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

Dark Places

The Days were a clan that mighta lived long
But Ben Day’s head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan’s power
So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast
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Baby Libby somehow survived
But to live through that ain’t much a life
– schoolyard rhyme, circa 1985 from Dark Places
I’m not easily scared by books, but Dark Places had me so terrified by the time I reached the final twist I couldn’t sleep and had to leave lights on.
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My heart  pounded so hard as I neared the end I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It didn’t help that I read the book late at night, with everyone asleep, on Boxing Day Night.
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By the end of the story, I felt my brain needed to take a bath to rid itself of some of the more disturbing images planted by Gillian Flynn. In a lesser writer, Dark Places would have been a grisly story like some 80s slasher film, but Flynn elevates the material she is working with to a book that is gripping, disturbing and heartbreakingly poignant.
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The story is narrated in multiple viewpoints alternating between Libby Day in the present day , the survivor of the grisly murder of her mother and two sisters in 1985. Michelle Day, the eldest girl, is strangled. Nine-year-old Debby is killed with an axe and Patty Day, the matriarch is stabbed, hacked and shot as she tries to protect her children. Patty and Ben, Libby’s older brother, relate their points of view in the back story from the time leading up to the Day Family Massacre.
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The family’s farm in Kinnakee, Kansas, has been going under along with several others. Patty Day, suffering from depression can barely function or care for her children. Ben, 15, a moody, devil-worshipping, heavy-metal listening misfit, is involved with the wealthy, bad-arse kids at his school. Ben is accused of the murders and seven-year-old Libby’s testimony puts him in gaol.
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In the present day thread, twenty-five years later, Libby, in need of money, is contacted by The Kill Club, a group of obsessives who specialise in killings and crimes they wish to solve and role-play. When she first meets with the creepy secret society, Libby rejects the idea that Ben could be innocent. But as she investigates further, she begins to doubt her own statements from the time. She meets several key players from the 80s, who were all involved directly or indirectly with the Day massacres. She travels from strip clubs to abandoned tourist towns in her quest to discover if her brother Ben was really innocent.
This is a book about poverty and how it bankrupts you on all levels. My heart was breaking for Patty, the mother, as she struggled to keep her farm afloat and bring up four children as a single mother. And also her neglected children who have to suffer a myriad of humiliations daily from other children.  It also deals with themes of drug use, Satanism, heavy-metal music, farming and under-age sex. The violence is depicted so graphically that I couldn’t read some of the animal torture scenes. It was hard enough to read about a child being axed to pieces while her mother fought to try to save her children with her own fatal injuries.
The tone of the book draws you in. Flynn is a great storyteller and her language is powerful. Her characters are repulsive and dysfunctional but also realistic. There are few likeable characters with most of the children playing dark roles in the tragedy that follows. The only part that fell down for me slightly was when Libby in the present day visits Diondra. I’m still undecided if the book really needed that scene. I found my credibility stretched here as this scene dipped into horror genre territory, but I still awarded Dark Places five stars.
Gillian Flynn on right with Charlize Theron.

Gillian Flynn on right with Charlize Theron.

Dark Places will haunt you. It’s not a book that you’ll put away and forget, even if you wish you could. I loved it more than Gillian Flynn’s first book Sharp Objects (which I also really enjoyed) and I also preferred it to the more commercially successful Gone Girl. Try to read it in sunshine on a crowded beach so you don’t suffer the same experience I put myself through. But I do think I have to re-enter the Darkspace of Dark Places to examine how devious, dark and twisty Flynn managed to pull it all off.
“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood.” Libby Day

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

 

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

Vale Ruth Rendell. Keeper of Secrets.

After she suffered a serious stroke in January, the news wasn’t unexpected, but I still felt upset reading about the death of one of my favourite writers late Saturday night. Ruth’s many books have not only provided inspiration, but also comfort in my life at different stages. Whether enjoying holidays accompanied by one of her novels, or nervously awaiting diagnoses in doctor’s waiting rooms, attempting to blank out the outside world, I’ve always been able to lose myself in Ruth Rendell’s dark, twisted and haunting novels.
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I came to her Wexford series late, believing I preferred her standalone Rendell crimes, or her darker psychological novels published under her pseudonym, Barbara Vine, which explored the shadows cast by the past. But like so many, I grew to love Wexford books and began hunting them down. Wexford, she said, was a reflection of her and embodied everything she wanted the police to be. The Wexfords, the Rendell gritty stand-alone crimes, the Vines – I love them all.
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She didn’t do a lot of research for her police procedural novels, claiming in interviews that Freud and Proust gave her all the insights into human nature she needed. In an interview with Anthony Clare in 1994, for Radio 4’s In the Psychiatrist’s Chair, she spoke of her love of secrets and curious nature and how she would have thought she was the last person people should ever confide their secrets to, but often they did. She said she was an outsider and she had an ability to get inside the heads of other loners – especially psychopaths.
The old detective story that’s got a really complicated tortuous motive doesn’t apply to mine. It’s that people do these things almost by accident, or because of anger, their rage, their madness – and then probably regret it. Ruth Rendell
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She was never one to shy away from social issues and could make you understand exactly how somebody could end up committing the most heinous crime.  One of my favourite novels was A Judgement in Stone (1977), where she cleverly gave out the identity of the killer, motive and the victims in the opening sentence and then somehow made you walk in the murder’s shoes with her keen insight into human nature so you felt sympathy for all in equal measure. This novel – the French film adaptation, La Ceremonie (1995) – has really lingered with me over the years.
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It’s amazing technical skill and confidence to give away so much in your opening sentence and still create a pageturner of such depth.
“Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”  
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One of my favourite Vines is her debut, A Dark Adapted Eye, which relates the story of snobbish Vera Hillyard, hanged for killing her sister. It’s set in a small English village where it is suspected that a child had been deliberately killed in the past, with flashback scenes set in World War II when Faith Severn relates her memories of her aunt, Vera to a true-crime writer. The novel is deftly structured with its complex unravelling of the past and the secrets the characters have held onto.     
“Murder reaches out through a family, stamping transfers of the Mark of Cain on a dozen foreheads,” Ruth Rendell
RUTH RENDELL IN LONDON
Ruth was also a public campaigner against domestic violence, racial prejudice, female genital mutilation. She was a Labour peer in the House of Lords, her official title being Baroness Rendell of Babergh and she cared about humanitarian issues, donating generously to charities. She enjoyed her wealth, aided no doubt by her memories of her own experience of struggle-street in her younger days, and was determined to give back to society. In her early writing career she lived with her husband Don in small, grim houses – when they weren’t having to live with Ruth’s parents. This period helped her writing later as she knew first-hand how difficult it was to live in hard circumstances. One of her hobbies she could afford to indulge in her later years was moving: she moved house frequently: eighteen times, into one London home after another, investigating different neighbourhoods. She loved walking around London for exercise, and to gain research ideas from the streets, indulging her curious nature and aiding her creative process.
Up to her death, Ruth remained in person as elegant as her prose. She was an avid exerciser and interviewers often commented on her slim body and attractive appearance. She was a vegetarian. Her days were spent in an idyllic sounding routine of writing, exercise and several times a week attending The House of Lords and the Opera.
“Murder itself is not interesting. It is the impetus to murder, the passions and terrors which bring it to pass and the varieties of feeling surrounding the act that make of a sordid or revolting event compulsive fascination.” Ruth Rendell
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Prolific in her output, her books met worldwide sales of over 60 million and with many books adapted for the screen. She was a multi-award winning author and was often hailed by her writer peers for her talent and skill.
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“Nobody can equal Ruth Rendell’s range or accomplishment; no one has earned more respect from her fellow practitioners” Val McDermid
“Consistently better work than most Booker writers put together. ”  Ian Rankin
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Originally Ruth trained as a journalist but resigned hastily (to avoid being sacked) after she wrote about a tennis club meeting, pretending she had been there but failing to mention the slightly important fact that the speaker dropped dead halfway through his talk. Becoming a mother of her only child, Simon, (Ruth was also an only child) she wrote six novels – all of which were rejected. There wasn’t a lot of interest when her first published novel, From Doon with Death (1964), introduced the likeable Inspector Wexford. Her following two novels were also very low key, until the US market showed interest.
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In today’s publishing climate, she may well never have been able to continue after her first Wexford, and we would have been the poorer for not benefitting from her more mature work of her later books, such as as The Girl Next Door (2014 ), which shows the effects on a group of elderly people when the remains of severed hands are found in a biscuit tin in an old tunnel where they used to play as children in the 1940s. I found this work by a writer in her eighties both melancholy and darkly beautiful.
RUTH RENDELL IN LONDON 2005
My condolences to all who knew her personally.  I hope they find it of some consolation that Ruth may have left us physically, but her books will always be there for future generations to discover. Her 66th novel, Dark Corners, is to be published in November. I feel terribly sad that there will be no more new Ruth Rendell’s for me to devour.  Vale, Ruth Rendell.
I think about death every day – what it would be like, why it would happen to me.  It would be humiliating to be afraid. Ruth Rendell 

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

Can you Hold Caller? I have Murder on the Line.

June Wright’s debut novel Murder In The Telephone Exchange was a bestseller in 1948. Sales in Australia outstripped even those of the Duchess of Death, Agatha Christie. She bought a fur coat with the royalties and remodelled her kitchen. I love the combination of practical and glamour in her spending.   June Wright one   June wrote six more murder mysteries between 1948 and 1966, introducing a Catholic nun detective for her fourth novel, but when she died in 2012, her name was forgotten to most modern mystery and crime readers. Her slide in obscurity seems a shame, considering that in her heyday, along with her well-reviewed novels, she was treated to promotional lunches comprising of oysters, lobster and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Raymond Connelly thanking June for publicising Melbourne. June enjoyed lots of favourable publicity throughout her career along the lines of “wrote thriller with baby on her knees.” June had six children, one disabled. Her son described her as a bit of a ‘media tart’ and she was ahead of her time in knowing how to hook the media with an angle to promote her work. She would most likely have thrived in this modern culture of author platforms and branding.

June Wright at work

June Wright at work

In one rather amusing incident, she entitled one of her books Who Would Murder a Baby? When challenged on the title, June replied: ‘Obviously you know nothing of the homicidal instincts sometimes aroused in a mother by her children. After a particularly exasperating day, it is a relief to murder a few characters in your book instead.’ June was happy to play up to her domestic house Queen of Crime label, describing to reporters her daily routine which involved caring for her six children and rising at 5.30 am to light the copper and write at night for two to three hours. She aimed to write 1000 words a day. Quite an inspiration for modern day writers, who don’t have to worry about lighting coppers at the crack of dawn.

1940s bar Melbourne

1940s bar Melbourne

A religious woman, she contributed several articles to Catholic Magazine Lay and despite the hardships of her life, she maintained her faith. When she was forced to give up her writing after six novels and return to work to help the family finances after her husband lost his job, she appeared to have done so with little regret.

Swanston and Collins Street Melbourne

Swanston and Collins Street Melbourne

I really enjoyed this bouncy and quirky mystery novel. A telephone exchange is a perfect setting for the novel and the building itself, where the murder takes place,  takes on a slightly ominous atmosphere in the Melbourne heatwave. There were some wry and classic lines:   “There was definitely something wrong in the Trunk exchange, for no-one is as sensitive to atmosphere as a crowd of females; especially when those females are telephonists.   switchboard-21   Knowing June is drawing on her personal experience in her experience as a telephonist,  also makes it an absorbing read. I’d never considered before how frantic and overwhelming it could be for switchboard operators working through bushfire seasons, and international crises. The pressure seeing the girls collapsing from exhaustion, the stress on the late roster girls when the evening shifts are cut right back, the strained concentration you need when you have half-a-dozen lines under your fingers… Not to mention of course, the girls who love to listen in on socialites’ private calls. And little details like the possessive emotions the Hello Girls foster towards their telephone sets. And Maggie, the hero of the story, laughing over that wherever she goes, she runs into somebody from the telephone exchange, including when she went to New Guinea on a trip. You can really touch the author herself through those little flourishes, and they make for authentic insights into a particular era and career. And it is through her knowledge of the telephone exchange that Maggie Brynes, the book’s hero is able to help solve the crime.

Melbourne trams

Melbourne trams

Maggie is bouncy and a real character. When she discovers the body of her colleague , her head bashed in quite viciously, with an exotic sounding Buttinski (I’d never heard of such an object, so if you’re curious, buy the book) she first faints and then recovering swiftly, finds the situation both intriguing and exciting. She is forthright in her opinion to all and sundry that the victim was an abominable character. This is a world of milk-carts, and boarding-houses for girls from the country under the supervision – and prying eyes – of landladies like Maggie’s, Mrs Bates. Women are mocked for being spinsters and cold cream is applied at night to keep wrinkles at bay. Gloves are worn in the street for all occasions, and a favourable blessing reflecting the fashions of the time was, ‘may all your children have curly hair.’

Telephone Exchange Melbourne

Telephone Exchange Melbourne

Inspector Coleman, the shabby-looking Inspector in charge of the case is a well-sketched character. The most untidy man Maggie had ever seen, she came to realise that the more haphazard he appeared to be, the closer he had his nose to the scent. Although I still can’t quite fathom out why the investigating police needed Maggie (who was obviously a suspect in the case) and took her along on their investigation to the victims room to help them out with identifying notes. Modern readers used to short chapters and plots that crack along faster than their Twitter feed may find themselves sighing over longer chapters and a complex plot that is content to unwind leisurely. Although I picked the murderer before the denouement, I still enjoyed the puzzle. I found the book unexpectedly  intense and gripping in places and although Maggie’s unflappable perkiness could be irritating, I  enjoyed slipping into an authentic mystery novel of this era. She was a great forerunner for Melbourne female crime writers such as Kerry Greenwood. Hats off to Verse Chorus Press for resurrecting and reintroducing Ms June Wright to a new audience. See the link to Janet Walker’s article below for an interview with Steve Connell from the publishers to discover why an American Publishing press is publishing Australians.

Melbourne 1946 by the Yarra

Melbourne 1946 by the Yarra

And the link below also to Lucy Sussex’s analysis of June’s work. Lucy was fortunate enough to meet June and interview her before her death and I enjoyed reading her impressions on this writer: ‘A charming, elegant, eloquent old lady, as sharp as tacks. We got on well – I knew her type well–that generation of women born in the shadow of WW1, growing up in the Depression, marrying during WW2. They were tough and resourceful. She told me she had a good life, and seemed very contented. Indeed, she said the writing had not been getting any easier, rather harder, as she continued in her career.’  It’s heartening to think that June Wright’s contribution to the field of crime and mystery writing in Australia will not be lost thanks to the vision of this American publishing team – a sweetly ironic twist they are American as June was never picked up by the US in her career – which may well have made a difference to her being able to continue her work. I look forward to reading all of June Wright’s books, if they continue to publish her list. And I leave you with June’s typical astute and wry comment that housewives were well suited to writing, because: ”they are naturally practical, disciplined and used to monotony – three excellent attributes for budding writers”.   Murder in the Telephone Exchange

Some links you may enjoy to explore more on June Wright:

The Lady Vanishes from the Sydney Morning Herald HERE

Juggled Crime Fiction with Motherhood from the Age HERE

– Janet Walker’s article on The Culture Concept Circle on June and an interview with Steve Connell of Verse Chorus Press HERE

An interview with Melbourne Sister in Crime, Mandy Wrangles with author, editor and historian, Lucy Sussex on June, her importance and why she has been overlooked. HERE

Damned to Literary Obscurity by Andrew Nette who examines the cultural cringe towards Australian writers at home and the bias against Catholics that may have prevented June Wright from continuing her writing. HERE

This review is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

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Love and Light,

Josephine xx