Happy New Year 2016

Hello, I’ve just finished a yearly tarot reading on my deck on New Year’s Eve and the Magician card made a welcome reappearance and also the Hermit card is the year’s overall theme card. I’m feeling good about 2017 after the Beast of 2016.

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Wishing you and your loved ones, a Happy New Year. If you’ve been doing it tough in 2016, I raise a glass to you tonight. Thank you for your support of my writing this year. May a thousand Bluebirds of Joy bring you happiness in 2017.

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Love, Light and Moonshine

Josephine xx

Magicians and Hermits

Hello,
Thank you for your support of my online journal this year and also to those who signed up to my newsletter. Hopefully in 2017, I’ll actually send out a ‘proper’ newsletter. I also aim to return to my Rhino interview series, and review more books online that I read, but I’m the mother of an eleven-year-old girl with limited time and I’ll always prefer to put my energy into creating my tales.
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It has been a beast of a year for so many, including my family, but I’ve continued writing throughout all the chaos. I finished The Secret Echoes, my mystery novel set in Tasmania.
This book is set between three time periods of 1800s, 1920s and 1950s and shows the impact on a Tasmanian riverside village in 1949, when the town’s most beautiful girl is murdered. I also am halfway through a psychological thriller which is an idea I’ve nursed for several years. This book has been coming out very quickly and I’m trying to let that process happen. Here’s a tarot reading I did one morning in a query to my current work. I loved its potent accuracy – the Magician and the Hermit.
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My daughter is starting high school next year and we have a couple of holidays planned. We will return to our much loved Heron Island and we’re also heading to London for a family short break, which I’m excited about.
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If 1916 was also a painful and tumultuous year for you, take heart from the J.K Rowling’s Twitter feed who posted a series of twelve tweets in response to followers who were experiencing really tough times: “At this time of year, we’re bombarded with images of perfect lives, which bear as little relation to reality as tinsel does to gold. If you’re lucky enough to be with the people you love, warm and safe with enough to eat, I’m sure you feel as blessed as I do. But if your life is currently full of difficulties; if you aren’t where you want to be, either literally or figuratively, remember that extraordinary transformations are possible. Everything changes. Nothing is forever. Thinking back to my worst Christmas, I found it hard to believe that my unhappiness would pass. I was truly afraid of the future. You never know what the future holds. Astonishing reversals of fortune happen every minute. So if you’re sad, or lonely, or bereaved, or ill, separated from  your loved ones or in any other way suffering this Christmas, I send you love and wish luck and better times. Millions of us have been where you are now.”
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I’ve included several photos from the night I did a reading at the atmospheric pop-up venue in Sydney, Stoneleigh 50.
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I loved this night and the chance to read from my gothic novel in a setting that looked like Miss Havisham’s attic.
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Thank you to everyone who attended and listened so avidly to the readings. Also, to Better Read than Dead bookshop for the invitation and for all they do for Australian authors. It was great to connect with the audience and also fellow authors Sulari Gentill, Anna Westbrook and Alexandra Joel. I am seated next to the wonderful Stephanie Beck, Events and Marketing Manager from Better Read than Dead Bookshop.
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It was an enchanted night of mystery, intrigue, plants, wine and storytelling.
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There are only a few things I miss about life in Sydney – Better Read than Dead bookshop, my women’s circle at Dickson Street, and the smell of the sea in the air.
One thing that has been positive about 2016 was I’ve never regretted moving to the country. We love our life above the clouds with the silence, birdlife, mists over the valleys, dramatic storms and sparkling mountain air.
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My husband took this photo from Govett’s Leap and I posted it on the Solstice. Wishing you on this Capricorn New Moon, all peace, joy and positive vibes for 2017.  I think Liz Taylor, as always, provided the inspiration I really needed this year.
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Love, Light and Capricorn Moonshine,
Josephine

Mystery, Intrigue, Wine, Plants and Storytelling

Hello, if you enjoy mystery, intrigue, wine, plants and storytelling, I am appearing next Tuesday
evening, 22nd November,  (along with fellow writers Anna Westbrook, Alexandra Joel and Sulari Gentill) at the incredibly atmospheric Stoneleigh 50 (Chippendale, near Central Station, Sydney).
The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

Presented by Better Read Than Dead bookshop, this special event combines wine-tasting with authors reading from their own works – I’ll be doing an excerpt from Currawong Manor.
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Really looking forward to being part of such a special evening. Places are limited – so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, please come along. Tickets can be booked here:
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Swans, Secrets and Shadows

It is the school holidays. I’m the first awake as my family were all up late last night. My eleven-year-old girl read The Cursed Child in bed with a torch till past midnight. She has re-read this book over ten times since we bought it for her. J.K Rowling’s world has meant to much to her over the years, just as Enid Blyton formed my childhood joy and provided solace in tough times.

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Outside, the weather is bleak and a wind blows hard, making the trees shake around the house. We are hoping for snow to fall in the Blue Mountains, despite the fact we are now in October. Snowfalls are still possible in early Spring when you live above the clouds.

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It was vastly different weather conditions in January, 2014, when I sat by the river in Richmond, Tasmania, on a family holiday watching the golden sunlight and the shadows dapple and form patterns on the water.

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As with several of my books, an image came to me as swans glided past. I was luxuriating in the peace of the convict-built bridge and village – a place so seemingly tranquil, but which contained shadows.

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The scene that came to me was of a young man sitting by the river writing a note, confessing to a crime he believes he is guilty of. Two girls rowing a boat on the water sing ‘Buttons and Bows’ and suddenly the serenity of the sleepy Tasmanian hamlet is shattered when one of the girl’s oars snags on a floating body.

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This was the beginning of The Secret Echoes, which I just finished this week. From the very start, I knew it would contain certain elements: the golden Tasmanian sunshine and mellow light, a bridge that harboured secrets, a supposed ghost that haunted the bridge, letters, a poison-pen writer, the death of the town’s most popular golden girl. Swans, secrets and shadows. I couldn’t wait to start writing to discover who the body was in the river and whether the boy confessing to the crimes was as guilty as he believed. The working title of the book was Sweetwater.

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As the book progressed those elements remained but it took an unexpected journey. I always knew I wanted to set it in the 1950s, but a 1920s thread also felt strong and a few months into writing, a fairly minor character in the 1880s became increasingly insistent to be featured more. This put the book back about six months, as I had to put it aside to research 1800s Australia before I felt confident about being able to portray this headstrong character and her life and times.

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My journal entry for August, 2014 records I had just begun the first draft.

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I could not have conceived at that time how dramatically different my life would be from that day I began the opening scene. My family faced several major challenges: we moved house from the city to the country. In our city life we had to deal with bullying developers, bullying children (and their even worse bullying mothers) and a health diagnosis for one member of our family that was shattering.

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But throughout the chaos, I kept returning to the book and although it took me a few months longer than planned, I was delighted to finish the final segment, Wattle Dreaming, this week of The Secret Echoes.

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I hope it makes it way with confident strong legs out into the world and finds a readership. With the New Moon (the Black Moon) just having passed us, I made wishes and blessings for its journey. And I’m excited to begin the next book, which has been calling impatiently to me for years.

Love and Light,

From above the clouds,

Josephine

 

Carried away by the Current

The trees in the village are ablaze with Autumn colours. It’s like you’re in fairyland when the leaves fall around you. I walk everywhere on a scrunchy carpet of leaves.

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Carloads of tourists arrive to photograph our streets.   I relish feeling the dip in the seasons. We have farewelled daylight savings. The nights draw in faster and the days have a chilly bite.

Our neighbour informs us that there’s a local saying that winter arrives with Anzac Day. It appears to be true.    I love Autumn – the transition season but it can also bring a melancholy with the change in light.

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I’ve been living a hermit life (as much as possible with an eleven-year-old daughter) to complete my current book.   My agent is really enthusiastic about the chapters she’s read. My husband, David thinks it’s the ‘best one yet’ – which is what every writer wants to hear. Technically, it’s been a challenge as I’m working with three time periods (the 1800s, 1920s and 1950).   Thank you to readers who have written to me, or commented on my social media, saying how much they are looking forward to this book. The feedback means everything.

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I would like to share this photograph I took in Sydney recently on an outing with my daughter to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This beautiful mer-child with the body of a child and the head of an ancient fish is called “To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved in the other.” The artist is Sangetta Sandrasegar.

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The work is a comment on our changing relationship to the sea brought about by technology. Also, the disappearance of our marine-life and our move away from mythology and old sea-tales. I love her brooding power as she watches a bustling Sydney harbour and the passing clouds, unnoticed by the crowds below her.  You can read more on this piece HERE.    I share the artist’s thoughts on our increasing detachment from myths and nature.

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I find it essential to my own balance to acknowledge seasons and moon cycles. When friends have commented on my passion for comparative religions and ritual, I think of Joseph Campbell’s quote that if you want to know what a society is like without its rituals – read the New York Times.

Here is a photo of a simple ritual my daughter and I did for the New Moon.

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We attended our first Lithgow Ironfest which was a colour and enjoyable day with artisans, jousting, knights, battle re-enactments, steampunks and 1940s army nurses – an enjoyable contrast to the crowds and materialism of the annual Sydney Easter Show.

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We’ve also been attending quite a few sessions at our favourite mountains cinema. Mount Vic Flicks is a traditional cinema experience plus the best hot soup in mugs. Once the manager even delayed putting the movie on to give patrons down the highway a chance to make the movie in time as the traffic was heavy. It’s these olde world courtesies that make our new mountain life such a pleasure.

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I’ve also been reading a lot. I keep wanting to have time to write a post featuring the books I’ve read this year but with trying to finish my own book at the moment it’s been impossible. But it’s a long list with thrillers and mysteries comprising the bulk.    I love staring up at the stars which blaze in a way unimagined in the city. It’s so easy to let go of the trivia and dust of everyday life when you view Saturn through the telescope.

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Roots

I love our new life in the Blue Mountains. Waking to a heavy veil of silence, the air so crispy-fresh that I can feel my lungs celebrate when I inhale, desperate after years of inner-city living to consume the sparkling prana. I love the school run where strangers smile hello and artistic-looking parents in paint-smeared jeans drop artistic-looking children.
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Birdsong permeates the village and in one day several seasons can pass and I love them all. I walk everywhere marvelling over big kookaburras and the sound of lawn mowers instead of aeroplanes overhead. The smell of freshly cut grass.
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After so many years of talking about moving to the country, we fled Sydney. Developers taking over our street and the towering apartment blocks were squashing us. I felt sadness watching a lot of the working artists’ studios closing as the apartments mushroomed. An ongoing bullying case at my daughter’s school – too many toxic environmental pollutants in the air and toxic situations. Life is too fragile to keep trying to make the intolerable work. We fled hurriedly, like characters in a fairytale, leaving behind my roses, writing shed, our good friends, but knowing it was time.
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I wanted my daughter to enjoy the childhood I had been privileged to have: a small village with chimney smoke fire and ethereal mist. A village where the trees stand guard and healthy-looking children  are surrounded by the changing seasons and a caring community. I wanted her to run free in the woods and not become part of the concrete dragon we had escaped. Without my Tasmanian midlands childhood, I could never have written Poet’s Cottage.
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I wanted Daisy at ten to have that depth of life experience. I was weary of smog and bringing in washing streaked black from plane fuel. The air felt as if it was choking our family and our life.
On the Taurus Scorpio Full Moon, we settled the sale of our house. The date was my birthday, 27 October, which was a mystical synchronicity to my family and rounded our city time perfectly, for the day we settled the purchase, all those years ago, was also 27 October. I see our current home in the mountains as a gift from the universe.
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I know this velvet silence will bring my current book to life. I delight in sitting on my new deck, listening to the sound of birds and watching ladybirds and butterflies as I write.
Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Queen for 2015 Eleni Vergotis

Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Queen for 2015 Eleni Vergotis

Being among the trees and gazing upon the panoramic mountain views feels like returning home. We now live in a village I have been escaping to for years and which I used as inspiration for my mystery novel, Currawong Manor.
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On my last visit here, I literally felt roots from my feet grow deep into the soil and spread outwards. I knew the time must be approaching that we would find our mountain home . Shortly afterwards, we did find her. She is a grand old mountains lady, a 1920s character weatherboard and I feel a deep joy every day to have finally, after so many years of yearning, to have become a part of this village and country life.

An Escape to Somewhere at the Winter Solstice

I love Winter when the sky turns to grey and a chill laces the air. We’ve been house-hunting, which has been a disruption to my writing. I’m a quarter of the way through my new book. It’s slightly behind, but the 1800s thread involves a lot of research, not being a period I’m familiar with.
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Life is challenging with several major transitions and changes still waiting to occur. I feel as if I’m in a frustrating holding pattern. But three things have remained constant: my love of reading, writing and nature. I greatly enjoy seeing the book emerge like a photograph developing. I just need to be patient and appreciate the fact that every book has its own timing and rhythm.
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So many beautiful things to notice when I slow down to appreciate their quiet blessings. Rain falling in my winter garden and its mesmerising lullaby on our tin roof. Bare branches in dark spiderwebs against the sky. Manuka honey and tea brewed in a gypsy yellow tea-pot while perusing glorious new book friends like The Cottage Under the big Pines by Susan Southam and Sally Mann’s photographic memoir Hold Still. Sourdough rolls dunked into homemade winter soups.
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Art deco buildings against a brilliant blue sky at the Winter Magic Festival in Katoomba.
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The Blue Mountains whose pulsating, shimmering energy never fail to remind me of the perfect pattern of all things when I gaze upon their mysterious vistas in challenging times.
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My beautiful daughter and the winter ocean in Sydney for reflective walks.
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Stories from other writers and my own words. Nights snuggled in bed with a variety of books.
Thank you for visiting and may the Solstice award you strength and vision for any transitions and challenges in your life and creative projects.
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Finally, this extract from Neil Gaiman’s talk for the Long-Term Thinking Project via the extraordinary Brain Pickings website. So profoundly eloquent and I really needed to hear his words as I’m sure many other artists do.  All Solstice blessings to you.
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Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor:

“A few years ago, she started telling me this story of how, in the ghetto, they were not allowed books. If you had a book … the Nazis could put a gun to your head and pull the trigger – books were forbidden. And she used to teach under the pretense of having a sewing class… a class of about twenty little girls, and they would come in for about an hour a day, and she would teach them maths, she’d teach them Polish, she’d teach them grammar…

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One day, somebody slipped her a Polish translation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. And Helen stayed up – she blacked out her window so she could stay up an extra hour, she read a chapter of Gone with the Wind. And when the girls came in the next day, instead of teaching them, she told them what happened in the book. And each night, she’d stay up; and each day, she’d tell them the story.

And I said, “Why? Why would you risk death – for a story?”

And she said, “Because for an hour every day, those girls weren’t in the ghetto – they were in the American South; they were having adventures; they got away.

I think four out of those twenty girls survived the war. And she told me how, when she was an old woman, she found one of them, who was also an old woman. And they got together and called each other by names from Gone with the Wind…

We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial – the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction … is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape – and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.

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Helen’s story is a true story, and this is what we learn from it – that stories are worth risking your life for; they’re worth dying for. Written stories and oral stories both offer escape – escape from somewhere, escape to somewhere.

Coral Dreaming

We are now back in Sydney,  still reflecting over Heron Island’s turquoise sea and sky, and the ever-gliding shadows in the ocean of sharks, sting-rays and turtles.

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Heron Island, one of the great natural wonders of the world,  is a coral cay which began forming around 6000 years ago. Situated off the Queensland coast, Heron has been described by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places to see marine wildlife up close. The island is small; it takes about 20 minutes to walk it (double that time when we were with our ten-year-old daughter at night on our turtle hatchling expeditions). We chose Heron  to retreat and recharge because there’s no technology there and we were all longing for a break from Wi-Fi and computer screens. Plus, it was turtle hatching time and who can resist baby turtles born in the wild?

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Dawn

 

I miss circumnavigating the island’s white sands. I loved being in that world of primary-coloured crayon blue sky and sea. If I close my eyes now and attempt to block out the traffic and the workmen’s constant drilling from the factories surrounding me, I can hear a faint lapping of water, and feel within me the elegant unexpected beauty of a turtle swimming past and the graceful otherworldly shapes of the stingrays in their exquisite ocean glide.

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I have emerged like the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale from an enchanted underwater world of coral forests, exotic fish and – onshore – luxuriant green foliage that parasolled us overhead in a magnificent jungle. Heron Island is home to up to 100,000 birds. At night the shearwaters return from the sea and the calls to their waiting children sound like the eerie screech of restless, uneasy ghosts.

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We wandered for five days in a tourist postcard of Australia, marvelling over this parallel tropical world as we swam with reef sharks and stingrays. We even saw a manta ray on the semi-submersible boat tour of the reef.

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reef sharks

 

As Daisy and David snorkelled out trying to find sharks, I was paddling around knee deep trying to avoid them (the sharks). Then I realised I was surrounded by what looked like twenty fins. For years I’ve had a severe shark phobia, but once you’ve experienced them around you and realise these reef sharks are not interested in you as dinner, then you form a new respect towards these elegant and fascinating beings.

with David Levell

with David Levell

 

We cheered on baby turtles as they hatched, making their plucky and courageous dash to the ocean. Some sadly were snatched instantly by the waiting sharks, but others were taken by the current to hopefully travel the world before they miraculously return to their original hatching place.

 

Daisy loved the Junior Rangers programme and made good friends amongst the children there. They called themselves The Clan and bonded immediately over turtles hatching and snorkelling with sharks. Daisy is still thrilled she managed to snorkel with her new friends out to the shipwreck that serves as a breakwater.

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Walking on the beach one night, my daughter cried out as a baby turtle fell from the sky at her feet, obviously dropped by a bird. We watched in awe as it managed to upend itself the correct way and continue its journey to the sea. My daughter christened that turtle Lucky and we vowed to return at the same time in 30 years to see if Lucky would return to her original hatching place.

 

 

It’s hard to believe that in the 1920s Heron Island was a turtle cannery and in the 1950s tourists rode  the turtles for sport. Thankfully, turtle riding was outlawed circa 1960.

turtle riding in the 50s

Turtle riding in the 50s

And so we are back in Sydney. The jackhammers are jarring as the workmen dismantle the shoe factory next door to make yet more flats and shops. The city seems a grotesque heavy charcoal drawing next to the primary-coloured island with its pristine air and breathtaking scenery.

David going diving with dive masters Jo and Jimmy

David going diving with dive masters Jo and Jimmy

 

I hope it is not too long before we make that journey over the sea to Heron Island and enjoy the island’s “Welcome” cocktail. I watched Heron disappear from the boat as we left,  farewelling sadly that magical coral cay with its turquoise waters and sea life until it became a distant faint smudge on the horizon.

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I could have sat on the sand forever watching the marine life circle the island, listening to the call of birds and staring into the shimmering dramatic blue that stretched forever. But I should feel lucky to have seen it at all.

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It’s been sobering learning from the guides on Heron Island about how the impact of global warming and mankind’s impact has had a noticeably detrimental effect on the reef. We are all part of the same web and, as legendary marine biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle warned in the papers this week: “If you like to breathe, listen up, the message is to protect the ocean as if your life depends upon it, because it really does. No ocean, no life. We’re so concerned about the green movement, but without the ocean, there’s nothing there. No blue, no green.”

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La Casa del Poeta and the Summer Blue

Normally never a summer lover, I hanker for misty mornings, gloomy rainy days and snow. But this year I cast aside my Scorpionic affinities for winter and embraced Summer. Throughout the holiday break we didn’t leave Sydney and although I sighed wistfully when viewing friends’ social media accounts of their holidays abroad, I enjoyed the hush in the streets surrounding our inner-city home – a break from the constant jackhammering on the building site next door. Instead we embraced more peaceful  streets that looked like they belonged in the 1950s, and a half-empty shopping mall. Throughout the lethargic summer days there was time to plan the year ahead and explore Sydney’s breathtaking beaches. A new favourite this year was Bundeena and also Cronulla. I loved this area where a vibrant mix of cultures gathered to escape the heat wave and enjoy the spectacular views of the popular surfing beaches.

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The school year is now well under way and my life is filled with notices, appointments, homework and in the midst of the whirl – writing my new book. I’m really enjoying crafting this mystery which once again examines the ripple effect of murder across three different time periods in a Tasmanian village. My agent is happy with the early chapters she has read.

 

Daisy writing at Cronulla

Daisy writing at Cronulla

 

Mercury Retrograde has ended and with its departure heralded welcome news from Spain. I adore Poet’s Cottage’s poetic and Cocteau sounding Spanish translation – La Casa del Poeta. The cover is one of my favourite interpretations –  so atmospheric and really conveys the story. I hope La Casa del Poeta is enjoyed in Spain. It’s always a joy to think of my Tasmanian murder mystery being read in different countries.

 

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Tomorrow we will spend five days on the Great Barrier Reef. With no technology for distraction I’m taking only a notebook, books to embrace the endless blue sky and sea. I can’t wait to feel sand beneath my feet and see some baby turtles being born. I’m packing here a massive amount of flowers for my hair, tarot and Angel cards – all the essentials!

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Thank you for visiting and I wish you creative and magical days.

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Love and Light,

Josephine

Anna Romer and The Eye of the Rhino

Hello, Happy New Year Greetings. With all the traumatic events happening globally I’ve felt in need of creative and soul inspiration, and so I’ve begun a new series on Tale Peddler called The Eye of the Rhino. It’s from Stella Adler, who said success in the arts requires ‘the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose’. IMG_1671   One observation I’ve made with my creative friends is they are tenacious. Creative success seems to involve a synthesis of Talent, Timing, Tenacity and Luck and it’s the tenacity aspect that interests me. What inspires some individuals to pursue their dreams despite inevitable disappointments along their path? I say inevitable as I’ve observed that even among my more successful creative friends, they have still had to overcome obstacles that you would never hear about on their social media accounts. I hope you enjoy this series and get as much inspiration from it as I do. First up is Anna Romer. ANNA ROMER   I’ve known Anna for many years. I thought she’d be an interesting artist to begin with as she had a long apprenticeship until her success with her book Thornwood House, an Australian Gothic mystery published by Simon and Shuster in September 2013. Thornwood House broke though Anna’s years of writing in oblivion and was a bestseller. Anna was a graphic artist and has travelled widely. In an alternative career path she’d have made a powerful energetic healer as she does unforgettable massages (personally experienced). Anna’s a highly individual person and one of the more interesting authors I’ve met. Shunning a lot of technology, she prefers the rhythm of her own imagination and the pulse of the bush that permeates her writing. Lyrebird Hill (her second novel, also an Australian Gothic mystery) was released in September 2014.  Anna and I share a love of communicating by letters, Spirituality, Joseph Campbell. I’m delighted Anna accepted my invitation to discuss her creative inspirations for Eye of the Rhino.

J – I know your writing path wasn’t a smooth trajectory. You spent many years working on another project which hasn’t yet been published. Can you talk about how it felt to work on that project and what it was like to cross over to the new genre you are working in with Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill?

You’re quite right, my writing path was long and winding – and there were times I was convinced it was leading nowhere. Luckily for me, I’m utterly addicted to the writing process, and that’s what kept me going.   One of my great passions along the way was a historical novel I worked on for many years. It was an adventure story set in a time when people were restrained by archaic traditions and strict social laws. My favourite thing about writing this story was developing characters who were feisty and strong-willed, who flouted those laws and went their own way.   The research for this project was intensive. I spent years losing myself in books and pictures and movies, drawing maps and diagrams and timelines and, even dreaming about my characters until they felt like dear old friends. I was totally obsessed!   Sadly, the plot was very flawed. In my mind’s eye I could see a beautiful, richly-layered adventure story, but I didn’t have the skills back then to pull it into shape. My agent suggested I set the story aside for a while and work on something with less demanding research. So I dumped my beloved project in the bottom drawer with all my other rejects, and went back to the drawing board.   I decided my next novel would be set in Australia – a simple mystery story about a woman who inherits an abandoned house. I would throw in all the elements I loved: forgotten old letters, a buried diary, an overgrown garden, and a star-crossed love story. Most importantly, I’d keep my research minimal.   Famous last words. Before I knew it, my story had grown convoluted roots that reached back to the 1940s. Suddenly I had a mountain of memoirs and war diaries and biographies to read!   I wasn’t really fazed about tackling a completely new genre. Early on I’d attempted to write a horror-thriller (while I was under the thrall of Stephen King), and when that bombed I tried my hand at romance, crime, fantasy. Each of the seven novels in my reject drawer is a different genre!   But thanks to the lessons I learned from all my failed projects, I developed a much better grasp on how to structure a novel. I learned that each genre has its own specific requirements; romance focuses on the relationship, while a thriller constantly threatens the hero’s life.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

  And yet the core of any story is the same. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” which explores the idea that all stories – myths, fairytales, and legends – share the same basic components. A troubled character embarks on a quest to solve her problem; she undergoes a series of tests that ultimately transform her; by sacrificing what she wants, she achieves what it is she most needs – and in the process, she becomes whole. THE HERO'S JOURNEY   This theory sounds formulaic, but I found it wonderfully freeing. Once I started working with it, all other elements specific to genre fell into place. Suddenly my plot was holding together. The characters were making sense. The story had purpose, and because I now knew where I was going, the process became much more fun. JOSEPH CAMPBELL BOOK J – What has kept you going throughout all the years you have worked away in solitude on your books? What helped to foster your own self-belief in your talent and enabled you to have a rhinoceros skin?

I’d always loved romantic adventure stories that changed the way I thought or felt – and that’s what I wanted to write. But my early attempts made it clear how much I needed to learn! The thing that kept me going all those years, was the challenge of somehow achieving my vision. It was like a carrot dangling just ahead of me, always out of reach – but soooo delicious-looking. I wanted to do justice to the stories I could see in my head, and the only way to do that was to develop my storytelling skills.   I embarked on a mission, reading every how-to book I could lay my hands on, trying every technique. More importantly, I wrote and wrote. And whenever I looked back over my work and found even the tiniest improvement, a fresh rush of excitement would spur me on.   I was never under the illusion that I was a particularly good writer. My self-belief fought a constant battle with my self-doubt. But I really loved learning about plot and structure and character development … I still do! Concepts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey were endlessly fascinating to me. I was like a drug addict, continually seeking my next fix of story know-how. Even if I’d wanted to stop, I couldn’t have.  

J – Love of the Australian bush permeates Thornwood House. To me, the book really  throbs with nature cycles. How important is it to you as an artist to live in the bush in the solitude you obviously enjoy? Could you have written Thornwood House in a city? 465       I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon who wrote the immensely popular Outlander series. Her first book is set in Scotland in the 1600s, and it grippingly evokes the life and culture of that time.

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

  I was fascinated to learn that Diana wrote her first book in the series without ever having visited Scotland. I read about how she listened to folk song recordings to hone her ear to Scottish accents. She quizzed experts, and no doubt used her own formidable researching skills to make her story world so believable.   This taught me that it’s possible to write convincingly about any location or historical period or life experience – if you do enough research.   But for me, as with most writers, immersing myself in a location brings additional insight and depth to that research. I love to sit and observe. I love to drink in the smell of wildflowers, or walk through the bush at night without a torch, or fire off a few rounds from a double-action revolver, or pick up an eastern brown snake so I can confidently describe the fine velvety nap of its skin. EASTERN BROWN SNAKE   Besides all that, I’m the sort of person who thrives in a natural environment. If I spend a lot of time in town I get frazzled; there’s too much sensory input. My brain likes wide open spaces, and the sound of wind in the trees, and the pebbly smell of the river. I need to be among those nature cycles to understand them and allow them to permeate me. I know I sometimes get carried away with my descriptions, waffling on about leaves and flowers – but that’s how I write. Without the energy of the natural world flowing through my stories, I would quickly lose my excitement for them. IMG_3192   J – Do you have any advice or insight for anybody who is contemplating changing their career and embracing a more creative path? Go for it! For me, the best advice regarding creativity comes from Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.” FOLLOW YOUR BLISS     If you hanker to paint, then paint; if you yearn to tell stories, then do that. If you want to knit, or cook, or lose yourself in the garden – then embrace your creative yearnings with a full heart. Invest a lot of love into what you do, and don’t worry if you have to spend years working other jobs to support it. Walking a creative path is not always easy, but it’s a worthy challenge. Your life will be all the richer for it. And if it makes your soul sing, what is there to lose?

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna's sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna’s sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

  J – I know you don’t have a very active online presence; although you’re blessed with a sister who maintains your Facebook page. What is your take on social media for artists?     I’m certainly blessed with a wonderful sister! In fact I have two wonderful sisters who rave about my books to everyone they meet – lucky me! Sarah saves my poor old brain cells by managing our social media page, which allows me to focus more on my writing. I find the energy of the Internet disrupts my creative flow. I get jittery when I’m online, and afterwards my thoughts feel quite scattered. For inspiration to flow, I need to be relaxed and centred.   As an artist, you have to weigh up the benefits of spending time promoting your work on social media, against the advantages of using that time to develop and layer your work. For me, my stories are simply more important. I don’t consider myself a natural-born talent at writing. I have to work ridiculously long hours, drafting and re-drafting and editing my stories into shape before I’m satisfied that they’re ready to present to my readers.   I’m always acutely aware that for a reader, a book is an investment. Not just of money, but of many hours of their time. I want to give my readers my very best, and this requires that I sacrifice nonessentials such as social media. I’m also a strong believer in word-of-mouth – if you hone your craft and put your heart and soul into creating an entertaining story, then there’ll be readers who will utterly love your books … and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? THORNWOOD HOUSE   J – Thornwood House has a dark mystery at its foundations. How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book? How did writing Lyrebird Hill differ from the first book? I start any project with an enormous amount of brainstorming, researching, and planning where I want the story to go. By the time I’m ready to begin, I have a tightly plotted outline. But when I’m writing I tend to lose myself in the story. I forget all my well laid plans and get carried off by the adventure. Sooner or later I hit a brick wall, which sends me scurrying back to my outline. I replot, work out how to tie up the new loose ends I’ve created, and then freefall back into my characters’ lives. LYREBIRD HILL   Lyrebird Hill was a very different writing experience to my first book; with Thornwood House I had the luxury of time. Years, in fact. The tight deadlines on Lyrebird Hill gave me no choice but to knuckle down and get the story written as quickly as possible. I didn’t have time to stop and agonise over the plot, or waffle off on tangents. I wrote only what I believed was necessary, and as a result went through a huge learning curve. It was crazy, daunting, obsessive … and bucket-loads of fun! And I think the story is better because of it. ANNA SIGNING BOOKS     J – Are you a notebook person, or a writing online type of person? Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer?

I’m very much a notebook person. I usually have several notebooks per novel, which I refer to constantly. I love the tactile feeling of writing on paper – scribbling over words and rewriting, cutting out bits and moving them somewhere else, gluing in photos, drawing maps and diagrams and charts… bliss! Being a visual person, I love the chaos and colours of my notebooks and find working in them a very relaxing way to let the ideas flow.   I seem to be sensitive to electronic equipment, and because I spend so much time staring at a computer screen – drafting or transcribing my handwritten notes or editing – by the end of the day I end up feeling very drained. Breaking up my computer time with other activities such as drawing maps or filling out charts in my notebook helps to keep my mind fresh. GHOST MUSE J – How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like? I know we share an interest in spiritual matters and so do you use that element of yourself in your writing process?  I imagine my muse to be a sort of wild ghost-like creature in photo-negative form. I feed her on a varied diet of books: biographies, history, how-to manuals, as well as  fiction – classic, popular, and sometimes downright trashy. She regularly feasts on films and a smorgasbord of music. She responds well to a hot bath, a walk in the bush, a river swim, or some therapeutic opp-shopping! She’s also fond of conflicting emotions, arguments, love gone wrong, betrayal and disappointment – so occasionally I let her binge on one of these as well.   I believe that our creative selves are very much grounded in the spirit. For me, writing a book is a magical sort of experience. It requires a lot of trust in yourself to embark upon such a huge task and commit to finishing. And it also requires that you set aside your fears and expectations, and surrender to the process.  I spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve the craft of writing, how to strengthen my weaknesses and hone my skills. But I think the success of any creative project really relies on less tangible elements. Instinct, impulse, intuition. It’s exhilarating to connect with your spiritual self and allow it to guide you; to follow those improbable threads of thought that you know will eventually weave something special into the story.   I find that when I let go of all the writerly rules that I’ve learned in my how-to books, and instead focus on the pleasure my writing brings me, I can relax and enjoy the process. I trust my muse to guide me, and that’s when the magic really begins to happen. 

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also ? how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities? THE HERMIT   I’m probably the opposite – with the hide of a rose, and the heart of a rhino! I seem to absorb everything around me, as if there’s no filter between me and the outside world. Sights, sounds, smells … are all vibrant and mesmerising, and all too often overwhelming. I pick up other people’s moods, and I’m sensitive to vibes between others. That’s why I’m such a hermit – I need to remove myself from the fast pace of the world so I can reflect and channel my energies into my work. If I don’t, I burn out very quickly.  I suppose my rhino hide is really a cloak of determination. It’s the one quality that’s kept me going. Whenever the cold winds of doubt or disappointment begin to blow, I draw my cloak more tightly around me and march on. Determination is a quality I’ve learned from the women in my family – my granny, my grandma, my mum. Incredibly resilient women, who forged on no matter what. I’m blessed to have been close to all three, and the qualities they passed along to me are among my most treasured possessions. STRINGYBARK BLOSSOMHAKEA FLOWER   Jo, I love your image of an artist’s soul resembling a rose … but mine doesn’t feel very rose-like. I’d say it’s closer to a stringybark blossom or hakea flower – thrives in the bush, is quietly productive, and mostly drought-hardy!

Thank you, Anna Romer for sharing your inspiration with us.   Thank you Jo, it was my pleasure.

And so I hope you enjoyed the inspiration from this post. Thanks again Anna for your generous sharing and if you did enjoy, please share with your social media friends who may also benefit. Look out for my next Eye of the Rhino post with another special guest. Anna Romer’s  website is HERE Love, Light and Peace, Josephine xx

This interview with Anna is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for  2015.2015 AWW badge

quote joseph campbell