AN INTERVIEW ...THE DUBROVNIK TIMES
Tell me about your first cookbook, Taste of Life ...
'Taste of Life' changed a generation's eating habits. Through the '80s and '90s, before reality TV turned everyday people into cooking celebrities, my life took a life-changing turn when I gave up art teaching to write a healthy eating cookbook. It would become Australia's biggest and fastest-selling healthy-eating cookbook. This life-changing direction from an art teacher, farmer's wife, and mother of two, to health guru, began because Bruce, at 30, was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. Having only just begun our love story, I wasn't about to give up on it so easily.
I researched the link between diet and disease and how a healthy diet might rebuild Bruce's immune system. My research efforts became Australia's biggest and fastest-selling cookbook. 'Taste of Life' alone sold a record 1.2 million copies in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA.
You wrote 22 cookbooks?
Yes, I wrote 21 more cookbooks (all best-sellers), selling more than 2.2 million copies as I traveled internationally promoting healthy lifestyles. 'Taste of Life' was also a bestseller in the UK and it made the top 13 best books in California. Best of all, a little over a year after his diagnosis, Bruce lived unaffected by his brush with life-threatening cancer for more than 22 years.
Tell me about Bruce ...
My husband gave me the gift of an extraordinary love that spanned thirty years until mesothelioma (asbestos cancer) stole him from his family, but our love story lives on in me every day. Mesothelioma wasn't Bruce's first cancer. He survived Hodgkin's Lymphoma, just 2 1/2 years into our love story when medical opinion thought the odds were heavily stacked against him.
Although I've written 'Seagulls on the Ganges', Bruce's energy has been with me in every sentence, paragraph, and chapter as I've navigated my way through my grief. I'm certain he wanted me to know that a life-ending is not the end of life. I've no doubts he was the driving force of my travels to Dubrovnik, Paris, and then finally to Varanasi to be able to close the door on grief, fully.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia. I grew up on my family's sheep property at Caramut, in rural Western Victoria. I spent every spare moment riding horses, fast, across paddocks and along country roads. I loved my father's love of music and his exotic stories about wild Arabian horses galloping across the burning sands of the Sahara Desert His stories would eventually lead me to travel to Morocco.
I loved being with my mother in her kitchen, always asking a thousand questions as she taught me the basics. She certainly was my inspiration to get my hands dirty in the kitchen and explore the possibilities of food. But of course that came after, I studied art and psychology, becoming an art teacher before falling madly in love with my Bruce.
And, you wrote a motivation title?
Yes, 'Stepping Out', was a guide to how to live the life in front of you. Sometimes we think we're traveling in one direction, and then 'life' happens. You can either jump up and down and scream about it, or you can chase after that life and grow and learn from its lessons and meet new characters along the way and have extraordinary experiences and outcomes that you never dreamed possible.
Because of the message in this book, I became a regular on the lucrative speaker's circuit where I fast earned a reputation for challenging audiences to embrace life's circumstances and not be afraid of change; and especially to not let life be defined by what happens to you.
I've spoken to over 1500 community and corporate presentations to audiences ranging in size from 5 to 5000.
Bruce passed in 2006 from a second, totally unrelated cancer to his first?
Yes, Bruce lost his fight against a second, totally unrelated cancer - mesothelioma (terminal asbestos cancer) to his first cancer (Hodgkin's Lymphoma), at just 56. It's a horrid cancer: totally avoidable if those producing this harmful product had simply put warnings on their products when they already knew the devastating consequences of inhaling asbestos dust.
How did you cope with the loss?
I was totally devastated. He was my everything. If there is such a thing as finding your soulmate, he was definitely mine. I learned that grief is not just an emotional assault, your whole physical being needs to heal. I put writing cookbooks to one side and set off to discover whom I could become in the next chapter of my life without the man I'd adored for more than 30 years, always by my side.
Travel became my medicine and sustenance. I fell in love with the sound a zipper makes on my suitcase. I found joy in the lessons I learned tasting new cultures, having conversations with total strangers. I met amazing characters, all of them, and often I sat in silent contemplation in the wonder of a world that was once big to me, and suddenly it was small and inviting. In quaint cafes and bars; moody music playing, I rekindled my love of writing. I journaled my observations and gratitude. I read departure and arrivals boards at airports like most read a new novel. Photography became a great source of healing too.
Are you still travelling?
Fourteen years on from that first adventure, I can't imagine not soaking up the smells and colors of civilizations thousands-of-years-old and devouring the lessons in destinations that have called me. I never know exactly when I leave Australia each year where I will end up. Traveling this way allows me to be spontaneous. I stay if its good. Move on if its not so good. It has also allowed me to accept invitations to do things with those I meet along the way. If all my travel plans were set in concrete I would have missed so many extraordinary adventures. Friends and family affectionately call me the wandering nomad. I think they may be right. I crave the sunshine and warmth, so when its cold in my country I travel to Morocco, Portugal, Paris and I always spend 4-6 weeks of a European summer in Croatia ... mainly Dubrovnik.
In 2006, in Dubrovnik, I found my courage and capacity to take my first steps through grief. It was a country healed and still healing from its own scars of grief from an unnecessary recent war. What I learned has made me return there for 14 consecutive summers. I stay at Grand Villa Argentina on the sea because I love to swim daily. From the hotel I get to see the sun go down over the city every night from my balcony. The hotel have generously given me my same room now for more than 10 years, so it always feels like a home-coming of sorts. But most importantly, I've learned many of my lessons to heal from grief, in Dubrovnik.
Tell us about some of your other travel highlights.
After Dubrovnik, that first time, I traveled the length of Italy, got lost in piazzas, threw coins in a fountain, touched the walls of Roman ruins; ate too much pizza and pasta, and discovered the famous Bellini! I momentarily drew breath in Orvieto, a hilltop town that epitomizes the quintessential beauty of a region for which postcards originated. I felt the rush of horse hooves pounding the Piazza del Campo in a Palio di Siena. Next, a train sped me fast, from Florence to Ferrarra, stopping briefly to attend the world's biggest Busker's Festival there before I was captivated by the life lived on canals and the songs of serenading gondoliers in Venice. I tasted opera in Verona, and was overcome by a dish called 'Sarde in Saor' (sweet and savory sardines) at a small village in Cinque Terre. I have to tell you, Italy got me excited about life once more.
I've criss-crossed France, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, Sardinia, Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, USA, New Caledonia, United Arab Emirates and even Alaska. Then I heard the call of Morocco because of the bedtime stories of my father. Over several visits there, I've traveled more than 11,000km, covering the wild and rugged Atlantic Coast with its ancient white-walled cities on the sea. I've touched the high peaks of the Atlas Mountains and been delivered into the heart of the Sahara. In Morocco's 4 Imperial Cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat I've discovered a diverse history and an incomparable culture. For me, Morocco is like no other country. Magical and exotic; the romance of an ancient civilization fascinates me. Yet, surprisingly, modern and charming luxuries are unrivaled and unexpected there.
Tell us about your new novel, Seagulls on the Ganges.
'Seagulls on the Ganges' explores the themes of synchronicity - those coincidences that make us stop and wonder because in the moment of them they seem just to coincidental to ignore. But at the same time it's a story about living your life bravely, after loss. Through travel, food, observations, stunningly beautiful destinations, and the least likely characters, I hope I leave my readers uplifted by my personal experiences and the lessons I've learned.
You chose to write it as fiction. Why?
It was easier to condense the experiences and lessons of my life into a shorter story, plus at the same time, I was writing this book I was also writing the screenplay with a Hollywood producer. Although most of the names of the real characters have been changed, if you know my story you'll fast work out who is who.
You recently traveled to Varanasi to sit on the Ganges. What did you learn there?
Varanasi is not a tourist destination. It would be easy to describe it as a polluted filth hole, grim and even a macabre place, but at the same time, Varanasi is full of a spectacular life, color and celebration too. I feel I was called there to affirm I had fully grieved Bruce and that as he had moved on into his next life, so too had I moved on in mine, and I would be okay.