RE-VISITING REBECCA

This weekend it snowed in the Blue Mountains, always a joyful event. I spent the time in bed with the fire glowing (no cosier sight), snowflakes drifting outside, wind gusting, dog snoozing beside me, lost in the gothic world of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

 

I’ve read Rebecca several times in my life, and just like my favourite of her books, My Cousin Rachel, my perception of it shifts as I’ve grown older.

Rebecca opens on an iconic cracker of a line: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

The scene is set for a strange, dreamlike world where everything seems so normal on the outside, but unsettling undercurrents are evident.

The narrator is an unnamed young woman. Daphne set herself the technical challenge of not awarding her a Christian name. We first meet the narrator in Monte Carlo where she is a paid companion to the snobby and wonderfully portrayed Mrs Van Hopper. The narrator meets Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, who is recovering from his first wife’s (Rebecca) death a year before in a boating accident.

After a rushed courtship, Max proposes to the narrator and despite grim predictions from Mrs Van Hopper, the woman travels to Cornwall, to Maxim’s grand home, Manderley.

Here the shy and socially awkward young woman, feeling hopelessly out of her class, battles inferiority and envy about Maxim’s first wife, beautiful accomplished Rebecca, whose presence haunts Manderley.

Mrs Danvers, the grim housekeeper, who was devoted to Rebecca, carries malice towards the new Mrs De Winter and goes out of her way to ensure the new bride can’t relax in her role. Everyone the narrator meets praises Rebecca extravagantly and the Narrator becomes more cowed and insecure.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock’s 1940 film release

Maxim becomes more distant and after a disastrous masked ball where Mrs Danvers spitefully excels herself by encouraging the Narrator to dress in the same costume Rebecca had worn at the previous ball just before her death, causing Maxim to retreat further.

After a shipwreck occurs, a second boat is uncovered – Rebecca’s sailing boat with Rebecca’s body in it. Suspicion is cast upon Maxim, as he previously identified a body found washed up on the coast as Rebecca.

The twists continue until the grim ending which contains lines just as potent and evocative as the opening.

 

There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.’ 

Daphne du Maurier began Rebecca in late summer 1937 when she was stationed with her husband Tommy ‘Boy’ Browning in Egypt. Tommy was the Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

 

Daphne made slow progress on the book in Egypt and on their return to England in December she spent Christmas away from her family to finish Rebecca. The book was published by Victor Gollancz in April 1938.

Daphne was toying with themes of jealousy. Tommy had been engaged to marry a beautiful, dark-haired woman, Jan Ricardo. Daphne found herself obsessively thinking about Jan, and comparing herself unfavourably.

Like the narrator in the book, Daphne was introverted, disliking social events and small talk, whereas Jan/Rebecca were extroverted, flamboyant glamorous women. Daphne had found and read old letters between Tommy and Jan and was struck by the self-assured tone of her predecessor and the florid way she signed the R in her correspondence compared to her own spidery writing. Rebecca has this trait in the novel. Tragically, Jan Ricardo committed suicide at 39, throwing herself under a train on August 4, 1944.

Daphne was surprised by Rebecca’s popularity – and also that it was marketed as a romance. Today it is seen as a gothic psychological thriller.

On this read, I was struck by how passive the narrator is. Her very passiveness gives her power. I found myself empathizing more with the absent Rebecca. Even before arriving at Manderley, the narrator is ripping out pages from books that Rebecca has inscribed with her distinctive R. She began to irritate me with her inability to stay in the present and her paranoia.

When Maxim reveals his secret to his second wife, she barely seems to care about his admission.

I also had a lot more empathy for the archetypal crone, Mrs Danvers. She is loyal to her first mistress and she probably guessed the truth of what happened at Manderley. She genuinely mourns Rebecca and it must have appalled and infuriated her that Maxim marries such a young woman a year later.

Lily James as the second Mrs De Winter and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers in the Netflix 2020 version

There is something sickly and rotten about Manderley and its inhabitants. The overlong driveway with overgrown red rhododendron bushes. The sprawl of rooms with a web of secrets contained within.

Daphne and her children at Menabilly

 

Manderley – a conglomeration of Milton Hall in Cambridgeshire, where Daphne visited as a child and Menabilly, a Cornish estate that obsessed Daphne and which she leased from the Rashleigh family – has gripped readers since its first publication. She called Menabilly ‘her house of secrets’ and she loved it, as she admitted, more than she loved people.

That corner in the drive too, where the trees encroach upon the gravel, is not a place in which to pause, not after the sun has set. When the leaves rustle, they sound very much like the stealthy  movement of a woman in evening dress, and when they shiver suddenly, and fall, and scatter away along the ground, they might be the patter, patter, of a woman’s hurrying footstep, and the mark in the gravel the imprint of a high-heeled satin shoe.’

The writing is atmospheric and the words convey a haunting, ominous beat. There is a terrible inevitability to where the novel is leading us. ‘Rebecca has won,’ Maxim says at the novel’s closing chapter.

Rebecca is a dark novel filled with complex characters and shadows. I’ve no doubt that when I re-read it in another five years or so, I’ll have a different perspective on it.

 

The novel has been in print since 1938. In 2017, it was voted the UK’s most popular book of the last 225 years. It’s been adapted for film and television several times and we will see a new adaption in 2020 from Netflix. Not bad for a novel that Daphne declared in a letter to her editor when finishing:

‘Here is the book. I’ve tried to get an atmosphere of suspense. It’s a bit on the gloomy side. The ending is a bit brief and a bit grim.’

 

THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE AND DEAR OLD TABBIES

There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’ 
Even before Coronavirus stopped the world, I had begun re-reading my Miss Marple collection. I always find Marple a tonic in tough times, and her shrewd no-nonsense appraisal of people a great comfort.
I began in January with the first Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage (1930). The elderly spinster first appeared in short stories, later collated into The Thirteen Problems (1932). Miss Marple obviously wasn’t content with just being in short stories, and thankfully for those of us who love her, managed to break through into a full-length novel.
Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool.’
The Murder At The Vicarage introduces us to the world of St Mary Mead, an idyllic, seemingly sleepy English village in south-east England. It has a pub, vicarage, shops and Gossington Hall Estate. Miss Marple’s cottage is Danemead Cottage in Old Pasture Lane.
Colonel Lucius Protheroe, the much disliked church warden, is found shot through the head in the vicarage study. Everybody believes they know who’s responsible, including Miss Marple, one of the ‘old cats’ of the village, who sees everything, hears everything and knows everything! Miss Marple goes as far to declare there are at least 7 suspects who would want the Colonel out of the way.
Just before the unfortunate man’s death, Leonard Clement, the local vicar who narrates the story – and is one of the Seven Suspects – makes the tactless remark that ‘anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service’.
Some of the other suspects include the vicar’s wife, Griselda, a flamboyant character who is a lot of fun. She reminds me of Tuppence Beresfold. I suspect Christie enjoys these young and spirited characters – perhaps reflecting her young and spirited side. She was, after all, one of the first British women to surf standing up in Australia during her Grand Tour in 1924.
Agatha must have been fond of Leonard and Griselda as they also appear in The Body In The Library (1942) and 4.50 From Paddington ( 1957).
The Colonel’s second wife, Anne and her seemingly scatty daughter, Lettice.
Mr Dawes, the new rector under suspicion of stealing from the church collection plate.
Lawrence Redding, the rakish artist and ex-war veteran.
The mysterious Mrs Lestrange, a newcomer to the village.
‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’
The Murder At The Vicarage is filled with red herrings and twists. It also has a lot of humour and some really fun characters and observations on village life. Even in my Australian Blue Mountains village so many decades later, I can recognise some of the personalities Christie has so much fun with.  A Miss Hartnell is described as ‘weatherbeaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor.’ Agatha can sum up so much in so few words.
Inspirations for Miss Marple included the spinster sister, Caroline Sheppard from The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends.
I love Miss Marple because I appreciate that an elderly woman is given such power. Dismissed and overlooked by so many to their cost, Miss Marple is always observing and noticing. Nothing appears to unduly shock her.
At my time of life, one knows the worst is usually true.’ – Miss Marple
I enjoyed revisiting The Murder At The Vicarage. I love Vicar Leonard and Griselda and of course, I will always love Miss Marple. The plot is slightly convoluted and it’s not my favourite of Agatha’s books but it’s a classic Agatha mystery. I am now about to re-read The Thirteen Problems where Miss Marple first appeared in short story form.
Agatha Christie, reflecting on The Murder At The Vicarage, found it sound but thought it was filled with too many characters and sub-plots.
Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid has cited The Murder At The Vicarage as being the novel that inspired her to write detective novels.
Dorothy L. Sayers was so taken by The Murder At the Vicarage and Miss Marple, she wrote the following to Agatha Christie:
‘Dear Old Tabbies are the only possible right kind of female detective and Miss M is lovely… I think this is the best you have done – almost.’

Agatha Christie – The Duchess of Death

THREE HOURS

And You? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
Rumi (1207-1273)
I’m superstitious when it comes to Rosamund Lupton. Not only is she one of my favourite writers, but after reading Sister, her 2011 bestselling debut thriller, I won The Scarlet Stiletto Award. And so, in true writerly superstitious style, I always re-read one of her enthralling stories when I’m working on a book. A new Rosamund Lupton book is always cause for celebration. She is one author I’ll buy the paperback and then end up purchasing the hardcover as soon as I finish it.
Her current book Three Hours is highly lauded and concerns a school shooting set in rural, snowy Somerset. It sounded like a book I’d love, so on the perfect rainy weekend, I opened it with great anticipation.
Like her previous books, Three Hours is a page-turner, clever and stylishly executed. It filled in my rainy weekend admirably.
And this is what evil does, Neil thinks. It exposes your fear and cowardice, your vulnerability and your fragility, makes you confront your mortality; but it also finds courage and selflessness that amaze Neil. He thinks of white type of a white screen, the poem’s beauty invisible until the background screen is turned black.’
A progressive private school in Somerset in England is besieged by two masked gunmen. Children and staff are barricaded inside classrooms, the library and theatre. In a symbolic scene, books are piled against a door to keep the gunmen out. The identity of the gunmen become known, but the question of whether there is a third gunman remains. The multiple characters are given their separate viewpoints in parallel strands.
They include:
The liberal Headmaster, Matthew Marr, who is critically shot in the beginning of the book, and who recognises the voice of the gunman but is unable to voice who it is.
His heroic Deputy Head, Neil Forbright.
Daphne Epelsteiner, the drama teacher.
Two Syrian Refugees taken in at the school, Rafi, and his younger brother, Basi Bukfari. Both suffer from PTSD. Alone and vulnerable outdoors in the snow seeking his brother, with killers on the loose,  Basi is unable to determine what is real and what is genuine. Rafi and Bafi’s journey to England is memorable it its poignant detail such as Bafi’s shame over bedwetting. The brothers cling to the memory of the kindness of strangers and they are unable to trust the normal authority figures.
Not enough money for her, just him and Basi; ten thousand euros each to go via Italy, the safest route, the people smugglers, said. And oh for fuck’s sake, people are bored of this story, all that tugging misery, and you get fed up with desperate people and he gets that, he really gets that, because he’d rather binge-watch a series on Netflix, or listen to Spotify, or play Xbox or hang out with his friends too, who wouldn’t?’  
Detective Inspector Rose Polstein, a pregnant forensic psychologist whose role it is is to get inside the head of the gunmen in order to prevent the tragedy unfolding rapidly.
Beth Alton, an increasing desperate mother trying to get in touch with her son, Jamie, and her mental communications to him. I really enjoyed this character. Whether her action right at the end is something I could relate or believe in, I’m still thinking about.
Hannah, Rafi’s girlfriend who is left caring for the Headmaster, while trying to locate Rafi.
The book rises in intensity as social media picks up the school crisis and the police try to contain the rippling of it via social media to the world as different countries begin to wake up to the drama. Some of these scenes are fascinating for the research on technology and the experts having to encrypt messages and clues from computers with little time to do so.
There are several issues explored in Three Hours: hate crime, white supremacy, radicalisation, teenage alienation, extremism and refugees. The overriding theme of the book is Love.
‘Love is the most powerful thing there is,’ the headmaster tells his student. ‘The only thing that really matters.’
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse…’
The plot device of using Macbeth (the Syrian refugees have a copy of it from their father, and the school is staging it) works well although I’m still wondering if rehearsals would continue with gunmen at their school. The finale (no spoilers) with the trees, didn’t fully convince me, but visually it’s a spectacular scene.
‘Rafi told her once that for him it isn’t Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are the frightening characters, but First Murderer, Second Murderer, Third Murderer, men without names; unknown killers in the darkness.’
FIRST WITCH Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wrecked as homeward he did come.
THIRD WITCH A drum, a drum;
Macbeth doth come.
‘Oh hellfire, Daphne thinks, the tedious Norwegians have finished and the violence is about to start; a spreading evil that leads to children being murdered and men not being able to walk at night, and the world turning dark even in daylight.’
Like The Quality of Silence, some beautifully evocative writing comes from the poetic description of the landscape adding to the melancholy tension. The landscape becomes its own character:
‘A gust of wind batters the police Range Rover. Out of the window, the snowflakes are thick and frenzied, each one an insubstantial feather, weightless, but massed together they are piling on to trees, fences, hills of grass and ploughed fields. Everything weighted down and smothered; the landscape being suffocated.’
Three Hours is a stylish and absorbing read. It has remained with me after I finished the book and I know I will return to it. It’s a call for tolerance and love. I’d love to see it on the Reading List of all schools as well as on the big screen.  I can’t wait to see what Rosamund Lupton offers next.

author photo: Vicki Knights Photography

‘To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden
The moment in the arbour when the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.’
T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’ . Four Quarters (1936) 

CHANGE

2018 has been a year of transformation. Although it has had its
challenges, it has also been a year of stronger focus for me. One of the really
wonderful happenings is that I have just signed with agent/director Oli Munson
at A.M. Heath literary agency in London.
I could not have envisaged a better agency to
represent me, with its  prestigious pedigree and the fact it is celebrating its
centenary next year.  A.M. Heath has been one of the UK’s top agencies since
1919. Its esteemed catalogue of authors include George Orwell, Shirley Jackson,
Joan Aiken and Noel Streatfeild, along with present-day luminaries such as
Hilary  Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell. I feel really honoured to be a part of such
an impressive agency.  For years UK friends have asked when my books will
be published there. Hopefully that day will be soon!
The leaves are turning to golden autumn colours in the upper mountains in
Australia. Because of the delayed summer heat, the trees have been slower to
turn colour this year and aren’t as stunning in their display. The streets
aren’t as choked with the tourists who arrive annually to photograph the trees.
When I’m watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos cracking their seeds among the
golden russet leaves, London seems another world. It has been roughly a year
since we were in the UK and we all miss it. My daughter can’t wait to grow up
and move either to London or New York!

Everything changes. Children grow up. Good news turns to bad and bad to
good. The merciless summer yields to transitional, mellow autumn. We make new
connections, but lose treasured friends. One thing that stays consistent in my
life is writing. I am roughly half-way through the first draft of my new crime
novel.
In other good news my writer partner David
Levell has just completed his latest non-fiction book. It is gripping,
intelligent and with its original research, a fabulous read (totally unbiased
opinion). I’m  always in awe of how David can take really dense historical
material and transform it into a page-turning read. It is his gift.
Wishing you peace, resilience and dreams come true.

 

A Spot of Folly

A Spot of Folly (Profile Books, 2017) by Ruth Rendell – Ten and a Quarter New Tales of Murder and Mayhem.
I loved this posthumously published collection. Ruth Rendell (Baroness Rendell of Babergh since her life peerage in 1977) is one of my favourite writers. The stories are mostly psychological domestic crime but a couple have supernatural themes (the chilling Haunting of Shawley Rectory equals M.R.James) and there is even a dystopian story describing the bleak effects of a nuclear war. The ‘Quarter’ story of the title (Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror) has only three sentences, but every word is a sinister whisper in your brain.
Ruth Rendell in 1978. Image credit: Kenneth Saunders

Ruth Rendell in 1978. Image credit: Kenneth Saunders

Sophie Hannah provides an entertaining and interesting introduction, detailing how her appreciation of Ruth Rendell began.
Ruth Rendell vintage cover
As Sophie Hannah says in her intro: Ruth always knew how imperative it is to hook your reader with a strong opening line. Ruth is famous for her opening line of her 1977 novel, A Judgement in Stone: ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’ It takes a confident writer to begin a crime novel with all their cards exposed. A Judgment in Stone remains gripping throughout and is ultimately poignant and believable.
Ruth Rendell quote
Considers these hooks from opening lines of stories in  A Spot of Folly:
‘You won’t believe this, but last week I tried to murder my wife.’   – A Drop Too Much
‘I don’t believe in the supernatural, but just the same, I wouldn’t live in Shawley Rectory.’  – The Haunting of Shawley Rectory
‘I murdered Brenda Goring for what I suppose is the most unusual of motives. She came between me and my wife.’ – The Irony of Hate
Not a word is wasted in A Spot of Folly. For any writer wanting a master class in crafting suspense and crime short stories, this is a perfect book to study. The characters are chilling, or heartbreakingly vulnerable to their fates, but Rendell always creates believable flawed characters. Ruth began writing short stories in the 1950s and admitted a lot of her early attempts were pretty bad but she soon found her power lay in suspense writing.
The stories were published previously in various formats over a long period of time. I hadn’t read any of them before, so it was a treat to connect with Ruth’s work again. I only wish another manuscript of hers would turn up in some attic. Meanwhile I shall continue to hunt down out-of-print copies of her books to re-read and marvel over her skill.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Baroness Rendell of Babergh

This is a ‘must’ book for the library of any lover of this talented crime writer. As with a lot of Rendell’s work, the stories seem to bury themselves like a deadly creeper vine into your brain, making you reflect upon them for a long time afterwards.
ACCNE9216
Her skill in creating broken, dysfunctional people capable of the most cruel acts is unparalleled. You won’t find shock twists here, as the current publishing trend dictates, but rather more elegant haunting stories that bring some cohesion to the darkness within humanity.

CROOKED HOUSE

I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I either blocked Crooked House from my mind – or I’d never read it.
 Crooked_House_First_Edition_Cover_1949
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.
CROOKED HOUSE NEEDLE
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. 

Agatha Christie

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.
crooked house nursery rhyme
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.
IMG_7952
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.

Photo Shoot

Walking through the gate in the dry stone wall, I sensed the enchantment that had lured me and countless other artistic people over the years. Whenever I sight Norman Lindsay’s romantic-looking sandstone house and the first standing nude statue flanked by lavender, I feel as if I’m entering a bohemian, magical world.
Jennifer playing Shalimar on L and Daisy playing Dolly on R

Jennifer playing Shalimar on L and Daisy playing Dolly on R

Today, I wasn’t here to look at Norman’s artworks, or wander around the gardens as I did many times planning scenes for my gothic mystery, Currawong Manor. Instead I’d come with photographer Nicole Wells, her daughter Jennifer and my own daughter, Daisy, to shoot scenes inspired by Currawong Manor.
Nicole in action

Nicole in action

Nicole, a confirmed bibliophile, has been involved in a project photographing Australian authors dressed as their characters. When she first approached me two years ago, I instantly thought I’d like to portray feisty, flamboyant Ginger Lawson, one of the book’s ‘Flowers’ (life-models for artist Rupert Partridge). Her personality is vastly different to my more introverted character. Ginger has remained with me throughout the years. I often find myself asking in difficult situations – what would Ginger do?
Norman Lindsay at work

Norman Lindsay at work

Rupert – the tempestuous, notorious artist of Currawong Manor – is a synthesis of Albert Tucker, Norman Lindsay, Sydney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. My life models Ginger, Kitty and Wanda, were all inspired by Norman’s life models, especially Pearl Goldman and Rose Lindsay, his wife.
Creepy dolls and selfies

Creepy dolls and selfies

An added bonus with this shoot is that Nicole and I have daughters the same age and the right appearance to play Dolly and Shalimar from the book.
Although it took two years for Nicole and I to finally collaborate on our shared vision due to work, family and my own tree-change to the mountains, I always knew we would meet and make the ‘magic happen.’
Except – disaster first struck when my 1940s outfit, ordered from Etsy, became lost in the mail. It is apparently still heading back and forth between America and Austria (!). But the show had to go on, as Nicole had booked a family break in the mountains, so I improvised with what I could throw together.
After many dry months in the mountains, the longed-for storm-clouds arrived on the week of our meeting. A soft misty rain fell throughout the day of the shoot. The numerous statutes on the grounds watched over us as we re-created the eerie world of Currawong Manor. It felt as if the story’s pages had sprung to life.
Norman Lindsay with seahorse statue

Norman Lindsay with seahorse statue

It was a unique experience to bring a character from a world you have created into three-dimensional being, to be a small part of the fantastical world of Magic Puddings, Sirens, art and bohemia.
Nicole and 'Ginger' with the iconic Magic Puddings

Nicole and ‘Ginger’ with the iconic Magic Puddings

I watched ‘Dolly’ and ‘Shalimar’ running over the grounds, their white dresses glimpsed through the trees. The world felt tilted, as if from any moment along the bush tracks, a centaur, a fairy woman, or Norman himself would go rushing past us, hurrying to his studio.
MORE MAGIC PUDDINGS
When posing on the verandah of the house in Ginger mode, a volunteer came to watch. ‘My god, it’s like watching Rose Lindsay come to life,’ she said.
Rose and Norman Lindsay

Rose and Norman Lindsay

I can still smell the fragrant odours of the bush after the rain, and the velvet air of gentle sensuality and bohemian inspiration that ripples throughout the grounds. My legs ached for days with the high heels I wore, stumbling over the uneven ground of the bush where we shot the swimming pool. Some of you may recall the swimming pool from the movie Sirens. The misty rain added its own radiant light. The eucalyptus trees that laced the sky were the only witnesses to the story being re-enacted. I felt the whispers of my own characters in my ears as Ginger rose within me, with a pout, a snarl, determined to tell her story and strut her vibrant being.
Satyr and Sphinx guarding the bush swimming pool entrance

Satyr and Sphinx guarding the bush swimming pool entrance

Some days, from trees, leaves, and bark, we weave the magic. Some days, the sky and earth echo the timeless truth how stories matter. Art ignites, a character can change the destiny of the reader – or, the writer.
You can read more about the house and grounds of the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum HERE. Thank you to all the staff who were so helpful and friendly throughout the day.
You can see more of Nicole Well’s work HERE.

Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

Hello,
On Friday evening I made the five-hour return train trip to Angel Place for the Sydney Writers’ Festival to see Scotland’s best-selling crime novelist Ian Rankin discuss his work and life with Australian writer Michael Robotham.
IAN RANKIN TICKET
Never leave securing tickets for the hot sessions! By the time I booked, only two seats remained – both in such elevated positions I expected Michael and Ian to do a pre-flight safety demonstration before we taxied over their heads.
image via @Breathhigh twitter

image via @Breathhigh twitter

Despite the vertigo, the hour was engrossing and inspiring. Ian was candid, witty, and clever and Michael was a terrific interviewer – his journalistic experience was in evidence as he led the conversation but still managed to keep himself back.
 I’ve paraphrased below some of Ian’s talk (I was so engrossed in the conversation I missed a lot). This is my own version, so please keep that in mind. You really had to be there to hear Ian’s Scottish accent to appreciate it more. I’ve also added a few details from a 2009 Times interview.
image credit Murdo MacLeod for Guardian

Image credit Murdo MacLeod for Guardian

 I.R spoke about the years when he didn’t think his career as a writer was ever going to happen. He’d published quite a few books but they were languishing in the midlist. One of his lowest points was when he went into his local bookshop after he had about five books published, to discover none of his books were on the shelf. The books of a rival crime writer in the same city featured prominently and when Ian commented, the owner said, ‘But he sells extremely well.’ M.R then related his own story of when he asked his publishers why his books weren’t in a shop and was told they were trying to create a ‘vacuum’. Ian then laughed, quipping that’s exactly what we want! A vacuum.
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Five publishers turned down Knots & Crosses. I always love stories of publishers getting it wrong…
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Ian was in London at this stage. He had a job and was writing on the side, with his wife Miranda Harvey the main breadwinner. His first royalties were so mediocre that Miranda (who sounds an incredible powerhouse and support) suggested moving out of expensive London. They hoped Miranda could support Ian’s writing by teaching English in the French countryside while they grew vegetables and lived a self-sufficient life on a farm in Dordogne. Well, that was the plan, but unfortunately in the French village they moved to, the locals weren’t interested in learning English.
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M.H is the daughter of two university lecturers, and according to the Times 2009 interview, had just started a course in Ancient Greek with Open Uni because she wanted to read Homer in the original. Ian describes his wife as the brains of the family. Ancient Greek would have been her fourth degree. She has also studied psychology. Miranda said she never thought Ian would become as famous as he is. But she always believed writing was a perfectly reasonable career and never saw it as a hobby or as a waste of time, even if it didn’t prove to be a big earner.
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The couple had two sons, Jade and Kit, during this time. Very tragically, Kit was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic condition with severe disabilities – he was partially sighted and unable to speak or walk (in the Times interview, when Kit was fourteen, he was learning to walk). Due to all the stress Ian was having panic attacks and would go on all-night drives, screaming and shouting. He was also trying to write two books a year.
image of Edinburgh Castle via Ian Rankin's website

image of Edinburgh Castle via Ian Rankin’s website

He wrote Black and Blue in 1997, the eighth of his Inspector Rebus books. Eight, a lucky number and the symbol of infinity, proved to be a breakthrough. It was his Big, Angry book. His Why Me, Why Us?
How many people would have given up on the third, fourth, (gulp) seventh book?
REBUS'S SCOTLAND PUB IMAGE
He knew he’d become successful when Miranda phoned him with his six-month royalty statement, saying it was a six-figure statement. The couple thought a mistake had been made but it turned out that his backlist had begun selling from readers newly hooked into Rebus’s world via Black and Blue.
 REBUS'S SCOTLAND PUB WINDOWS
Ian said that he had to write, that it was therapy for him and that crime writers are all lovely people in real life because of the cathartic effect of their writing. You have to watch out for the Romance writers – they’ll stab you in the front! (I have to agree with him on this one. The crime writers I’ve met have, without exception, been the loveliest, most supportive people.)
Image of West Bow via website Undiscovered Scotland

Image of West Bow via website Undiscovered Scotland

With the money that has since flowed to him, he can now provide Kit with the best equipment.
Image from Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts via Youtube

Image from Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts via YouTube

Michael asked about the  documentary, Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts, a three-part series about the nature of evil. Michael informed Ian that it is on Youtube. During the series Ian analysed cultural definitions of evil. He travelled to death row in Texas and spoke to inmates, examined Nature versus Nurture, and  was also exorcised at the Vatican by an Exorcist who had performed 15000 exorcisms. More chillingly, the crew arranged for him to speak to the mother of Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, but Brady insisted that Ian only speak directly with him.
IAN RANKINS EVIL THOUGHTS 1
Ian declined, and when Michael asked why (I’d love to know whether Michael would have done it) Ian replied that once Brady was in your head, you’d never get him out. He described Brady as a seriously sick, clever, sadistic man. Brady wrote a book called The Gates of Janus which Ian said was a horrible book. Its subject matter is basically that serial killers should be revered. It’s banned in the UK, but available in the US.
Ian interviews Juliet Hulme/Anne Perry

Ian interviews Juliet Hulme/Anne Perry

There were some killers Ian said he would be comfortable interviewing, such as the one-time killer Anne Perry (Juliet Hulme), who murdered the mother of her childhood friend, Pauline Parker, in New Zealand in the 1950s. The killing of Honorah Rieper has always really affected me terribly. I’ve always felt so much pity for the mother brutally killed by her daughter and Perry – girls she trusted. Just contemplating how much violence it would take to bash someone’s head in with a brick…
Image of Ian Rankin via Daily Mail Jan 2017

Image of Ian Rankin via Daily Mail Jan 2017

We had now reached the part of the evening when the audience asks questions. My plan was to sneak away and catch my country train back up the mountains. But Michael Robotham is a wily fox and onto this trick, and he requested that people actually ask questions and not make statements (I hate how there’s always someone who has to ramble on with some statement on these occasions; we need a hook to be rid of them so we can return to those whom we paid to see). But hurrah! The people brave enough to take the mic managed to keep me in my seat (at the risk of missing my train) by asking about Ian’s writing routine and other interesting questions.
The Oxford Bar Edinburgh

The Oxford Bar Edinburgh

Ian said that when he’s writing, he goes to his house in Scotland where there’s no television etc and works solidly all day in peace and isolation. At night he goes to the local pub and has a simple meal like fish and chips. He writes the first draft as quickly as he can. He doesn’t know the ending of his books when he begins, just a little of the plot and the main characters. He uses his first draft to find out  what’s going on.
His advice for writing short stories is keep it crisp and have a great opening line.
He advised writers to try to have some fun. Writing should be fun. It should be like creating imaginary characters when you were young.
Image via M.R Twitter of Michael Robotham & Ian Rankin

Image via M.R Twitter of Michael Robotham & Ian Rankin

The session was recorded, and The Sydney Writers’ Festival should be adding it to their website, so if you enjoyed reading this far, you’ll be able to listen to the entire conversation. There was a wealth of inspiration for all creatives. Thank you to Ian Rankin (if he ever stumbles across this) for being so open and genuine and thank you to Michael Robotham for being such a terrific interviewer.  And yes, despite having to forfeit the endless signing queue line and battle the crowds who were thronging down to Circular Quay for the Vivid light display, I did catch my country train.
If you know of anyone who might be inspired and enjoy this post, please share.
Thank you for visiting,
Josephine
All black and white images used of Scotland via this book: Rebus’s Scotland A Personal Journey. photo credits. Ross Gillespie and Tricia Malley
IAN RANKIN SCOTLAND PHOTO BOOK

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.”
J.K Rowling
I’ve included several photos from the night I did a reading at the atmospheric pop-up venue in Sydney, Stoneleigh 50.
stoneleigh
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.
event-for-blog
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.
solstice-for-blog
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