Ghost Hunting

Tonight was meant to be opening night for Ghost Hunting, a beautifully written one-act play and one of four making up Blackheath Theatre Company’s Out of the Blue.
I played Clarissa Peacock (‘a clairvoyant of no society whatsoever; I’m a free spirit’). My daughter Daisy was Beatrice, a novice ghost hunter, and Elizabeth de Koster-Wyszecki was the abrasive Adelaide (a sceptic, but ‘friend to all genuine mediums’).
Pandemic lockdowns meant the show was play postponed three times previously, having been scheduled for May 2020, May 2021 and October 2021. It was incredibly frustrating returning to scripts after months away and re-learning lines and blocking.
Just ten days before our 28 July 2022 premiere, the newly elected (three weeks before) BTC Committee very suddenly and unexpectedly – without any prior consultation with Out of the Blue directors or actors – cancelled all performances, claiming the show was too risky because of the pandemic. The BTC President and Secretary, elected four weeks ago, have already resigned over fallout from the controversial decision.
Blackheath Theatre Company is the only performing arts company in Australia currently pulling plays off instead of staging them. All over Australia, every other theatre is open, with audiences in masks. In the same our show was declared too dangerous for theatre-goers to attend, the local Blackheath History Forum and Phoenix Choir both went ahead to full houses, completely sold out, relished by exactly the same demographic of locals who were denied the opportunity to enjoy some live theatre.
David Levell’s other ghost play, A Bush Haunting, in 2019 was a big hit with audiences. An expansion of the story recently won the international Twisting a Tale Dickens Museum competition. Ghost Hunting was possibly even stronger and would have transported theatre-goers into a haunted house. It’s distressing people have been denied this experience thanks to a management committee with far more impressive mediumistic powers than Clarissa Peacock, pinpointing that July 28-July 31 was an absolute peak of Covid danger but surrounding days were nowhere near as risky.
Tonight, I’ll store away Clarissa and Beatrice’s antique blouses, cameo brooches and rosemary sprigs. There are no rehearsal photos, as the shock news was delivered last Monday about an hour before the rehearsal publicity photos were to be shot. I’m sharing a few inspiration photos for Clarissa Peacock and Ghost Hunting from my Pinterest board for those who might be interested in a snippet of the behind the scenes work that goes into creating a character.
Thank you to my fellow cast members Daisy Levell and Olive for sacrificing precious HSC/school study time, and Liz for her never-ending hard work and for being a magnificent Adelaide. I’d like to apologise to the marketing people and the many volunteers who were on standby ready to go to do the hard work behind the scenes in letterbox drops, catering, front of house. I see you all.
Finally, thanks to David for your incredible words, for the inestimable hours in freezing cold halls throughout several very long winters as writer/director. I truly loved every moment of those rehearsals. Thank you to the other Out of the Blue writers – Brian Twomey, Iain Fraser and John Shand. I’m thinking of you all on this sad night of what should have been the culmination of years of hard work. I hope at some stage in the future your plays will be performed. You all deserved better.
Writer images courtesy of Kylie Blakemore

THE BOOK OF SAND REVIEW

 

I know I am deathless… 

Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself, 20 – from The Book of Sand 

This was never going to be an unbiased review as I was friends with the author of The Book of Sand. Even though I rushed to preorder, I was tentative about reading it when it arrived. Would it be too distressing because of Clare’s recent death in 2021? As a huge fan of her Jack Caffery gritty crimes and standalone novels under her pseudonym Mo Hayder, would I be able to enter the world of her fantastical fiction? 

I needn’t have worried. The Book of Sand is a joyful reading experience. I devoured it over a few nights and truly didn’t want it to end. It can’t be compared to any of Clare’s previous work as it stands on its own unique legs and roars. Clare could have continued writing her Jack Caffery dark crimes – she was top of her game – but this series demanded to be birthed and it’s obvious by its exuberant tone that she loved creating it.  

The story is set between two seemingly disparate worlds. The Cirque is a sand world where the Dormilones, a group of individuals of varying ages, incomes and faiths from different places on Earth (Sri Lanka, Stockholm, Paris, Jaisalmer, Great Britain) connect with the disconcerting feeling they already know each other. The Family aren’t biologically linked but have been summoned to the Cirque on a quest to discover the Sarkpont under the guidance of the mysterious Mardy. Mardy informs them they have twelve chances and twelve Regyres without revealing much more information. The group face all the challenges of a sand desert as well as the sinister and dangerous Djinni who hunt on the second night (known as the Grey Night) when the family have to ensure they are safely enclosed. Other family groups are also competing for the Sarkpont and are prepared to fight to the death to win. Failure to locate the Sarkpont after twelve tries will result in a consequence so horrible the Dormilones team leaders cry when Mardy reveals it to them. Time is different in the Cirque. Days pass there as years pass on Earth. Travellers known as Scouts are sent out to different time periods back to Earth. No Scout knows what country or year they will arrive in when they transition to Earth. The only constant they have is that they will always die there and will return to the Cirque. Scouts can pass each other on the street in Earth and not recognise each other. Balzac is mentioned as naming the Virgule in the Cirque. When he was in Earth, he was driven mad, possibly by his vague memories and connection with the Cirque.     

The second world is set in contemporary America in Fairfax County, Virginia, the home of teenager Mckenzie Strathie, a high achiever who feels alienated from her family and peers and is haunted by longings for the desert. A lizard appears in her bedroom, a woman in a sari talks to her from a tree, and a high school science fair experiment involving the lizard goes disastrously wrong. Then a stranger texts her that he too can see the lizard when nobody else can. Mckenzie is taken to a therapist but begins to suspect the motives of the people closest to her. The dual worlds begin to snake together in a surprising twist.  

I love the visual images shimmering through the book. Spider, head back screeching in triumph into the hot desert air, his petticoat blowing around him as he rides his Sandwalker. Mardy, in her bobbly pink cardigan covered in cats. Desert sunsets and sunrises with their brilliant colours ranging from the grey-pink of a dead rose petal into clear shocking blue.  

The sand world, an eerie distorted mirror world of Earth, has McDonalds, deserted petrol stations, a can of Sprite Zero suddenly appearing. Meals of kangaroo haunches, mutton, ears of corn, sheep cheeseburgers, date wine and a bong filled with ganja. It’s a strange and terrifying visual weave of dreams and consciousness.   

The Djinni, or as Amasha calls them – the hungry ghosts – are malevolent and mysterious. Their faces are described as small, fat and pink, like a white human baby; they are stick-thin, white and much taller than human beings. They rip bodies to pieces in seconds when they encounter them in the Grey Night. Some of the Dormilones believe even uttering their name summons trouble. They are the fallen angels of this world. “God ye shall know, yet falleth the Angels so fast.” 

Cross Alice in Wonderland with a Tarantino movie and The Hunger Games and you still can’t come close to describing The Book of Sand. 

Clare first told me she was writing a book vastly different to her dark crimes in 2017, when we met up Avebury, UK. I excitedly wanted to know what it was about and she laughed in her mischievous way. ‘It’s weird,’ she said. It is indeed wonderfully weird – and wonderfully clever. 

Like all the best fantasy, The Book of Sand examines major life questions – faith and religion, who we are and where we go when we die, the inner knowing that the world we inhabit is not our true home and the blood tribe we are born to may not be our true family. Death is not an end but a transition that happens repeatedly.  

At the time of writing, Clare had no idea her own death was so tragically near but there are so many references to transitions and other states of consciousness throughout the book that it’s impossible not to think a part of her being knew.    

Readers of her graphic crime books won’t be disappointed with the energy and heat of her fight scenes. There are severed ears, scalpings, unexpected shocking deaths, mutilations and one of the characters (no spoilers) dies a very sad death. I actually had to skip those paragraphs as I couldn’t cope with it.     

When I reached the end, I had expected to be emotional. The tissues were ready but instead I felt a deep peace. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was – and will always be – awed by her vision, courage and talent. I’m so relieved to hear Clare finished other books in this dynamic series and I can’t wait to rejoin the Dormilones as they continue their quest. 

 

The Book of Sand is dazzling, lyrical, surreal and a beautiful legacy to Clare’s legion of fans by a brilliant, totally original gutsy woman.  

   

ART SCHOOL PINING

I miss my art school days, my studio space at COFA in Paddington,Sydney. The smell of turps, going to art galleries and rooftop art parties.  Sometimes I regret not doing more with my BA (a lot of my year became teachers or professional artists) but I have to remind myself I wrote my dark fantasy trilogy – Circle of Nine – based on symbols that evolved during my course.  David was in television production. I was at art school, working part-time cleaning hotel rooms. I rented a room in Paddington the size of a cupboard and shopped the local op shop where designer clothes were donated by affluent locals.I’d just had a bad car accident a few months before these photos. Three operations and a pin and plate installed in my right arm. I’m left handed, fortunately. David is holding my sling in one of the photos.

 

 

 

 

We’re so baby faced. I’m so thin and blonde. I wanted to live in Paris or Byron Bay.  Life changes in an instant.  A red light.  A speeding car.

GHOSTS, STORMS AND BLUE HYDRANGEAS

A third low-key Christmas, unable to have any guests. This year and 2020 it was thanks to Covid19. Christmas 2019 was a non-event because we evacuated in the monster fires. A subdued tense feeling simmers in the upper mountains village I live in as the Omicron figures rise daily. At the time of writing, we have 21,151 known new cases daily in New South Wales, which would have been unthinkable this time last year. It’s a stormy, un-seasonally cold summer which I’m not complaining about as the heat is normally intolerable in the mountains when my soul craves wild Tasmanian seas or the bright iridescent blue of Heron Island. At night we watch M.R. James’s  1970s box set of Ghost Stories for Christmas, a welcome reprieve from the daily horrors of the news.

‘Who is this who comes?’

I read one book after another like a drug addict desperate for a fix and to lose myself in other worlds and different times. I don’t know how I would have survived the last few years without books. I post a lot of my book recommendations and reviews on Good Reads, Twitter, my Facebook Author Page and Instagram, so please follow me there if you’re interested.

I’ve just finished writing my current book and hoping it finds a good home. It’s a mystery similar to Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor, set in the 70’s and 90’s. It took two years and four months to write, which was quite an achievement as it was sandwiched between the monster fires, floods, a world pandemic, three plays I was involved in with the local theatre company, the Certificate of Energetic Healing I studied at Nature Care College in Sydney, my Masters of Reiki course and starting a new business, The Mystic Rose Energetic Healing, which was doing splendidly until the lockdown hit. Then there are all the demands of  life with a teenage girl in high school. Even before the novel is picked up, I’m proud I’ve completed it. I’m already itching to start the next book; I’m trying to decide between several ideas.

Joan Didion

Sadly, this year we witnessed the deaths of three of my writing inspirations – Anne Rice, Joan Didion and my friend Clare (aka Mo Hayder) whom I wrote about HERE.

Clare Dunkel aka Mo Hayder

In the garden our hydrangeas are blooming in blue perfection. I’m trying to focus on the good things, no matter how small they might seem to be. Nature is always such a consolation with its rhythms and cycles. I now know when the wild daisies come, and the flannel flowers and waratahs, and when it’s storm and magpie season. It’s a gentle reminder to trust in timing and permit things to unfold in the perfect season.

 

My key words for 2022 are Alignment, Health, Strength and Power. It’s the year of the Tiger which represents attributes like strength, power, confidence, self-esteem. Tigers never back down from a challenge which I think we’re all going to have to foster a sense of in the time to come. Like many, I’ll be avoiding crowds this New Year (which I actually do every year) and staying home with my family to watch our annual reminder that despite everything – It’s  A Wonderful Life.

Wishing you all the Blessings in 2022. Stay safe, keep creative.

 

 

WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS – BOOK REVIEW

I read everything Laura writes and collect hardcover editions of her work. WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS contains her trademark tropes of small-town secrets in the Ozarks, poverty, intergenerational abuse and family ties.

Author photo – Paul Leonard

Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth’s world turns upside down when her family moves to a remote rural region of Arkansas, start home-schooling their children and join a conservative church.
Sarabeth is abducted near a cornfield by a masked man, taken to a unidentified spot, blindfolded, chained to a wall and held captive. When she is returned and dumped by the road a week later in a bloody nightgown, her family and the police refuse to believe her story.
The second timeline is Sara (Sarabeth) five years later, now working in an animal shelter near St Louis, trying to escape her past. Investigator Nick Farrow contacts her as girls have gone missing in cases similar to her own and he wants Sara to return with him to the scene where she escaped not only her masked abductor but her controlling religious-zealot family.


This is a slim book but it’s spellbinding and Laura manages to pack a lot in examining issues such as home-schooling, religion and victims of crime not being believed in some cases. Laura’s work is always evocative, unsettling, beautifully written and expertly plotted. From her debut with THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD, I’ve been a fan. Laura grew up in the Ozarks, she has first-hand experience of the towns she writes about and that comes through in the landscape descriptions and characters. She is interested in True Crime and has recently started a Tik Tok highlighting cases of missing women in her community ignored by the media.

Laura’s website can be found HERE

CINDERELLA

 

 

 

For National Poetry Day, a tribute to Anne Sexton and her brilliant poem, “Cinderella” from the book Transformations which I’ve been reading before sleep to guarantee disturbing dreams.

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.


Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.


Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.


Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.


Once
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother's grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.


Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That's the way with stepmothers.


Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince's ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn't
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.

As nightfall came she thought she'd better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story. 

 

VALE CLARE, MY ENGLISH ROSE

This week I lost my beautiful, brilliant friend, Clare, aka Mo Hayder/Theo Clare to motor neurone disease.

photo credit: Robin Matthews

On December 2, 2020, as I was about to board a train to Sydney for my Diploma of Energetic Healing course, I received a message from Clare saying she believed she might have motor neurone disease and that she wouldn’t survive it. I was stunned. In the bleakest of years with the covid-19 pandemic putting the world on pause, this was the cruellest blow. ‘Pray for a miracle,’ I texted back, or something similarly optimistic. But even before the diagnosis came through of bulbar, one of the most savage versions of motor neurone, we both guessed the bleak ending. For the next seven months, I sent Clare daily distant Reiki energy and we kept in touch daily. I sent her an online rose a day.

I hadn’t heard from her for five days, which was unusual. I was about to contact her partner, when I woke up to his message that Clare had passed the day before. Although the news wasn’t unexpected, I experienced such deep sadness. There will never be another friend to replace Clare. Although we only met in person three times, living on opposite sides of the globe, we corresponded over the years through countless letters and emails. I counted her among my closest friends.

I was introduced to Clare over twenty years ago, when I was at art school and working for an aromatherapy company at Myer department store, Sydney. ‘You might like this book,’ Michael, one of the office staff said. ‘It’s a grisly crime and the author looks like she could be your sister.’ (I was very blonde and thinner back then). Intrigued, I took Birdman home to read and instantly became hooked on her debut novel, which had as its subject matter a killer who sews live birds into the chests of his victims. I wrote to Clare saying how much I enjoyed the book and about a year later received an apologetic letter back. We spasmodically exchanged a few emails. Clare was frantically busy with her writing career which was peaking with her best selling series of dark thrillers, featuring moody, troubled Jack Caffery.

In 2008, Clare appeared at the Sydney Writers Festival to promote Ritual, her third book. I instantly enrolled in a writing workshop she was conducting, although the thought of meeting one of my writing idols was daunting. I’d met other writers who didn’t live up to their books, and I was nervous Clare might be the same. However the reverse was true. I’ve copied and pasted an extract from my online journal (archived here) at the time.

I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival and did a workshop with Mo Hayder. What can I say about that woman except I love her to bits! She really is the most gracious, kind, intelligent, totally gorgeous woman and writer I’ve ever met. She gave me some killer advice and a much needed buck-up with my writing. I received so much from Mo and will be forever grateful.

After all these years of feeling slightly isolated by how my mind works, I feel I found a kindred spirit in Mo. I was more than a little nervous about meeting Mo as I’ve met so many writers over the years and sometimes they don’t always match their books. They can have inflated egos and be quite shabby, dysfunctional people. It’s always ruined their books for me if they don’t match their words. But Mo was one of those rare people who actually exceeded my expectations.’

Meeting Clare in person in 2008 at Sydney Writers Festival Workshop

Clare was travelling with her daughter Lotte, who was six at the time, and she was keen for Lotte to meet my three-year-old daughter, Daisy. My partner brought Daisy in her ballet class tutu to the  hotel at the wharf where Clare was staying with her partner, Bob, who she had met while researching her books. Bob was a police sergeant and rescue diver – the character of police diver, Phoebe (Flea) Marley is inspired by him. Bob is twinkly, charming and we instantly felt we had known him forever. Daisy performed arabesques for Clare, and Clare and Lotte did a dance for us in return. My partner likes to dive and so he enjoyed his conversation with both Clare and Bob.

My much loved, well-read collection.

Over the years, Clare and I continued our correspondence. We shared our feelings on parenting, our creative successes and disappointments (in my case!) and she was always there for me. Whether it was offering to do a blurb for my books, giving me industry advice, or just sharing our very different lives on opposite sides of the planet. Clare was incredibly successful with her books, selling well over a million copies and I was a mid-list author. My Poet’s Cottage in particular had done extremely well overseas, nowhere near the sales Clare achieved, but Clare was interested in the person, rather than how many books sold. Clare even turned my daughter, Daisy into a character in her book, Skin.

 

In 2017, my family travelled to England and we reunited in Avebury with Clare and Bob. We often speak about this being a perfect day. I remember gazing at the stones, seeing the vivid crayon-blue spring sky, the golden yellow rapseed, sheep birthing lambs and the Avebury wishing trees. Clare laughed with Daisy as they strolled, and I thought, ‘This is the most amazingly perfect day.’ Daisy, now 12, thought Clare was the coolest mother ever as Clare and her attracted tutting disapproval in a cafe for snorting like pigs. Clare could be hysterically funny.

With Clare and Bob at Avebury, 2017. A perfect day.

Clare was disappointed when I first told her I was doing my Diploma of Energetic Healing in 2020 . ‘What about your writing? You should be focusing on your book. You can’t give up.  You’re too good,’ she protested. I felt however, driven to do the course. A lot of my family had developed severe health conditions. Several people were close to death around me. I’m grateful I did it now, as I also studied my Masters of Reiki, which helped Clare throughout the last seven months.

I love all of Clare’s books but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Tokyo (Devil of Nanking in the US) as it displayed what crime/thriller fiction was capable of. It was an incredibly courageous work. I also really enjoyed her standalones, such as Hanging Hill and Pig Island. The Treatment remains the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.


It was a privilege to be Clare’s friend. We had the chance to tell each other of how we loved each other many times before she died. Plenty of people don’t have that grace. I’m proud she wasn’t afraid to change direction and write the book that she really wanted to write. I’m very much looking forward to her speculative fiction novel The Book of Sand to be published in 2022 under her pseudonym, Theo Clare

I am grateful I got to share the joy of her marriage to her soulmate Bob in January and that she’s no longer suffering in her physical body. All my love to Lotte, Bob and anyone reading this who knew and loved her. Clare was courageous, idiosyncratic, intelligent, dazzling, light-filled. She was as beautiful, pure and giving as a rose.

I will always miss her.

photo credit via Whole Beauty by Shiva Rose 

ENID BLYTON, WORD MAGICIAN

She made my childhood magic.

 

She gave me a lifelong love of reading, writing, Cornwall, mysteries. Her books were loved over thirty years later by my own daughter who wanted stories (not to be lectured to on worthy topics). So bored with all the Cancel puritans judging artists from a previous time on current thinking and mores. My own Poet’s Cottage book was inspired by Enid Blyton’s two daughters having varying accounts of their childhood.

I recently began re-reading Five On A Treasure Island and was instantly transported back to Kirrin Island, shipwrecks, secret maps and castle ruins. Thrilling stuff!