CROOKED HOUSE

I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I either blocked Crooked House from my mind – or I’d never read it.
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A Christie I haven’t read? Scandalous! It’s hard to believe I could’ve forgotten this chiller. Crooked House was the Agatha Christie Book of the Month for November. There are no spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t read it, I vow to Keep the Secret.
CROOKED HOUSE PAN EDITION
Crooked House (1949) was one of Agatha’s personal favourites and I can see why. I always enjoy her standalone novels, like Endless Night – see review HERE. Free of Poirot and Marple, her work enters interesting shadows. I love both detectives, but it must have been refreshing for Agatha to write without them. She claimed Crooked House was pure pleasure to create. She mused over it for years and felt it one of her best. It is also pure pleasure to read.
Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

The novel is set just after WW2 in 1947. Narrator Charles Hayward returns to England to marry his fiancée Sophia, whom he met in Egypt where she was working for the Foreign Office .
Sophia’s grandfather Aristides Leonides presides over The Three Gables (the Crooked House) where several generations of the family live. But he’s murdered when his insulin medication for diabetes is swapped with his eserine eye medicine. It’s a perfect set up for lots of simmering tensions and family secrets. Everyone, from Sophia herself to 12-year-old Josephine is a suspect, and everyone appears to have a motive. Classic Christie!
Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Here’s an extract from when Charles asks ‘The Old Man’ (his father) what murderers are like:
‘But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse… And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ – murder is wrong – but not for them – for them it is necessary – the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.’
CROOKED HOUSE SHOES
Charles’s father is the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, so Charles is allowed to unofficially investigate under the eye of Chief Inspector Taverner.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Their flaws are shown but there is depth to every person Christie has created. An example is Laurence Brown, the tutor looked down upon by the family for being a conscientious objector. He was, as he admits to Charles, afraid to go to war, afraid to have to pull the trigger on what might appear to be a Nazi but is actually just a decent German village boy swept up in the conflict. Laurence believes war is wrong but is despised for his beliefs. Now he is under suspicion of murder along with the rest of the household. Laurence tries hard to do the decent thing and is always failing. He rushes into a burning building to save a woman but became unconscious with the fumes, earning the scorn of the fire-department when they have to rescue him as well.
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Christie doesn’t have a lot of time to let us get to know characters, but is skilled at giving us a full person in a few strokes. It is obvious that Christie, like Miss Marple is a keen observer and can pass a shrewd eye over people without judgement.
Also enjoyable is the goblin-like, horrible child Josephine. She enjoys playing detective, listening at doors and lives in ghoulish expectation for the ‘second murder to occur’. As we do – knowing it is coming. For as  Josephine points out: ‘Someone who knows something is bumped off before they can tell what they know.’ And – ‘Sometimes it’s something that they don’t know that they know.’
This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: “One day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself – I’ll begin it. 

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The tension really escalates at the end. I had a sense of dread of what was coming:
‘Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces – and suddenly the faces change – and it’s not someone you know any longer – it’s a stranger – a cruel stranger.’ – Sophia, Crooked House.
The denouement (which I didn’t see coming but my husband did pick) was one that her publishers wanted her to change the ending. Thankfully, she refused and had enough clout that they conceded to her will.
Crooked House reminds me of some of Barbara Vine’s/Ruth Rendell’s work and is a wonderful forerunner for the twisty, psychological genre.
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The title is taken from the nursery rhyme Crooked House, which is a trope that Agatha used in several of her novels. Yes, nearly everyone in the novel and that strange, rambling mansion is crooked in a psychological way. And it refers Aristides not permitting his family to grow independent and rise or fall on their own merits. By his over-control of their lives, the family members have grown crooked, under the crooked man, in his crooked, strangely proportioned mansion on the outskirts of London.
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Have you read it? If so, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. And if you know any fan of mysteries, or psychological thrillers, please share this post. I think Crooked House has become one of my new favourite Christie’s.
#keepthesecret.

Endless Night

I recently re-read Agatha Christie’s Endless Night (1967), for the Instagram Agatha Christie bookclub Maidens of Murder.
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Agatha wrote Endless Night in her seventies, and it’s one of her most chilling and accomplished books. It was one of her personal favourites, and her grandson Mathew Prichard recently voted it his favourite in a survey to mark the 125th anniversary of Agatha’s birth.
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Endless Night received some of the Queen of Crime’s best reviews and I wish she had written more standalones, as it is as strong as anything by Daphne du Maurier or Ruth Rendell.
From the film Endless Night

From the film Endless Night

It’s a psychological thriller, with no iconic detective or whodunnit, a beautifully crafted examination of evil and madness with a shocker of a twist. Even though I already knew the denouement, I was still hooked into the story. The prose is tight, the characters intriguing and it demonstrates how Agatha, in her later years was still able to pull off an accomplished piece. This is a crime writer on top of her game!
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I finished the book at 3am in the morning with a storm outside – appropriate for the menacing Third Act.
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The narrator is a young working-class man Michael Rogers, who marries the fabulously wealthy Ellie. He first sees Ellie at Gipsy’s Acre, where a house, originally known as the Towers, is up for auction. Michael knows his dream of living at Gipsy’s Acre is impossible, but he fantasies about his terminally ill architect friend, Rudolph Santonix, building a modern house on the site. However, the land is cursed by gypsies and it’s said anyone who moves there will have bad luck.
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When Michael and Ellie fall in love, the impossible dream of owning Gipsy’s Acre is within reach. But Michael has to learn the rules of the privileged world he has now joined – and deal with a cast of characters who threaten his happiness, including the capable and controlling Scandinavian beauty, Greta. Then there’s the suspicion of Ellie’s family, who see Michael as a fortune hunter. Ellie’s guardian and trustee Andrew Lipincott is one of my favourites, but there are many well-written characters including Michael’s mother, Mrs Rogers, who doesn’t appear a lot, but is realistically drawn.
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The Gypsy curse is always shadowing their new home and life. Neither Michael or Ellie are superstitious, until the local village gypsy, Esther Lee, begins predicting Ellie’s death.
The Endless Night of the title is taken from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake, and is suitably sombre, haunting and mystical.
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In the Youtube clip Mathew Prichard made announcing his choice for the World’s Favourite Christie, he explained how his friends would visit Agatha with him and how she was always curious about their lives and choices. Through his friends, Agatha became familiar with the mood and tone of the 60s and he believes she gleaned influences from her conversations with those young people that went into the book.
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A movie of Endless Night, released in 1972, starred Hayley Mills, Britt Ekland, Per Oscarsson, Hywel Bennett, and George Sanders. I have the DVD and really enjoy it. It has recently been turned into a Miss Marple adaptation, which I think is disappointing as the book doesn’t feature Marple. I’m a huge Miss Marple fan, but she doesn’t belong in Endless Night.
For readers who love psychological thrillers, domestic noir and the awful sounding grip-lit – if you haven’t read Endless Night, I highly recommend it!
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Endless Night has gothic overtones and, as with several of Agatha’s books, a nod to the supernatural. But the haunting in this isn’t from any wraith within the pages, but from how the book plays with your mind afterwards. It is one of my favourite Agatha Christies and a perfectly suitable book choice for the October Spooky season.

Paula Hawkins in Angel Place

I love a publishing story where an author has worked hard on their craft for years and then breaks though in some Charlie & The Chocolate Factory scenario. Even though I know there’s often another story behind the official story in publishing, I still find massive inspiration in their journey. I’m always impressed by those writers who never give up. I began my Ride the Rhino Series on this journal, to hopefully inspire creatives with similar stories of determination and resilience. Yes, I know Ride the Rhino went quiet for awhile, because I moved to the country and my own book deadlines, but it is returning. Resilience is vital for a writer. It’s a tough business and you do need the soul of a rose and the hide of a rhino.
image of Paula Hawkins via The Times

image of Paula Hawkins via The Times

On Saturday 21st May, I travelled down the mountain to Angel Place in Sydney to see Paula Hawkins, whose psychological thriller, The Girl on the Train, was a New York Times bestseller, selling in the millions in the US ALONE, as a guest of The Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Angel Place's uplifting bird installation.

Angel Place’s uplifting bird installation.

Foreign rights for The Girl on the Train have been sold in 34-plus countries, and a movie by Dreamworks, will be released in October this year through Universal Studio.
Because I’m so busy with my current book and because I now reside above the clouds, I could only commit to one panel at this festival. But I didn’t want to miss Paula because I love her inspiring story.
I become the girl on the train.

I become the girl on the train.

For those who couldn’t make it, I have written out some of my notes from the talk. It was recorded for ABC Radio National. Please keep in mind that this is my paraphrasing of Paula’s conversation with Kate Evans.
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Paula was born in Zimbabwe and moved to London in 1989. Paula’s early career involved working as a financial journalist. The germ of an idea for The Girl on the Train aspired when Paula’s train broke  down and she spent a lot of time looking out of the window at an uninspiring view, hoping something interesting would happen – but it never did.
She always had a hankering to tell stories.
Paula wrote several other books (‘chick-lit’) under a pseudonym, Amy Silver. These books were good training and sold reasonably well, but she didn’t feel her heart and soul were in them. She’s not that interested in romantic comedy and had always wanted to explore darker psychological territory. Her fourth Amy Silver book bombed, selling under 1000 copies.
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Her agent was very supportive and pushed her to do the thriller that Paula said she always wanted to write. The agent also encouraged her to bring in a secondary character from one of the Amy books she had liked a lot, who drank. The agent thought that character had legs and was going to go far, and so they put ‘the drunken girl on the train’.
Paula at this stage was feeling totally wretched about her career. She was in debt and had to borrow money off her father, which was dispiriting at her age. All that misery went into writing The Girl on the Train.
She wanted the reader to think they knew the character, and then as they progress through the book realise they don’t know the character at all.
The rhythm of the train journey gave the book its structure.
She was interested in the memory loss from drinking. Also, that drinking can give you blackouts and make you vulnerable.
Paula believes you don’t have to like a character, but you do have to find them compelling.
Difficult women tend to be interesting characters. Women traditionally have been told to be compliant. Paula, however, is not interested in writing about meek docile, pleasing people.
For the structure, she mapped out the book starting with Rachel’s voice, then Megan.
When Paula began talking about Megan, she started gesticulating with her hands and became very animated.
There were lots of timelines that had to correlate and it was in the writing that the architecture of the story formed.
She did know ‘whodunit’, but she had to work out the rest as she wrote. She talked about how thriller-writing is about pace, and drip-feeding key bits of information at different points.
With The Girl on the Train, it was as if anyone could have done it.  She wanted a Hitchockian feeling to the book and an atmosphere of paranoia and self-doubt.
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Writers influential for Paula include: Agatha Christie initially for her ingenious plots. Kate Atkinson for her believable characters. Pat Barker, Cormac McCarthy (who can say in ten words what most of us would take pages to say). Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller is a favourite book of Paula’s.
There were misogynist accusations against her, and Gillian Flynn as well for Gone Girl. Paula said nobody accused Brett Ellis of being a misogynist for American Psycho. It’s understood he’s writing a character and not saying that all men are like that.
Her current book is more difficult to write, because of more demands on her time, such as this very talk. It takes you out of the head of the character that you’re with when you’re having discuss a book you wrote years before. It becomes a disjointed process and a new pressure is a readership around the world waiting for the new book, which will be a psychological thriller concerning sisters and memory. She is interested in the different perceptions siblings have of shared events in their lives. It deals with family, memory, and our sense of self.
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When it was time for questions from the floor the questions concerned such topics as:
Techniques applied when writing The Girl on the Train that she could share.
Paula replied: short chapters, always leaving each chapter on a note – even just a line that left the reader intrigued. Paula had never done any courses in fiction writing. Her agent, however, was a real help as she isn’t just about taking her cut of the money but is also interested in the editorial side of a book. Paula made the point that it’s incredibly difficult to write a novel (especially a first novel) without some editorial help.
There was also a question about her daily writing routine. Paula’s reply was that when the book is going well it’s a wonderful feeling. When it’s going badly it’s appalling. There is always a point in every book she writes when she sits at the desk and sobs.
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She was also asked about her feelings regarding the movie version (starring Emily Blunt) which unlike the book is set in America. Paula said she’s not as upset as some of her readers and that the movie is a different format to the book. She thinks the movie, which features very pretty white-picket-fences location of the commute into a US city, will be equally, if not more visually interesting than the more gritty English look (which I was visualising as I read The Girl on the Train) as it represents the darkness beneath the pretty façade.
Personally, although I love the casting of Emily Blunt, I would’ve preferred the original setting for this book. To me The Girl on the Train’s appeal was its very Englishness. It was reminiscent of that great English eccentric Alfred Hitchcock, and also Agatha Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington where Miss Marple’s friend Mrs McGillicuddy witnesses a murder as she travels on her train. A 1961 movie, Murder She Said, was based upon 4.50 from Paddington.
Some of my take-aways from Paula’s talk. I already know these, but it always helps to have them emphasised again:
‘Failure’ is not necessarily a negative. If her ‘chick-lit’ had sold through the roof, Paula would be under pressure to continue writing them and we would never have had The Girl on the Train.
Write to your strengths and your influences. If your heart isn’t in romantic comedies, then go where the passion and drive is leading you.
A good agent is essential. Not someone who is going to show you the door if your first books don’t sell, but someone who is prepared to support you as you find your voice, and also offers editorial support if needed.
Characters that might be secondary in one book could have life and wonderful legs if used again, so be open to characters wanting their own book and space to breathe.
Nothing is ever wasted. No experience is unimportant or seemingly ‘negative’.  If your train breaks down, don’t just browse your Facebook page. Stare out of the window and get really bored because that perfect idea might be lurking hoping to grab your attention. Don’t miss it through overstimulation of your brain and a stranger’s status update. JK Rowling would testify to that one as well.
Twitter can be a writer’s friend. This endorsement tweet from Stephen King would have helped propel The Girl on the Train’s massive success.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by
Paula Hawkins: really great suspense novel. Kept me up most of the night. The
alcoholic narrator is dead perfect.

And finally:
Never Give Up
Never Give Up
Never Give Up
I hope you enjoyed reading my notes from Paula’s talk. Please share with any kindred spirits you feel might be interested. It’s obviously so much better to see the author talk in person and Paula said a lot more on the day which I missed here as I was so interested listening (which is exactly how it should be). I am really looking forward to Paula’s next book and also the movie version of The Girl on the Train

Tasmania My Muse.

Author Neil Gaiman called Hobart one of ‘the fine secret places of the earth’.
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Back in the 1920’s Agatha Christie on her world tour similarly declared Hobart to be incredibly beautiful with its deep blue sea and harbour and expressed her hopes she would return to live there one day.

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It always takes me ages to recover from my trips home to Tasmania as predictably, I always want to stay. This January I visited to research material for my next mystery novel which is once again set in Tasmania.

It’s early days. But I have a title, opening and closing scenes, an idea that has been brewing away for a few years, and a palette of colours I want to work with. A few characters are stirring and introducing themselves. Once again, I find myself scribbling notes furiously in a notebook in a charming Tasmanian cottage. Here I am at the front of the aptly named Bridge Cottage at Richmond, where we spent a few days recently as I soaked up the atmosphere of this pretty, historic village. The light and shadows in Richmond were perfect for my book.

Josephine Pennicott at Bridge Cottage Richmond

Josephine Pennicott at Bridge Cottage Richmond

When I wasn’t at Bridge Cottage, I was lying in the shade of a tree by the river, sharing the shade with the river geese, ducks and Tasmanian native hens. (Tasmania was in a heatwave which was fortunate as this book is set in a sizzling Tasmanian summer). I spent pleasurable hours staring up at this perfect blue and canopy of greenery as scenes unravelled themselves.

And the characters appear

And the characters appear

Another photo of Bridge Cottage

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I was reminded of our last visit to Richmond, when we were thrilled to spot author Christopher Koch in a local cafe. Koch, as you are probably aware, died September 2013.

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Richmond is perfect for a writer with its peaceful atmosphere and plethora of Georgian buildings. It reminds me a lot of Oatlands, the midlands village where I spent a lot of my childhood. Oatlands has more Georgian buildings, but Richmond is nearer to Hobart, only a 20 minute drive from the city centre. You can read more on Richmond Village HERE.

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We toured Richmond Gaol, always a poignant experience. You have to spend some time alone in a darkened cell to imagine the hellish conditions the prisoners were subject to.

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Some of the inmate’s stories are most Dickensian. Isaac (Ikey) Solomon, a Javelin Man in Richmond Gaol 1831-1834, was believed to have inspired the character of Fagin in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. Ikey came from Bell Lane, Spitafields, where along with his wife Ann, he set up a jewellers’ shop, receiving stolen goods. He was known as The Prince of Thieves. Ann was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 14 years and became the mistress of ex-convict George Madden. Ann was never reconciled with Ikey. You can read more about Ikey’s flamboyant life HERE.

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There is also the amusing story of gaoler Randal Young who was once locked up in his own gaol as a debtor!
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Convict-built beautiful sandstone Richmond Bridge built between 1823-1825 also has a wonderfully Gothic tale. George Grover was an extremely cruel overseer and flagellator of the convict road crew working on the bridge. He was known for his harsh punishments and numerous floggings. Grover met his destiny in March 1832 when he had been drinking hard and passed out on the bridge. When some prisoners came upon him, they took the opportunity to heave him over. His ghost is said to walk the bridge and on dark nights if you glimpse only a shadow behind you, you would be well-pressed to leave the bridge quickly. Sometimes it’s only the cruel Flagellator’s footsteps that are heard in the silent village as you cross the bridge.

Ghost Child

Ghost Child

Grover’s dog is also said to haunt the bridge, although why the dog has been linked with Grover remains unclear. But several witnesses have claimed to see the spirit dog described as a big black dog, also prowling the bridge. Interestingly enough, mainly women and children see the spirit dog. Richmond Bridge was originally called Bigge’s Bridge and is Australia’s oldest bridge.
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I am slightly saddened to admit I did not see any ghosts apart from one Daisy photo ghost, but I did fill a notebook with loads of ideas, I took close to 400 photos for inspiration to refer to when I’m spending the next few years working on the book. Of course there’s always plenty of charming historic houses to fall in love with in the village streets.

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And I could see myself quite happily retiring to live in Grannie Rhode’s exquisite cottage where I could have my chickens, grow herbs and make friends with the garden fairies.

Granny Rhodes's Cottage

Grannie Rhodes’s Cottage

But it’s not all about the historic houses, Gothic ghost stories, and convict tales in the state. Culturally the State is really smoking with MONA which is always worth a mind-expanding trip. The Red Queen was the current show, but I’m always happy to simply wander around MONA and take in the stimulation of this amazing eclectic surreal wonderland. Here are a few photos from MONA of pieces I particularly liked on this visit.
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I really love the way David Walsh has installed his temple in the suburbs and his car parking space made me smile. His car was parked in the space allocated to God and there is another space for God’s Mistress (as David pointed out the God’s Mistress space was empty).

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Aside from MONA, you can be visually stimulated by the fabulous Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery near the picturesque wharf. I loved several of the displays here.

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The Wild Colonial Boy

The Wild Colonial Boy

We also had time to take in the Cygnet Folk Festival which is a wonderful day out.
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And enjoy a punnet of my favourite Tasmanian snack (with the exception of the Tasmanian pink-eye potato)

The scenery wherever you go is spectacular. Hobart seemed to shimmer and sparkle more than ever on this trip.

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Thank you for visiting me. There are more photographs on my personal and Author Facebook pages. Also on Instagram.

May 2014 bring to you all the creative joy and blessings you could wish for. It’s going to be a big year for me. My mystery novel Currawong Manor will be released here in June and earlier in Germany.

I am currently doing another draft on a historical crime manuscript I’ve been working on for years. Then I shall begin some more intensive character development for my Tasmanian mystery.

One final glimpse of the wild Tasmanian sea.

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Tasmania my Muse. Home. And if 2014 hasn’t got off to the start you, take heart and strength from the wonderful Gregory Peck. ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.’

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Deadline

I am on deadline for Currawong Manor and so this October post written on All Hallows will be brief.

Life has been frenetic, frantic – days and weeks a blur of my daughter’s activities, her dramatic and colourful life entwined with the darker mysterious world of my characters in their Blue Mountains home in the 1940s. I juggle the two worlds, attempting to keep my attention equally on both, a task which seems impossible at times.

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I have to mention this anthology, Award Winning Australian Writing 2012, which my short story, Shadows, which won last year’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards appears in. I’m proud to be included with so many skilled writers. You can read more about it HERE
And also this beautiful cover of Currawong Manor (called Daughters of the Storm) in Germany published by Ullstein. On Twitter I posted I saw a beautiful butterfly nearly as large as my hand fluttering outside my garden writing shed , enjoying the bougainvillea and yellow roses. I wondered what he was a sign of and a couple of days later, he turned up on my book.

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A highlight of the month was:

We saw A Murder is Announced at Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay. I really enjoyed all the cast and Judi Farr made a perfect Miss Marple.

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A reminder that on Sunday the 10th of November, I’m appearing with Kate Forsyth in the Writers’ Tent at the Newtown Festival. Details here.

I am trying to focus, to turn inwards. The deadline like the witching hour draws nearer.

Thank you for visiting me. xx

Inside Carla Coulson’s Magic Camera

Hello,

Exciting news today that Poet’s Cottage continues its European tour with the rights being sold to Spain. So happy to know my Tasmanian mystery will now be available to Spanish readers.

Josephine Pennicott by Carla Coulson

Josephine Pennicott by Carla Coulson

And for regular readers, you may recall that I had a photo shoot last year with the very talented Carla Coulson, of which I posted about HERE in the post Life’s so Light.

Carla has released some of the images from that shoot on her beautiful blog which I’ve followed for years CARLA LOVES PHOTOGRAPHY

Josephine Pennicott and Daisy image by Carla Coulson

Josephine Pennicott and Daisy image by Carla Coulson

I am still pinching myself that not only did I get to meet Carla but I also had the honour of being photographed by her. We worked with a vision/mood board that must have raised Carla’s eyebrow when she first saw it. It included Agatha Christie/the Rolling Stones and a few other slightly different inspirations. Carla, bless her, had an image of Kate Moss with her daughter that she wanted to reproduce the look of.

Josephine Pennicott and David Levell image by Carla Coulson

Josephine Pennicott and David Levell image by Carla Coulson

I am delighted with how she represented our family as I wanted to show our creative and laid-back style. If you enjoy the photos please leave feedback for Carla. And Carla does do workshops and shoots in Sydney if you are interested. All the details can be found on her website.
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One of my inspiration images for the shoot

One of my inspiration images for the shoot

Josephine Pennicott by Carla Coulson

Josephine Pennicott by Carla Coulson

Finally some advance notice that I will be appearing in the following talk, Something Rotten in the Apple Isle in Melbourne in June for Sisters in Crime. It should be enormous fun and I’m thrilled it has a Tasmanian theme. You can read all about it on this link HERE. I know I have the fab Carmel Shute to thank for that title. Would love to see you there if you can make it. I am sure it will be a hoot.

I am planning and dreaming new books into existence this week. I have loads of ideas. I’m never short of a great idea it’s just making time to write them all out. And this year I have joined the Australian Women Writers Challenge HERE which I think is a great idea. I did join it in 2012 but was flat out with research reading. However I do think it’s a worthy cause and a wonderful idea to support other Australian Women writers across genres. I have committed myself to the Miles level and so no excuses for not tackling the tower of books in my bedroom now!

David and I in Irish Echo

David and I in Irish Echo

David and I made the Irish Echo last week to see Mike Scott and the Waterboys, one of our rare nights out. I’ve loved the Waterboys forever and so thrilled to have the moment immortalised.

Thanks for visiting me. Keep Creative and Inspired. xx

LIFE’S SO LIGHT

Regular readers may recall I was fortunate enough to win a photo shoot in Sydney with one of my long-time favourite photographers, Cara Coulson, who ran a competition for a private shoot with her in either Sydney or Paris. I was excited to win the Sydney shoot because I’ve followed Carla’s blog from the beginning, and also a major character in my forthcoming mystery novel Currawong Manor is a photographer.

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This week the much anticipated meeting took place and I can finally reveal the location – Woollahra House, a magical, shabby, bohemian terrace which you can read more about HERE and HERE and where the interior shots for this post came from. It was a perfect location for me. And described as ‘Alice in Wonderland meets the Addams family.’  

Not only could I easily visualise Tim Burton and Johnny Depp sitting together working out a scene for their next movie, or Helena Bonham Carter lying back on the sofa; but I’d fallen in love with this striking old lady terrace a couple of years ago when she was featured in a newspaper. I had never imagined I would one day be photographed within her glorious shabby walls by Carla. Life really does work in some twisty beautiful ways sometimes!

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It was a real delight to meet Carla, and an honour to be photographed by her. Thanks to the power of the internet I felt I already knew her as her blog posts are so warm and engaging. She is a rock star with a camera. A funky, tender magician. There is a certain sensuality, an intimacy to working with her but it’s not a soft energy. Despite Carla’s tenderness and caring she has a strength and power which comes from a long apprenticeship of her work, and a spiritual perception and insight of people.  04871

Despite my initial wariness, Carla with her box of magical techniques helped me to move into the moment and to lose my ego and ‘shrinking Josephine’ outside the door. It was a very inspiring creative collaboration for me and a perfect chance to research for my book. I realised how much you have to relinquish control and surrender sometimes which isn’t easy for writers to do as we are used to being in total control of our creative projects. You have to be able to trust and to allow the muses to merge between two people when being photographed.  I love the still above from my favourite movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  

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Woollahra house wove its patina spell through all of my veins. Debra Cronin is the genius behind this magical house which she rents out for photo shoots and dinner parties. I wish somebody would commission this talented lady to do a book on her interior talents. 

Everything about the shoot was dreamlike. The pastel greys and apricot colours of the walls. The taxidermy, antique books, the young girl from Western Australia who was also having her portrait taken. A beautiful, willowy model, dressed in Vivienne Westwood with a bird on her head like an elegant Helena Bonham Carter. She matched the house perfectly. 

The make-up artist looked a combination of Jane Birkin and Lou Doillon and was every bit as rock star as Carla and Jane and her daughter. She put less make up on me that I’d normally wear to the school pick up but I loved her work and her false eyelashes. She won my heart as soon as I walked in when she said that I looked great without make up. (Normally people ask me if I’m feeling okay). It was a joy to work along side her and also Carla’s beautiful friend, Athalee, who spent more time ironing my red dress than any normal mortal woman should have to undergo and looked after me so well.

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We did a shot which was inspired from this photograph of Agatha Christie where we set up a vintage typewriter and books. 

I am hoping to use some of the photos for publicity for Currawong Manor.

When my husband (dressed in his everyday wear of waistcoat vest, shirt and Akubra hat) came to collect me with Daisy, Carla was kind enough to shoot a few family shots. Not knowing Daisy she asked her to ‘act like a rock star’. My daughter who had been cautioned beforehand to do EVERYTHING Carla says immediately went into overdrive snarling at the camera, making wild moves and getting totally hyped as she lived the part. I was only relieved she stopped short at trashing the room. 

It was an enchanting day. One particular moment stands out for me when Carla directed me to look away from her and when I looked into the big mirror I could see a wall of stuffed birds and a blue butterfly (the blue butterfly is always a special symbol to me since my father died) and also Carla shooting me in the reflection). It was one of those times that you wonder if you really are dreaming.

Josephine Pennicott and Carla Coulson

Josephine Pennicott and Carla Coulson

If you would like to join me in that wonderful dream experience and book a portrait shoot with Carla then all the details are on her website for shoots in both Sydney and Paris. I can highly recommend it for the experience alone. If even this introverted writer enjoyed it as much as I did you most certainly will too. 

And if you don’t already, follow Carla’s blog for beautiful inspiration in both words and images. You will find her HERE. 

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In other exciting writing news, Poet’s Cottage will now be published in Holland as well. And so I am thrilled my Tasmanian sea-fishing murder mystery will be enjoyed by people in mysterious far away Holland. That is a lovely early Christmas gift for me. Thank you, Holland for buying my Tasmanian mystery. I would love to visit such an exotic fairy tale destination one day. 

Christmas is just around the corner. If you wish to buy a signed copy of Poet’s Cottage then if you order through Better Read than Dead my local bookstore HERE, I can sign it for them if you request when you order.They do online ordering as well. The B-Format of Poet’s Cottage (the smaller size) comes out in Australia on December 29th so if you have been waiting for that format you can pick it up then. I can assure you the smaller version is just as beautiful as her big sister. Pan Macmillan Australia have done such a stunning job on Poet’s Cottage in all her versions and formats. 

A perfect Christmas gift for a mystery lover

A perfect Christmas gift for a mystery lover

I am still working on Currawong Manor to reach the deadline. I have my Christmas tree up but with no decorations apart from one home made Christmas angel by my Daisy as everything has been so frantic. But this Christmas I have simplified it as much as I can. Although I still do my cards by snail mail, make a trek to the David Jones window and Santa Cave, Carols etc the more commercial side I have cut back on. I hope your Christmas is filled with blessings and the magic of this holy and joyous season.

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Thank you to all who have lurked, commented, and given me your energy this year. Below is a video by Tara June Winch on a worthy cause to donate to. I’m off to give some money now. Please watch if you have a couple of minutes spare. The magic of books and words gave me such a template for life when I was little and any cause that promotes that miracle to children is worth our efforts.

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Keep Creative, and look for the everyday miracles. May this season be a rebirth for you in your life and art

Josephine xx

WHEN BONES CRY

Poet’s Cottage has been attracting some lovely reviews this week. Thank you very much to Auckland Library for their review HERE. It was most interesting to see how the reader picked up the Enid Blyton influence in the book.

I should say, however, that Pearl Tatlow in Poet’s Cottage is NOT Enid Blyton in any way shape or form. I was always fascinated by how Enid Blyton’s two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, had totally opposing views of their mother. I knew one day I would write about this theme and it simmered away for years.

It interested me greatly because I knew of other families besides Enid’s – including my own – where children with identical upbringings have totally different accounts of events. It really made me contemplate truth, memory and history. How do we know what the bones are really singing?

Whether Enid Blyton was a good mother or not never affected how I feel about Blyton. I know she made my childhood magical and I still love curling up with a Famous Five or one of her boarding school stories. But I was fascinated by the family set-up where you have to try to uncover whether the bones are lying or being truthful – or both at the same time.

My writing friend, Jen Storer posted a lovely blog on Enid Blyton and Johnny Cash HERE.

And my other writing friend Kate Forsyth was in the Spectrum this weekend with a beautiful photo of her reading to her daughter HERE. I was thrilled to see Kate also loves to collect the vintage editions of Enid Blyton rather than the sanitised versions. I agree that writers should be read as products of their time and not have their words reshaped to fit the mindset of later generations.

The images of Enid Blyton in this post I found HERE. They are from an interview that Enid gave shortly before her death and I find them moving and poignant. They capture the fragility of the woman behind the words.

I’m so grateful for all the lovely reviews of Poet’s Cottage and that so many people have taken the time to discuss their thoughts on the characters and the set-up. It has been fascinating to see how the book has really delighted people from a range of backgrounds and ages.

Fellow Sydney writer Elisabeth Storrs posted a lovely and thoughtful piece on Poet’s Cottage HERE. I love the final paragraph because Pearl’s gramophone also haunted me for quite a long time.

Poet’s Cottage is an accomplished, engrossing novel with fine language and powerful descriptions of the small town inhabitants of Pencubbit in both past and modern times. Most of all, in creating the damaged and damaging Pearl, the author has created a character so compelling and complex that the image of her lingers just as surely as the strains of music from her gramophone drifted through Poet’s Cottage both before and after her death.

I shall post links to some other reviews as soon as I get a chance.

Life has been hectic here in the Little Brick with my daughter home on holidays. She is writing more than I am able to at the moment. I do love seeing her happy and creative and able to stay in her pyjamas all day if she wishes.

We went to see the movie Brave, which was a wonderful film showing the power plays between mother and daughters. I shamed myself by weeping over the final scenes and my daughter had nightmares that night over the bear but still, a glorious couple of hours in the cinema. The writer based the character Merida on her own feisty-daughter and it’s easy to see why so many mother/daughters are enjoying this holiday movie. An added bonus for me was the whimsical and beautiful trailer before Brave, La Luna.

I really enjoyed this charming short film.

Sydney Cast onstage for The Mousetrap

David and I saw The Mousetrap, which is now touring as part of its 60th Diamond Anniversary year. I had been looking forward to seeing for ages. It’s my third viewing of this iconic play (I originally saw it in The West End). Although nothing can compare to the romance of seeing Agatha Christie’s play in London, the Sydney cast did a really terrific job. I was pleased they kept it in a very traditional style and didn’t camp it up too much. Although a couple of times the accents were a bit forced, I still felt as if I was really at Monkswell Manor.

cast rehearsal image via Mousetrap Sydney website.

From the eerie opening of the play where the child’s rhyme, ‘Three Blind Mice’ is sung to the shock denouement at the end where a lot of the audience gasped at the twist – to the actor requesting we keep the secret (and of course we all will) – I thought the spirit of Agatha Christie’s play (which she did not expect to run for a few months) was honoured.

the original 1952 production

It’s proof of how people love a good cosy mystery and Agatha is top of her game in this sly and haunting play. You can read about the horrible true story HERE that inspired Agatha Christie to write her dark and elegant play. Terence O’Neill and his brother, Dennis in 1945 were fostered out to a pair on a farm in Shropshire, England. The brothers were beaten and abused by the foster parents and sadly, Dennis died. Agatha followed the case which made headlines in the UK and helped to change laws to protect children and used the case for a short radio play, Three Blind Mice (which later became The Mousetrap). Terence O’Neill has since written his own book of the events, Someone To Love Us.

the devious mind behind The Mousetrap. Hats off to Agatha.

Enjoy your week and stay creative. xx

Dark Shadows

Hello,

On Tuesday, 31st July 6-7pm at Newtown Library I shall be talking with the lovely Gayle Donaldson. The event is called Talking Heads and is a combined Better Read Than Dead bookshop and Newtown Library event.

If you would like to come along please reserve a seat HERE.

Some topics I imagine we’ll be covering: mysteries, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, fantasy writing, crime writing, publishing, Tasmania, sea-fishing villages, families, bohemians, secrets, Johnny Depp. If you’re interested in any of these – or you feel like a free chat and a warm place to sit – don’t make yourself a stranger.

There are limited seats so please reserve as early as you can. Would love to meet you!

Here’s my reply to a question the Hoopla asked me regarding a heated discussion at the Sydney Writers Festival on literary awards going to books that readers can’t or don’t read due to inaccessible content. This came about as a comment from a panel Stella Rimington hosted where literary critics became worked up when she said literary awards should be given to books which are readable.

I’m paraphrasing the debate as I didn’t go to the Sydney Writer’s Festival because I was too busy writing. But I did add my piece to the Hoopla which you can find HERE.

Last night Art School Annie dragged me away from my edit to see Dark Shadows. Wow!! This move was so much better than I expected. Let’s not mention the last 15 minutes which really sort of sucked huge-time. But the rest of it was Tim Burton in fine form. The scene with Johnny and the hippies is sooo good and worth the price of the movie. I love that combination of horror and comedy and it really brought to mind the Manson family with the innocence of the late 60s, early 70s era when you could break bread with a vampire in the woods and not realise that of course he’s going to kill you. And I’m so in love with Michelle Pfeiffer (who gets better with age) in her 70s gear and jewellery. Michelle said in an interview that her sister-in-law made the jewellery for the movie.

I’ve never really come out of the 70s. It’s one of my favourite eras and so this movie was heaven for me. Tim Burton, 70s fashion, hippies, vampires, sea-fishing villages, Helena Bonham Carter, Alice Cooper and of course, Johnny Depp.

A perfect movie. Here’s a track from Dark Shadows to glide up all feeling groovy into the weekend. Thank you for visiting me. xx

A Story in my head buzzing hard

I spent a day lost in the magical light of Norman Lindsay’s home at Springwood.

Can you beat a drystone wall? I grew up loving them and they still have the power to charm.

Wandering into the bush with notebook in hand, it’s easy to believe Norman’s statues are luring you into another world.

A smaller magic outside my writing shed where my David Austin Prince rose proudly displayed its first bloom.

 

The  magical perfume so divine to savour. Hopefully a good omen for my current mystery novel.

 

And I must let you know of an event I will be taking place in for Better Read than Dead bookshop and Newtown  Library Tuesday 31st July . It’s Talking Heads with Josephine Pennicott. I know this is very advance notice and will update nearer to the time. Places will be limited but you can book through the library online or on  8512 4250. Would love to see all who could make it come along so we can chat murder, mystery, families, bohemians, secrets, Tasmanian sea-fishing villages, writing tips and a host of other fascinating topics. Here is the beautiful Newtown library I  shall be chatting in.
I’m really looking forward to seeing The Mousetrap in Sydney with the Sydney Theatre company performing Agatha Christie’s classic.
 I first saw The Mousetrap in St Martin’s Theatre with David in London’s West End and it remains one of my favourite theatre experiences. (Followed closely by The Woman in Black).
This week I also went to my bookclub at Better Read than Dead to discuss Craig Silvey’s feisty and wonderful mystery novel, Jasper Jones.

My daughter has just told me she has a story in her head and it’s buzzing hard. I know the feeling.
This weekend I am going to try to find some time to sit in the autumn sunshine with these two pink magazines I picked up today. I love the beautiful Christy Turlington’s feature in the gentlewoman (one of my favourite magazines).

This photograph of Johnny Depp was doing the rounds on Facebook and of course I cant’ resist ending this post with his sage and beautiful words. Thank you for visiting me. Stay creative. xx
Remember, murder lurks around every corner…