of creation, and that therefore you have the right to participate in the ongoing story of creation. Tell them that you are a human being, and that human beings are a creative species by design, and that you are laying claim to your human inheritance by participating in the ancient practice of making stuff out of nothing, for no particular reason. Tell them that your work doesn’t have to be magnificent or world-changing; it just has to be DONE. Tell them that by creating anything — merely by remaining vital and productive— you have won as a human being.

Tell them that you have a spark of divinity within you that you will not allow to be extinguished and that you are a champion of inquisitiveness, and that your inventive spirit will not be daunted.

Then give your inner critics the finger, and keep writing.

Eye of the tiger, baby. Eye of the tiger.

Elizabeth, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Big Magic here

big-magicBig Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert.

Now, this beloved author digs deep into her own life to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity.

With profound empathy and generosity, she ponders the mysterious nature of inspiration, asking us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.

Whether we are looking to create art, address challenges in our work, give ourselves permission to embark on a dream long deferred, or simply to infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

Grab a copy of Big Magic here


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