My Ramadan documentaries

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been in the thick of some amazing work at the ABC for Sunday Nights’ The Good Life. I’ve been working on four segments, which are more like documentaries, about Ramadan – well, the experience of it.

I’m a big fan of This American Life (like so many others, no doubt). It’s great storytelling, and what really strikes me about it is how unexpected, unusual and downright quirky many of the stories are. And it’s all happening in the real world, not the pages of a fictional book.

So I gave myself a primary objective: this needed to be an exploration that dug deep and brought out the gems. The stuff of Ramadan that no one really talks about in depth, or at least, in a documentary style.

The first two pieces have aired and are online now and on the Sunday Nights podcast:

Ramadan and the ‘moonsighting wars’

Good sport in Ramadan

Two more to go. This Sunday night’s one I am especially excited about. Lots of funny stories and an evening somewhere a little different.

The phoenix rises … in books

Sue Sharpe of Phoenix Rising Books

Image credit: Fiona Morris

While it seems actual physical bookstores are rapidly disappearing, there are still some wonderful stores to be found, many of which specialise in particular strands of literature or non-fiction. For me, a regular stop by Phoenix Rising Books in Glebe is essential. The owner, Sue Sharpe, is not only a very lovely lady, but a vastly knowledgeable one who is invested in her subject area – namely, new age, wellbeing and spiritual texts and audio, amongst other things. We had a chat about these categories, her support of self-published authors and where she thinks books and bookstores are headed.

Tell me about Phoenix Rising Books and what your business is ultimately all about.

Phoenix is a bookstore plus.  Our specialty is mind, body and soul, and broadly that covers material you can read, listen to or watch which has the potential to shift your level of awareness beyond the physical day to day realm to the universe beyond. What has become very special is the diverse community Phoenix attracts and how many people share their experiences with me as they read books they select. I have customers that have been with us for 15 years and it has been a delight to watch their progression and transformation, not to mention my own learning and development as we share experiences. We stock titles ranging from the beginning of a subject right up to the expert level from authors across the globe.

How long have you been in “new age”?

I purchased Phoenix Rising Books mid-1999. I have always had a passion for books and can recall as a youngster thinking that having a bookstore would be great. The genre at that time was very new for me.  I had my personal reading, which I soon realised was just skimming the surface. So the learning curve has been huge, and it has only been in the last two to three years that I have felt like an ‘expert’, and by this I don’t mean in knowing it all, but knowing where to research and find the leading edge of authors in this field.

You’ve mentioned before that you reject the ‘self-help’ label. Why is that and what do you prefer?

I sense that self-help has a ‘fringe’ element tag to it and so when that label is used it can switch people off as what comes to their mind is the 1960’s alternative living community. I don’t actually have a label as such.  The material offered in all the books we stock has, in the most part, been created to open the reader’s thoughts to ideas outside their current reality. They can learn skills to change behaviours or emotional responses, to bring into their current work and family life and to nourish their soul at times of difficulty.

There’s a lot of talk about the “death of print publishing”, but in my own experience, it seems there’s still a huge market for it, particularly in non-fiction. What are your thoughts on this?

I feel there is still a huge market for print material. As the younger generation grows up, maybe that will change. What I am seeing is that whilst it is easy to get an e-book, the reading experience is not the same.  It’s a bit hard to curl up with an electronic device!  What customers are telling me is that for this genre they prefer the paper format as they can make notations, go back to it, pick it up and put it down without having to worry about power source.

What are your best sellers and what do you think makes them successful?

Over the years there have been two titles that stand out in sales volume. The first was the film/documentary ‘What the Bleep Do We Know!’  Released in 2005 it was one of the first in this category to talk about the world beyond our physical body. It was screened at the Dendy in Sydney for many months and the DVD still continues to be a good seller. For many people it was the first time they had considered the importance of their thoughts, the impact on the environment they may have and how they can choose to change their reality. Supporting the storyline were a credible team of scientists, neuroscientists and the like.

The second title that comes to mind is ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael A. Singer. Released in 2007, it just keeps attracting people to read it. Singer very clearly takes you through the process of how we close our hearts based on trauma, fear and or anger. He explains what impact this has on our physical and psychological bodies. As you are reading he takes you with him, so when he suggests ways of opening your heart, it becomes easy. Easy is not the right word – because to make that change requires paying attention and practice.

Do you find that the classics remain popular for particular reasons?

Often they are referenced by many other authors and so still stay in circulation. Mostly though they resonate with us at a core level as the archetypes they relate with are components of the human condition, regardless of gender, race or culture.

Where do you see the new age industry headed, particularly with the rise of oracle decks and self-published gurus?

The challenge for any author or artist, regardless of the product type is to get heard in the ‘noise’. The wellbeing and health industry, where I put our genre, is growing and so I suspect we will see more and more product and noise. The challenge will be to cut through this noise and find what is just right for you. This is where somewhere like Phoenix can assist in the sense that based on customer feedback we can help to make a path through the noise. The challenge is that what will be ‘noise’ for one person will be ‘gold’ for another.

You have good relationships with a lot of self-published authors. What are you looking for when they tell you about their books?

Firstly, my admiration for self-published authors is enormous. It is a very gutsy thing to do and for that alone I would like to support. As we talked about earlier, cutting through to what works for our customers is my role.  To help with this I take books on consignment, list them in our new release program and see what happens from there. If customers purchase then we will take the title on as a permanent title.

What advice would you give to self-published authors?

To get your social media platform as robust as you can. You need to build your audience; no one else can do this for you. A great resource is a book called ‘Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World’ by Michael Hyatt. In this book he takes you through a plan, based on his extensive knowledge and experience as a writer, publisher and speaker.

How can people follow what’s happening in store and online?

Our website, which is undergoing a facelift, can be found at
We have an active Facebook community and we have just joined the Twitter world.

Burt and his bees

Burt's Bees installationAs a health and wellbeing writer, one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of the job is discovering new products and ideas on living well. I’ve long been familiar with Burt’s Bees, its use of honey and its distinct packaging, but really what sells the range of products is that they’re natural. At a recent product launch, I discovered just how much. Most of their range is 100 per cent natural, and the goal is to eventually be completely natural across all of its products.

There is also a very sweet (excuse the pun) back story to the business and how it was built. You can learn more about it here.

At the launch, I had a quick chat with blogger, nutritionist and wellness coach Jessica Sepel, who talked not only about the benefits of using honey, but offered some healthy living tips. Ever considered cutting out dairy completely?

Why honey?

Honey is obviously a natural product and it is incredibly anti-bacterial, so by placing it on the skin, you’re removing bad bacteria. The other thing is, honey is something that people like to eat and it’s a better sweetener alternative compared to sugar.

Burt’s Bees products have been around for about 30 years. How are these products evolving?
That’s the beauty of Burt’s – he has kept the products so genuine, and he has hardly changed the classics since they were first made.

On a different note, should people have a daily routine for how they start their day? I hear some say it’s good to start with a glass of warm water and lemon, but others warn against it.

The reason why people drink warm water and lemon is because it detoxifies the body once you drink it and it stimulates digestive juices. It prepares your digestion for food essentially. It can also have a really amazing detox effect on your liver as it creates bile. So people are told to drink that because it can really kickstart their digestion and metabolism in a sense, and lemon is very high in vitamin C, which builds collagen.

Jessica Sepel for Burt's Bees

When it comes to honey as a sole ingredient, you don’t recommend that people have just it on its own. So how should people include honey in their diet?
Honey can cause the same glucose spike that sugar does so you have to be careful, but it is a much better alternative to white sugar. And it’s a natural product, it hasn’t been processed the way sugar has, and hasn’t been refined and stripped of all the essential vitamins and minerals. So it still does contain a lot of the vitamins and minerals, but I suggest you eat it in a very moderate way.

Any basic tips for people getting started on a wellbeing regime?
My two biggest diet tips when it comes to beautiful skin and digestion are to heal your gut and your digestion – eliminating gluten and dairy is a very big step. Studies have shown that when people cut dairy out, their skin clears, as dairy is mucus-forming and can cause toxic build-up.

The other thing is to cut the main culprits such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar and trans-fats found in most of your processed packaged goods. Those are the main things to decrease. One coffee a day I always say is fine. But also to include wholefoods in your diet – unprocessed, clean foods, as close to nature as possible. And that’s why Burt’s is so amazing, because it comes from nature.

Matters of the home

Holly StarIt’s always nice when you come across a unique product by chance. Flipping through a magazine one day, I read about Matter & Home, a company specialising in small homewares, in particular, candles that are charged with intention – Strength, Courage, Propserity and Strength, to name a few. As someone who is an advocate positive thinking, charged intention and manifestation (with participation from yourself), I was intrigued.

And in the words of its owner, Holly Star, Matter & Home is also a concept, which brings these wares into the home in a way that encompasses how we think of products and personal growth. “It’s a relationship to how we use objects and how we interact with personal items with meaning and how we think and connect.”

In this interview, she reveals a very holistic, self-reflective approach to daily life.

I came across your products by chance in a magazine, and a celebrity had mentioned she loved your candles. I was intrigued by the fact that they’re charged with particular purposes and are blessed. Tell me a bit about what makes your candles different to other offerings?      

They are soy candles with glass engravings and cotton and paper wicks. They are based on specific oils that have energetic qualities that house and facilitate movement of a particular intention. We also say prayers and blessings for each person to receive exactly what it is they need, i.e. the Fearless Candle is a base of frankincense to clear lower energies and promote meditative qualities while sandalwood is grounding and birch holds the space of courage to overcome that which the fear is connecting to. Prayers to overcome any fear or doubts you may have in going forward, and for what most wants to happen.

Some have gem or flower essences to have subtle undertones, which I believe to be like vehicles or carriers that once lit, pass through the air, and this is where intentions, or letting go comes in.

Matter & Home by Holly Star

How did you fall into making candles that are tailored this way?

Haaa. Honestly I don’t know! I think it came from a need from my clients. I travel a lot with work (as a consultant/­intuitive) and seeing a need to let people progress deeper and have a personal connection to their growth, I decided I wanted to give a physical object to connect and represent that process.

How do you decide on the elements of a candle? E.g. Strength, courage, etc.    

It mostly came from meditations, and seeing what people needed the most in their lives.

What are your biggest sellers?

It changes as people change I think, right now I would say Vitality and Fearless.

Have you got more candles to come?

Too many! I have some new ideas without images or engraved words so its not as direct but still has deep prayer and blessings in them. So they are more adaptable for all people.

You also offer other items. How do they complement your primary offerings? 

The lunar tables are great for charging items you may use and help with dreams. They were taken off of certain lunar phases for receiving clarity and as I call them ‘visionary dreams’. The medicinal boxes I use for my meditation. I set them each day when I wake up and it keeps my central priorities easier to focus on and feel supported with. Like if you were to open the part of the box with the herbs that represent relationship and you are looking for new connections you would also use the Friendship or Love candle to help support follow through.

What’s next for Matter and Home?

I have been developing things like smaller wooden items for jewelry ­to charge your personal items as you go out into the world. They are what stay on your body and with you throughout the day. Also I’ve designed a coffee table that looks just as is but transforms into a meditation table. There is a desire to move into different household items such as bedding and trying to encompass all lifestyle items, so we can transform our homes into supportive environments on all levels.

Q&A with … Samantha Wills

Samantha Wills embodies her own brand

Samantha Wills

She’s one of the few brand owners who also make for the most stylish of ambassadors. Samantha Wills has taken her bohemian-luxury brand global, and is expanding into products beyond jewels.

In an exclusive interview with Three Quarters Full, Samantha speaks to me about her business, the wanderlust lifestyle she shares with her captive social media audience, and what she has in store for fans in 2014.

You’ve just launched a new mantra bangles range, and you include affirmative mantras on many of your pieces. What inspired that approach?

We get such an overwhelming response every time I hand write beautiful quotes, so I thought it would be nice to wear beautiful words. So we created the Beautiful Mantra series from there.

What is your favourite piece with a mantra?

I like the ‘Live This Moment’ because so often we wait for ‘when something happens’ or ‘when this falls in to place’ and we wait and wait and wait – but living is right now, so it reminds me of this daily and I think that is important.

What has resonated the most with your customers?

The entire collection has had a huge response! So much so, I went straight into designing a new collection of them after their first day in the market!

You are not only a style icon, but also a great example of a healthy approach to life. How important is it to you think positively, and how has that helped you in your own personal growth?

That is very lovely of you to say – thank you! I think the concept of ‘thinking positively’ is very easy to say, but when you are having a really shitty day, or one of those weeks where it seems like EVERYTHING is against you, thinking positively is sometimes impossible. What I have learned as I have gotten older is that the moment will pass. I find great comfort in knowing that this challenging time you are in right now will not last forever. But you have to just sit it out, weather the storm – and most importantly – acknowledge that it might be really uncomfortable and painful – but it will pass.

Live this moment by SW

The SW Beautiful Mantras collection includes necklaces

When I interviewed you last year, you acknowledged that engaging in social media can be difficult sometimes. I.e. you can have an “off day”, just like everyone else. How do you deal with those moments?

The beauty of platforms like Facebook and Instagram is that you can post media and comments that are positive and give shine to others – it is not about body language or tone, which are hard things to conceal when you are having an off day.

What can you share with readers about an overall healthy approach to life? E.g. diet and exercise, and self-pampering.

I love anything with sugar in it! And in my 20’s, I didn’t think twice about eating as much of it as I liked. I think I approach my diet differently now – mainly for internal health and also to ensure you are mentally focused. Sugar and sweets are now on-occasion foods. I really try to eat well and as old school as it sounds, drink loads of water – this is an incredibly different approach than I took in my 20’s! As far as self pampering, in NYC, ALL nail salons have masseuses in them – this is genius. When you are waiting for your polish to dry, you can pop into the chair for a 20-minute massage, I see this as the perfect self pampering treat!

What does an average Samantha Wills day look like?  

My average day revolves around design, creative briefs, shooting content, creative planning, marketing and social media calendars… the time spent on each changes pending what is going on at that time, but they are the basis of my job. The PR & promotion of my job I try to condense into set days and in blocks, media interviews and shoots, shooting for my blog, or in stores – pending on travel and location, this is a little hard to manage!

What advice do you live by?

Find out the things in life that make you happy and make conscious efforts to do more of them!

Who inspires you?

My boyfriend Will inspires me – he has an energy for life and for saying yes to the most last minute of adventures that makes me live my life a different way. Since I met him, I feel like I get much more time out of my day and fit a lot more adventures and experiences in.

What advice do you give to people who see you as an inspiration and are pursuing creative pathways?

Persistence. It is going to be hard, and some days REALLY hard. It requires persistence, and patience and saying yes to every opportunity (in the early days). I used to have a sign on my desk that said luck is where preparation meets opportunity…. Opportunities usually come at the most inconvenient of times, so always be prepared – do whatever you need to do.

Find out the things in life that make you happy and make conscious efforts to do more of them

Can you share a favourite recent moment that took you by surprise?

I went to an Australia Day party in NYC this weekend. It was hosted by Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness. I have always known their reputation for being incredible humble and down to earth, but meeting them in person left me walking away feeling like a better person. It is really hard to describe, but they are such warm, caring & invested people.

What’s coming up for the SW brand?

SO MUCH! 2014 will see handbags launched (in stores July) & SW Eyewear (in stores October) and lots of exciting things in between!