Saturday, December 28, 2013

Temple Writing in Burma 2014

Making a wish at the feet of the Buddha, Ananda Pagoda, Bagan

A 12 day Writing Journey                Feb 12 -23, 2014                Bookings are now closed

View clip from last years Burma journey here.

Arrive in Mandalay, spend a day sight seeing, attend the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, then travel by river boat to the plain of temples in Bagan for a five day writing retreat with writing tutor Jan Cornall.

The Festival
The Irrawaddy Literary Festival 2014 will be held in the grounds of the magnificent Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay. The world’s largest book, inscribed on 729 white marble tablets, dots the the spacious grounds of the Pagoda, which was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Set within shaded avenues, bordered with fragrant starflower trees, the compound is the perfect backdrop to the Festival’s eclectic programme of events.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Tan Twan Eng, Louis de Bernieres,  Pascal Khoo Thwe, Caroline Moorehead, Dame Joan Bakewell, Martha Kearney, Fergal Keane, Jung Chang,  Rupert Arrowsmith, Caroline Courtauld, over 100 Burmese writers and many more.

The Retreat
The day after the festival we travel by river boat along the Irrawaddy River to the ancient city of Bagan, taking our inspiration from the sweep of eleventh century temples at our doorstep. Morning workshops are conducted at our hotel as we spend the afternoons exploring the temples, with a day trip to Mt Popa, home of the Nat Spirits. In the early evenings we have readings followed by dinner at local restaurants and take a sunset cruise on our last day.  Stay on longer to explore more of Burma on your own itinerary. Read about last year's festival here.

The Writing
We begin the conversation about our writing from the minute we meet in Mandalay. Writing tasks will be given each day of the festival and workshops begin in earnest on our river trip to Bagan. Morning workshops in Bagan give you an opportunity to read and receive feedback on your work as well as brainstorm and trouble shoot difficult areas. Meditative and mapping techniques will used to bring clarity and energy into the words on the page. Elements of craft such as voice, setting, character, story, structure will be revised using sensing methods to evoke powerful writing. Goal setting and timetabling will ensure you have a plan for achieving future draft completion.All genres, all levels of experience welcome.

Feb 12: Arrive Mandalay (fly direct from Oz via Bangkok with Thai Airlines)
Feb 13:  Sight seeing in Mandalay, notable temples and the famous U Bein teak bridge.
Feb 14: Irrawaddy Festival at Kuthodaw Pagoda.
Feb 15: Irrawaddy Festival at Kuthodaw Pagoda.
Feb 16: Irrawaddy Festival Kuthodaw Pagoda.
Feb 17: Travel by river to Bagan. Workshop on board. Check into Bagan accom.
Feb 18 – 22: Bagan retreat. Morning workshops, afternoon temple excursions, evening readings, dinners in local restaurants, attend the local full moon festival.
Feb 23: Depart on international flights or continue on own itinerary.

More pics here
View YouTube clip here.

About your tutor 
Jan Cornall is a writer and performer based in Sydney. Awarded a number of grants and fellowships and has written fifteen produced plays and musicals, a feature film, a novel, short stories and three CD’s of songs. With a strong interest in Asia, Jan began collaborating with Indonesian, writers, musicians and artists during her Asialink residency in Jakarta in 2006. She has taken part in festivals in the region including: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Utan Kayu Biennale, Hong Kong International Literary Festival, Darwin Wordstorm and Irrawaddy Literary Festival. Jan mentors writers and leads annual writers retreats and workshops in  Bali, Fiji , Laos, Morocco, Burma, Vietnam. Find out more here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Postcards from Bali

Writers Journey's Backstage Bali retreat attracted some wonderful writers again this year. Below are some of their contributions...

Michelle Leber

The Worship of Flowers

Can you hear the sound of a leaf
my friend? The one that dangles from
the great blue cup we know as the sky.

The Goddess of Hanging Gardens casts leafage
with the skill of a fisherman. She’s learnt
her aim from the Lazy God of Swishing Fish―
the one known to capture more than
stillness from a pond.

Her rod is neither predictable in form,
nor a weapon of hunting, but a verdant
festoon of flowers. She captures the aroma
in evening air, pigeon’s haunting solo,
the floating mood of a passerby.

Can you hear the sound of a leaf
my friend? The one that dangles from
the great blue cup we know as the sky.

 Michelle Leber is a Melbourne poet whose work has been published  in Best Australian Poems 2009 and 2013 (Black Inc), The Age, Meanjin, high school texts, environmental bulletins and on trains. Her current manuscript, The Yellow Emperor, is a mythography in verse exploring proto-historic civilization in China.

Peter Bishop                             

The mist has lifted now as I sit on the terrace of Lakeview Hotel—Batur has emerged in all her magnificence, as if to say—did you doubt?
And the trucks are grinding up the flanks of the crater that surrounds her.

It is a relentless, remorseless extraction of her congealed blood—the black basalt flow that has  frozen on her southern hip, and it goes on all day, every day, year after year.

Batur  is not dead.
She slumbers with one half-open eye—occasionally she exhales a little sigh.

She is young in geological terms—although of course she is much older than the houses that dot her flanks, the machines that pick at her scabs, the people who pester her.

One day she might decide to shrug them off.

You can see the ring of escarpments around her that her mother built when she was born, and beyond that a second ring that might have been her great great grandmother—ancient beyond comprehension.

And yet, even so, Batur and all her ancestors are infants in the scheme of global geology. This place and everything about it captures me. It has a monumental and awesome beauty on a village scale—Batur has an intimate grandeur that I have not seen elsewhere.

 Busloads of people arrive during the day when she has withdrawn her splendour like an anemone withdrawing its tender tentacles. 

They wear shorts and socks and sandshoes and loud shirts and they have their photos taken against her sleeping head and they eat their lunches on the balcony with their backs to her, and they leave. 

In their buses, their fleets of numbered hire cars—they are in a hurry— there are sights to see, schedules to keep.

They did not see her rising naked from her bed of mist and clouds, they did not see the shimmer of the early morning in the lake at her foot, the skim of hungry  herons, the drift of dugout fishermen, the gathering of  workers wrapped against the cold— except for their thonged feet.

I sit here on the cusp of her cradle, sipping her thick dark coffee, wondering if that murmur was the pulse of her unguessable heart.

Peter Bishop a short story writer whose award include: The Australasian Short Story Award, The Banjo Paterson Literary Award, The Fellowship of Australian Writers Short Literary Competition and The E J Brady Short Short Story Award.His first published anthology is Black Soil.

Julie Freeman

The Bird's Journey

The bird twittered, flapped its wings and flew out the window. Over the trees and valleys,mountains and rivers it flew until it reached the end of the world. There it found a dog.

“Woof!” said the dog. “Welcome to the Underworld. State your business.”
“I've come to deliver a message” said the bird.

The dog considered.“Choose wisely” said the dog. “You may enter but I cannot let you leave.”

The bird twittered and flew in small circles then past the dog and through the door to the Underworld. The walls were dark and damp and an earthy smell permeated the tunnel. Soon a feeble light appeared, seeping in from small openings high up in the walls. The bird did not know the way. It came to a frame on the wall and looked at another bird, very like itself.

“Where am I going?” asked the bird and flapped its wings.

“Where am I going?” asked the bird in the frame and flapped its wings.

They looked at each other for a moment. The bird flew directly at the frame and through just as the other bird flew towards it. They met and crossed.The bird from the frame tweeted happily “I have escaped at last!”

The bird with the message flew on finding itself in a barren, deserted world populated with grey stone buildings, mostly ruined, and large red stones. Flashes of lightning and sudden peels of thunder inundated the scene. Sweeping heavy rains caused the bird to take shelter behind a rock to save its fragile wings. The rain slowly eased. The bird saw a light in the window of one of the grey, stone buildings high up above. It flew upwards and through the dark window towards the beckoning light.

It found itself in an old old room with a writing desk made of dark wood. On it were a quill and a half empty bottle of ink. Cobwebs furnished the room, the desk and the chair. There were rows of glass bottles stoppered with corks on a shelf in the corner. These were somehow important, the little bird didn't understand. It shook the remaining rainwater off its wings and sat down at the desk to write.

Julie Freeman lives in Perth and is currently working on a novel

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When Ubud Writers Festival Turned Ten

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival celebrated it's tenth anniversary this month with a great line up of writers and events spread across large and small venues around town. I was thrilled to be invited  back a guest writer, this time taking part in two panels and one performance, as well as racing between other sessions and keeping my writing group busy with daily writing tasks.

First up for me was a performance to a packed house at the cosy Bar Luna, of songs and poems from my new book Archipelagogo. Stay tuned for launch dates in Oz!

Desak Yoni dropped in after the launch of her book (written with Sarita Newson), Renditions of My Soul, the story of a Balinese girl who dares to dream of a better life. We share the same publisher, Saritaksu Editions.

Next day I was up early to go Jalan Jalan (walking/wandering) in the rice paddies with 25 or so punters (including Jennifer Byrne, Andrew Denton and Michael Cathcart, who were spotted in the crowd) to Sari Organik restaurant where Claire Scobie, Jon Doust and I entertained the folks as they munched on their organic delights. Claire spoke of her travels in Tibet in search of a rare lily as told in Last Seen In Lhasa, and of her research travels for her latest book The Pagoda Tree. Jon Doust (his books: To The Highlands and Boy On A Wire) is a very funny man from WA and told of his risky coming of age adventures in South Africa, while I took the audience on some of my USA hitchiking rides of the 70's, (including getting a lift with the road crew of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)when I first started writing.

There was just enough time for lunch before our next panel where Claire and I joined Tom Doig and Laura Jean Mackay in the main program, in the Left Bank for a session called Writing On The Road. It was a lively conversation wonderfully moderated by Claire, who had a set of perfect questions lined up for us to riff with. Tom's book Moron to Moron about a cycling trip in Mongolia with his best mate is a most worthwhile read as is Laura's Holiday in Cambodia.

Then as I relaxed and started session hopping in earnest I wondered as I checked in with my friends,  if indeed we were attending the same festival.  No longer the small, intimate experience of the early years, its growth has necessitated that several sessions and events run simultaneously. It becomes a 'choose your own adventure' and according to which sessions you mix and match you can have an entirely different experience to that of the people you arrived with.  Thankfully there were some prolific note takers and good story tellers amongst my group so we could swap stories, session gossip and critiques.

Goenawan Mohamed

My highlights were:
The keynote address by Goenawan Mohamed. Read it here  
The launch of a new film Jalanan, about Jakarta street musicians, by Daniel Ziv. Watch  a clip here.
Graphic Tales- pictorial literature vs comics vs graphic novels, with Michael Leunig, Eiji Han Shimizu (Japan) Barbara Yelin (Germany) and Pat Grant (Australia, one of my ex-students from UTS) Moderated by Estelle Tang.
Jalan Kejeng Street party with the Cambodian Space Project
Read more re their lead singer and song writer Srey Thy Kak here

Which ever festival adventure you chose it seemed you couldn't go wrong.Well done to Janet de Neefe and team! The dates for the next UWRF will be Oct 1-4,  2014.
See you there!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rice Field Recovery

 Updated 16/1/15
Jan Cornall's novel TakeMe To Paradise (Saritaksu) was launched at the Ubud Writers & ReadersFestival in 2006 and tells the story of Marilyn, a western woman arriving in Ubud a year after the first Bali bombing.

In the piece below, a mini sequel to the novel, Jan imagines Marilyn’s return several years on when Bali’s recovery is in full swing. 


You arrive.
And it’s not the same.
Where palm trees once swayed in the hot jet fuel breeze, bill boards have sprouted and taken hold; every little crack and cranny selling something, but not the thing you need

You need to recover, from what you’re not sure. It worked last time last time you were soothed back to life by rice paddy green; all-around-you-green, everywhere-you-looked-green, as-far as-the-eyes-could-see-green. Now you have to cut your way through a forest of advertising, a mangle of metal, a sea of shiny fat bumper-to-bumper SUVs, joining you on your search for the pristine green sawah that will help you retrieve that something you think you have have lost - if only you knew what it was.

Last time you met a driver who took you in, took you home to meet his family, offered you a room. You felt so happy within the walls of his family compound, so well looked after, so safe every time you up and downed the steps of the traditional entrance gate to his house where all the slithering, ground traveling demon spirits couldn’t follow.

Then the whole island was in recovery, picking up the pieces after Bomb One, performing endless purification rituals and self-examinations and coming up with ingenious ways to convince the world that Paradise would be retrieved from the wreckage. And it was, just look around you, the place is booming, everything bigger and better than before; “even the Balinese are getting fat” you remark as you watch them rolling out the doors of the Hungry Jack/Kentucky Fried/Dunkin Donut/Macca’s fast food by-pass strip, trying to heft themselves onto their motorbikes. Where once you could fit a family of four, not even two fatties can fit.

“I’d rather eat babi guling any day,” your taxi driver chortles, “every day, if I could. The place might be booming but it hasn’t helped my pocket. I’m working three times as hard, stuck in the macet all day for same money as before, and then if some family member has to go to the hospital… well, it’s all over.”

You mutter some words of commiseration as your driver leaves the macet behind, taking the back roads through small fields and villages. You wind down the windows and let the smoke from afternoon gutter fires fill the car. Its carcinogenic fumes make your nostrils run and your eyes smart but you don’t care, it feels like coming home.

Last time you were recovering from the big one; the big break up, the big divorce, the one that left your outline filled with a thousand tiny holes, like someone had used you for target practice (you suspect that someone was you). Bali’s green patched you up, healed your scars, injected its chlorophyll into your veins through your eye-sockets. You went home with a new spring in your step, determined to do all the things you once said you would, no holding back this time, no holds barred.

Only now it seems that this idea of ‘living your dream’ has gotten much more complicated. Not only do you have to live it, but also blog it, boast it, crowd fund it, film it, sound-bite it, you-tube it, instagram it, win an award for it...

“Where did you say you want to go?” your driver asks.

“Kaja,” you reply, “kaja, as far north as you can go...”

“You want to go to Agung?” he laughs.

You remember fondly how kaja means to face the mountain and kelod to face the sea, but you tell him, “I just want to go to the sawah, the best duck-eating, bug-eating rice paddy you can find, where I can sit for a week or two and reclaim, recoup, re-calibrate, realign, repair, redeem, re-salvage, restore... a little bit of stillness to my over-mailed, over-tweeted, over-shared, overwrought, underdone dream life.”

Your driver grins in the rear-view mirror. He understands, as drivers always do.

“Oh, too much traffic in your brain - you got mind macet! Ok, we go north all the way, no macet there…my family lives in a small village near to Singaraja, they have small bungalow in the sawah - only you and the swallows.”

“Perfect,” you tell him, “no wifi?”

“No wifi.”

“Bagus sekali!” you exclaim as you lean out the window, drinking in the early evening cool, not in the least bit worried that once again you are putting your life in the hands of a complete stranger.

“What your name?” he asks. “I am Nyoman.”

“Marilyn,” you reply.

“And tonight Mar-a-lyn,” Nyoman adds,  “we have very important ceremony in our village temple. I am very lucky that your fare brings me home or I would not be able to attend. Would you like to come? You have kebaya? My wife has plenty, you can borrow...”

You reach into your bag and turn off your iPhone, iPad, iPod, stow them in a secret inner zip lock pocket and throw away the imaginary key.

Cold turkey in the sawah, for as long as it takes. If you run out of money you can always sell off your electronic devices one by one, or better still rent them out, that should keep you in nasi bungkus for a good few months. Maybe even start a support group, iAnon, “I am a recovering iAddict and I have not turned on any of my screens for seven days (everyone clap).”

One step at a time, one step at a time…

(c) Jan Cornall 2013

The Ebook version of Take Me To Paradise launches on Feb 3, 2015. Get your sample or copy here!

In July 2015 Jan will lead a Backstage Bali Writers Retreat 
Jan's most recent book is Archipelagogo - Love Songs to Indonesia.
Join an international writers retreat with Jan at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Read, Write, Travel

Author Walter Mason interviewed me recently for his blog on reading, writing and travelling.
You can read all about it here

 On his blog Walter calls himself a writer, spiritual tourist and lifelong dilettante.
You an add to that: published author, blogger, networker, traveller, foodie, raconteur and all round lovely person.

He also has another blog with noted author Stepanie Dowrick, which I have had the pleasure of writing for a while back. The Universal Heart Bookclub.

Walter's next book will be out in September. Following the popular Destination Saigon, published in 2010, Allen and Unwin are bringing out Destination Cambodia.

From Allen & Unwin 

"Join intrepid traveller, Walter Mason - author of Destination Saigon - on a colourful adventure to one of the world's hottest new destinations. Meet taxi drivers, writers, hip -hop stars and monks as he traverses this extraordarily beautiful country. 

Walter Mason's distinctive voice, his upfront knowledge of Cambodia and wicked sense of humour meet in this riotous celebration of a remarkable and resilient nation, which has become a great tourist destination."

Walter has a number of events planned beginning in Sept, to celebrate the new book!

a writer, a spiritual tourist and a lifelong dilettante - See more at:
a writer, a spiritual tourist and a lifelong dilettante - See more at:

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hidden Gardens of Fes

During our Sacred Song, Sacred Story writing retreat in Fes, we were lucky to meet Heidi Vogels who is researching green spaces in Fes for her Fez Gardens documentary project; collecting stories, photos, information, history, artifacts, about the hidden gardens of Fes. Mostly contained within the four walls of a riad or traditional house (riad in fact means garden) they are indeed hidden from sight and many of the grand old gardens, like some of the palaces and riads that house them, have fallen into disrepair. With access that few tourists can gain, Heidi took us on a tour of some of these extraordinary gardens.

Heidi introduces the Fez gardens walk

Flower seller on the way. This flower is used as an insect repellent among other useful things.

These pots are typical Fes design. A local gardener Si Tayeb maintains the only remaining garden and orchard on the edge of the medina. He is standing strong against developers who want his garden for car park.

His assistant is 102 years old!

Peacocks are a common sight in Fes gardens.

Walking through his orchard was a sensual experience

with strong scents from the citrus trees and a family of cats.

On the way Heidi tells us how Fes is built on water- underground and above ground springs and rivers.

A hidden garden has a life of its own in this former palace.

The garden can be viewed  from all vantage points.

Oranges are everywhere in Fes

Another former palace - Palais Mokri , has a huge garden.

Forgotten and abandoned now.

Cyprus pines and fruit trees share the space.

It was thirsty work, Heidi's assistant handed out ripe green figs and time stood still.

Winding our way home past more hidden gardens.

Find out more about The Fez Garden Project.
This tour was part of our Sacred Song Sacred Story retreat.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sefrou, Morocco, a great little writer's residency

In the week following our writer's retreat in Fes, I had the best mini writer's residency at Sefrou, half an hour's drive out of town in a grand taxi.  Not long after I waved bye-bye to my dear writers with whom I had spent the most exhilarating fortnight, I found myself in a much smaller, quieter town. 

I only had a week but I could have easily stayed a month. My guest house Dar Attamani it turns out, was a former rabbi's home. I wonder if that's why I felt so peaceful and happy there.

My host Jess Stephens has her own place just around the corner, a gorgeous wee apartment with a roof garden and view of the river that rushes delightfully loudly through the centre of the medina.

I got lots of work done, moving from writing table to divan to comfy bed to

 roof top terrace,

while storks were busy on their twiggy nests on every mosque minaret in sight,

not at all interested in my delicious meals cooked by Zeinab and staff.

 Jess popped in often to see how I was going, and to show me around town - we went country walking...

 with her dog Jasmina,

and 70 year old neighbour, Achmed.

The annual Cherry Festival was getting going in full swing on the last few days of my stay. It is Morocco's oldest festival - 93 years! There were cherries a plenty (no cherry pics), and also markets and craft displays,

a giant fun fair,

 even fairy floss,

big music events, including a showcase of traditional Berber singing and dancing,

and Fantasia!

I was imagining some kind of Disneyland affair but Fantasia is a horse riding event where a line of eight or so desert men (and one woman!) ride their gallantly decorated stallions full pelt at the audience for a few hunderd yards, discharging their muskets and coming to an abrupt stop before the excited crowd.

What a brilliant week. I will definitely be back for more! Thanks Jess and Culture Vultures!

Jan Cornall is a writer and performer who leads writer's retreats in Bali, Fiji, Laos, Burma, Morocco.
Find out more here