DEVOTION

PATTI SMITH

‘There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a wilful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.’ – from DEVOTION ✨ Happy Birthday Patti Smith. 🌿

PATTI SMITH QUOTE
#pattismith #devotion #whyiwrite#goddess #muse #creativity #inspiration#amreading 

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.
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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.

Endless Night

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

From the film Endless Night

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

Beauty in Thorns

In 1997, I made a pilgrimage to Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England, to pay my respects at the grave of Gabriel Rossetti, the English painter, poet and charismatic co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
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Gabriel was convalescing from an illness when he died in Birchington.
His family and his wife, Lizzie Siddal, are buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. It always seemed to me very sad that Gabriel wasn’t laid to rest near his family and Lizzie.
Was it due to his guilt over having dug up his dead wife’s coffin seven years after she died to retrieve a volume of poetry he buried with her? The exhumation and retrieval of the worm-eaten book of poems is one of many sensational stories swilling around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their life models.
I also visited Lizzie Siddal’s grave at Highgate on a private tour. After years of being obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites, it was an emotional experience to see the final resting places of these fascinating personalities who continue to inspire the work of artists across time.
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I was reminded of Gabriel and Lizzie reading Kate Forsyth’s current book, Beauty in Thorns, which I devoured in a few nights. Beauty in Thorns tells the story of the tangled lives and loves surrounding the famous painting, The Legend of Briar-Rose by Edward (Ned) Burne-Jones. Jones was obsessed with the Sleeping Beauty myth which Kate parallels with the lives of the PRB and their wives, muses, mistresses and daughters. His finished work was rapturously received in 1890 and earned the artist a staggering (for the time) 15,000 guineas. In 1893 he was knighted.
Margot as Sleeping Beauty
Beauty in Thorns is a very ambitious project but is perfectly suited to Kate with her love of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, poetry, mythology and fairy tales. The story is told via four different women (stunners, as they were known by the artists):
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Jane Morris nee Burden, a child of the slums, adored by both Rossetti and William ‘Topsy’ Morris whom she married. Later, with the permission of the wonderfully understanding Topsy, she carried on an affair with Gabriel at Kelmscott Manor in the summer of 1871 while Topsy travelled to Iceland.
Rossetti drqwing of Lizzie Sidda;

Rossetti drawing of Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal who had art and poetry aspirations but whose art was never taken seriously, and who suffered an addiction to laudanum and what appears to be an eating disorder.
Georgiana  Burne-Jones nee MacDonald (Georgie in the book), the daughter of a Methodist minister, who married Edward Burne-Jones.
Georgie’s daughter, Margot.
Margot
I was very taken with Georgie’s character as I knew  little about her, being previously more interested in Lizzie and Fanny Cornforth. I was disappointed that Fanny was only touched upon in the story as I’ve always felt very drawn to her, but I read in a blog post of Kate’s that, with regret, she had to cut Fanny as she already had too many viewpoints and a very large manuscript.
Sleeping Beauty painting
Georgie was wonderfully portrayed. She had to endure a lot from her husband and his affair with the incredibly flamboyant Maria Zambaco, but she managed to keep her relationship strong with Ned. Georgie was interested in socialism and in trying to make the world a better place for women. Margot was her father’s muse  for her fairy-tale painting of Sleeping Beauty.
Jane Morris

Jane Morris

For people who may already be familiar with the stories and scandals surrounding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,  Beauty in Thorns will still enthral with the skilful way Kate blends the strands of these very different women and their life experiences together. It is fascinating to see the Brotherhood through the eyes of the women in their sphere and how they influenced the artists.  Kate really brings out a more empathetic dimension to the women. As unorthodox as the Brotherhood, they modelled for the artists at a time when to do so was considered equal to being a prostitute, but they were happy to defy convention.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

If you come to the book with little or no knowledge of these talented, innovative young men and the women who inspired them, you will be enlightened as Kate really brings the world of the artists to life.
Outside 16 Cheyne Walk London where Rossetti lived from 1862

Outside 16 Cheyne Walk London where Rossetti lived from 1862

The research in Beauty in Thorns is incredibly detailed, although never at the expense of the story. Kate had a couple of research trips to the UK and she has read unpublished poetry of Gabriel Rossetti’s to Jane in the Specials Collections Reading Room at Bodleian Library at Oxford. This attention to primary research really shows through in Beauty in Thorns. I can’t imagine how beautifully moving it would have been to read Gabriel’s passionate poetry in his own hand.
Rossetti's dashing self portrait which hangs in my front room

Rossetti’s dashing self portrait which hangs in my front room

I had no idea, about Mummy Brown paint, a mindboggling detail that really shocked me. And William Morris wallpaper sales being badly affected by the arsenic scandal.  I loved Kate’s hypothesis that Jane’s ill-health in London may well have been due to arsenic-treated William Morris wallpapers. Jane Morris’s symptoms are the same as arsenic poisoning. From Kate’s fascinating blog on this topic HERE
My favourite Fanny Cornforth

My favourite Fanny Cornforth

Lizzie’s childhood was filled with cruelty with her mother’s taunts about how plain she was. It must have been overwhelming to have been accepted as a Stunner by Gabriel and his fellow artists, but it came at a price. Her descent into laudanum is poignantly captured in the book. When Kate first came to writing Beauty in Thorns, she believed that Lizzie had committed suicide but as she continued to work on the book, she changed her mind. Her blog post on this can be found HERE.
Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal

Kate also became convinced through her research and reading diaries and letters of the period that Lizzie did suffer from an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa was not recognised in the mid-19th Century and was thought to be consumption.
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Previously, I’d never felt particularly drawn to Jane Morris, but Beauty in Thorns helped me view her in a different light. Like Lizzie, she had a harsh childhood. She was forced to be sexually active from the age of nine, and had to wring the necks of pigeons for the dinner pot. Jane had to work on her lower-class accent and rough ways to be accepted into Topsy’s world.
Jane Morris posed by Rossetti
Eating an orange for the first time becomes an overwhelming sensory experience for Jane: ‘Jane ate it greedily, then another, trying to think what it tasted like. Sitting with the sun on your back on a hot summer’s day. Orange hawkweed growing out of a crack in a churchyard wall. The sound of singing in a hayfield as women raked the mown grass into piles. The glint of a new sovereign.’
I also had no idea that her later years with her children were as traumatic with her daughter’s tragic onslaught of epilepsy.
Kate’s skill with recreating the world she is writing about is paramount to this book. Deft touches really make you appreciate what it was like to be a woman at this particular time.
I loved Beauty in Thorns and I think it is one of my favourite of Kate’s books.
I’ve been reading and enjoying her work since The Witches of Eileanan was published with the first book Dragonclaw in 1997.
photo of Kate Forsyth by Adam Yip

photo of Kate Forsyth by Adam Yip

I feel very grateful to have seen both Gabriel’s and Lizzie’s graves. I carried flowers to Rossetti and I admit to weeping a few tears over his and Lizzie’s graves. May their vibrant, passion and energy continue to dazzle and inspire artists and writers around the world with their wild, idealistic visions of a more colourful, beautiful word.
May they both rest in peace.
If you have enjoyed this post, please comment below or share with kindred spirits. 

Winter Solstice

Hello,
 In Australia we have just passed the Winter Solstice. On the weekend my family joined the many thousands cramming Katoomba’s main street to witness the annual Magic Winter Festival.
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One of the joys of life above the clouds is being part of such a vibrant, creative, colourful community.
The silence and spectacular vistas in the Blue Mountains act as a magnet and muse for a diverse range of creative people.
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Since moving up here, I’ve finished two books. Fingers crossed they will both find publishing homes.
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Thank you to Yours Magazine for the feature of the five books on my bedside table. If you’re in Australia, this edition is available for the next fortnight.
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For those curious about what I was currently reading months ago at the time of the interview here is the longer version of what appears in the magazine. Thank you Yours for having me talk about books.
Women who run with the wolves
Women who Run with the Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. – I was delighted Emma Watson chose this book as her Feminist bookclub read, for Our Shared Shelf, ( March/ April 2017 ) as for  years I’ve returned to it. Dr Estes, a Jungian analyst and cantadora storyteller’s Women who Run with the Woves, is rich in myth, fairytale and folk stories, which Dr Estes uses to illustrate her ideas about the female unconscious. With each re-reading, I’ve come to appreciate its rich characters and symbols such as La Loba – The Wolf Woman, Skeleton Woman and Vasalisa the Wise. It’s an excellent book to read just before sleep, as your dreams are always richer and you awake feeling inspired.  Dr Estes says stories are soul vitamins and medicine, and so Women who Run with the Wolves is a heady tonic for the soul.
In the Woods – Tana French. I recently re-read In the Woods, Irish writer Tana French’s debut book set in the invented Dublin Murder Squad, which spawned a series of bestselling books.
IN THE WOODS
In the 1980s in a Dublin suburb, three children enter the woods. Only one of the children ever returns – his shoes filled with blood, in a catatonic state, unable to remember what happened to his friends. Twenty years later, Katy Devlin’s body is found raped and murdered on an archaeological dig site – on the sacrifice stone. The investigating detective is Rob Ryan – the 1980’s child who was originally found in the woods, disguising his true identity as he takes on the case with his partner, Cassie Maddox. In the Woods, is beautifully written and crafted. Even though I already knew the denouement, it still kept me turning pages until past 2am. It is fantastically creepy, but also tender, filled with sadness and a yearning for childhood, lost friends, and a way of life long left behind with modern development. As with all of Tana French’s books, the ancient shadows of the Irish landscape, tinge the present in chilling ways that will haunt you.
 The Virgin Suicides
The Virgin Suicides – by Jeffrey Eugenides, this novel is disturbing for its bleak subject matter, where five sisters kill themselves, narrated through the eyes of the neighbourhood boys in their American town. I loved the writing in this novel, but some of the characters left me cold. This is one of those books where I’m going to have to re-read it in a few years to see if I have a different interpretation. I loved the Sofia Coppola movie version, but the novel is even more confronting and although it’s dreamlike, there is a detachment to the text. But despite its coldness the prose is beautiful and the story bizarre enough to linger.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – I prefer Dark Places to her more commercially successful, Gone Girl. Flynn’s second book, is gripping, disturbing and poignant. The story of the Day Family massacre is narrated in multiple viewpoints, who were axed to death in 1985. Only two family members survive, seven-year old Libby and her older brother, Ben, who both relate their accounts of the days leading to the murders. Ben, was a moody, deeply dysfunctional teenager, and it is Libby’s testimony that puts him in gaol. Libby, in the present day thread, is contacted by the macabre Kill Club, who are obsessed with high profile crimes, trying to role-play and solve them. As Libby begins to revisit her memories of the deaths of her family, she begins to doubt her own testimony.
DARK PLACES
This is not just a book about a grisly murder, it is a book about poverty and how it bankrupts you on all levels. You won’t be able to put it down, or sleep with the light off.
The Naughtiest Girl in the School
The Naughtiest Girl – Enid Blyton – I’ve been enjoying reading these with my tween daughter in bed together. I was never a huge fan of the Naughtiest Girl series growing up, as I loved the Famous Five mysteries and the Mallory and St Clare boarding school stories more, but with age, I’ve come to appreciate, spoilt, wilful Elizabeth Allen and her efforts to get herself expelled from Whyteleafe School when her fed-up parents decide to board her out. Whyteleafe, permits the pupils to govern each other and the children are expected to help out around the school and display responsibility. Miss Belle and Miss Best (The Beauty and the Beast) headmistresses are very progressive for a 1940s school. The Naughtiest Girl is loads of fun and Elizabeth allows for plenty of laugh out loud moments with her rebel, naughty ways as she tries hard not to fall in love with Whyteleafe.
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Wherever you are in the world – Solstice Blessings. I have more photos of the Winter Magic Parade on my Facebook and Instagram if you are interested. Above the clouds, I am longing for snow.
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 I posted this poem The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer to my Facebook Author page for Solstice. It’s one that seems to resonate and touch a lot of people so I hope it inspires you in this Solstice/New Moon time.
DUSK
‘It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of future pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy. I want to know if you can see Beauty, even when it is not pretty every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.’ – The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks

Secrets, Lies and Deceptions in Elizabethan England.

Secrets, Lies and Deceptions
‘And if dreams were locks, we’d all possess keys.’
I  loved Karen’s The Brewer’s Tale (Harlequin Australia, 2014) so I was looking forward to reading The Locksmith’s Daughter (2016, Harlequin) and it didn’t disappoint.

SEE AND KEEP SILENT

The Locksmith's Daughter

The Plot:
The Locksmith’s Daughter is set in the Elizabethan era, when locks were handmade, not picked up from your local Coles. Mallory Bright, only daughter of Gideon Bright, a locksmith in London,  becomes a master locksmith under her father’s tutorage.
SIR FRANCIS WALSINGHAM AND QUEEN ELIZABETH 1
After she runs off with a total cad, Mallory has become a disgraced woman and feels rejected by her emotionally distant mother. Francis Walsingham, protector of Queen Elizabeth 1 (one of the true figures from history that Karen intertwines her fictional novel around) enlists Mallory to engage in spying for him. After Mallory is witness to a public execution of Jesuit priests, she finds herself questioning the work she has been engaged to do. She realises she is entangled into a violent and sinister world, where people she previously trusted, like Sir Francis, may prove to become fatal enemies.
map of london from Elizabeth 1 time
Karen evokes setting so well. You’re transported into Elizabethan London, a world of suspicion and fear ruled by political and religious biases.
This from a scene where The Locksmith’s daughter has just left the fabulously named Seething Lane (a true London lane that Karen visited on her research trip), on an early spying assignment with one of the servants, Casey:
The smell from the butcher’s stalls lining Cheapside was pungent. Blood, offal and all manner of refuse flowed from the tables where  freshly slaughtered carcasses were hung on huge hooks to drain or flung upon blocks to be dismembered. The dull thuds of blades hewing through bone and gristle were percussive, interrupted by the loud conversation of the men, their calls to attract custom, the clink of coins and the banter of buyers. In the dark alleyways and ginnels, the plaintive bleats of animals could  be heard, as if they knew what was in store. I maintained a stoic expression and forged ahead, as if it were my practice to pound these streets each day, seek out fare for my household and barter with a ruddy-faced and grime-covered butcher.
I was glad when we reached the conduit and turned into Walbrook Street. Casey steered me into the smaller lanes, away from the press of bodices, carts and horsemen, taking us past St Pancreas. Vendors stood beside stalls or outside shops crying out their wares; women lifted ripe fruit from laden baskets, tempting passerbys with cries of ‘oranges and lemons’, ‘apples for sale’; strings of onions dangled, plump radishes, grey oysters, drooping coneys and pigeons by the brace. Still others sold ribbons, lace, cloth, iron nails and candles.’
Character descriptions of people, both fictional and historical are also deftly done. Consider here this portrayal of the Queen:
Her Majesty was nothing but a grotesque parody of womanhood. Wrinkled like a beldame, she was stick thin, her flesh capturing the power and creams in which she was liberally doused. Her whitened cheeks were sunken, her dark eyes were cold and lifeless stones that scoured the people at her feet but didn’t see them. The brows arched above her deep-set eyes were almost non-existent. God forgive me, but the men who set such store by my Queen’s grace and beauty were either bewitched or engaged in gross falsehoods.
Only her hands, one clasping an elegant fan, the other raising the pomander to her nose, suggested something of these lyrical descriptions. They were long-fingered, creamy, be-ringed and elegant.
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Warning! – there are some very graphic stomach-turning scenes. One was when Mallory drags her friend Caleb to witness the execution of the priest Campion and his conspirators who are executed publicly with evisceration. This scene is really shocking as Brooks doesn’t hold back on any of the gruesome details. Karen, really makes you feel as if you’re witnessing the execution.
Karen writes about the effect of the execution on Mallory:
I’d seen death before, many times. Mamma’s wee babes, precious little scraps of bloody flesh that never breathed. When Goody Kat next door died, I helped prepare her body. Oft-times, the poor passed where they slept, propped against a house or church only to be found once their skin was cold, their eyes opaque, the following morning. The streets were littered with dead animals: cats, dogs, butcher’s refuse, rats, their corpses pecked by  hungry birds. Then there were the plague carts rumbling through the lanes, the white-blue limbs of the dead jutting from beneath the cloths thrown over their indignity. Aye, death haunted the sky and our lives the way the mist did the winter morns.
torture chamber

Equally disturbing are the scenes where Mallory is tortured in the Tower of London by  sexual sadist, Richard Topcliffe. Having visited the Tower of London, it’s too easy to imagine the cruelty that people endured within its stone walls. Topcliffe was, horrifyingly, a real person and claimed a friendship with Queen Elizabeth, even boasting the Monarch allowed him to touch her breasts. The mention of his name evoked terror, but he was protected and even given his own torture chamber in his house to ply his trade. He was described as a ‘cruel creature, who thirsted for the blood of Catholics’. Chillingly enough, Karen says in her detailed Author notes, that the descriptions of Mallory’s encounter with the sadist can’t match the real reports on some of the depravities he inflicted upon women.
Seething Lane Skulls

Seething Lane Skulls

All of the characters are complex, with shades of shadow and light. The anti-hero, Nathaniel is a pirate figure and a very endearing rogue. Mallory isn’t some unblemished maiden but is a fully fleshed out woman with a murky past.
Karen Brooks
Karen writes a detailed Author’s Note at the end describing how she combined fictional and factual characters. Her inspirations and very thorough research make for fascinating reading. I loved discovering more about the locks themselves in the story and the often deadly poisons and traps within the locks used in the Elizabethan era. The spying trips that Mallory embarks on, are also suspense-filled.
A really engrossing historical read containing meticulous attention to research but is also a page-turning story to lose yourself in.
  The website of Karen Brooks  HERE
SEE AND KEEP SILENT

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

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

Wisdom from The Company of Wolves

Little girls, this seems to say / Never stop upon your way / Never trust a stranger friend / No-one knows how it will end / As you’re pretty, so be wise / Wolves may lurk in every guise / Now as then, ’tis simple truth / Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.
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Granny: Your only sister, all alone in the wood, and nobody there to save her. Poor little lamb.

Rosaleen: Why couldn’t she save herself?

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Rosaleen: And then they lived happily ever after?

Granny: Indeed they did not!

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Rosaleen: Is that all you left of her? Your kind can’t stomach hair, can you? Even if the worst wolves are hairy on the inside.

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The Quality of Silence

Rosamund Lupton is one of my favourite authors of literary psychological suspense novels. I loved the gripping Sister, an international bestseller, and her brave, quirky Afterwards, and so couldn’t wait to read her latest book, The Quality of Silence published by Little, Brown.
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The plot sounded outlandish. Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska in search of Yasmin’s husband,  wildlife documentary maker Matt. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Yasmin believes Matt survived a gas explosion and catastrophic fire in the village Anaktue where he was staying. All the inhabitants of Anaktue were reported to have been killed.
image via Rosamund Lupton

image via Rosamund Lupton

Refusing to listen to the authorities, and trusting only her instincts, Yasmin heads into Alaska’s frozen wilderness to find her husband. She manages to secure herself a 18-wheeler truck, driven initially by a poetry-loving Afghan, Adeeb, who falls ill. Yasmin quickly teaches herself how to drive it, enduring a treacherous storm in her quest to find her husband.
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As their journey progresses, mother and daughter slowly realise they are being followed by a malevolent, silent presence. Disturbing, graphic images of mutilated animals are posted to their computer. The bleak, blistering hardships of their alien icy landscape is now matched by the equally chilling knowledge they are being stalked. Despite my early reservations about whether a mother would expose a vulnerable ten-year-old child to such a treacherous expedition, Rosamund’s writing is so evocative, I was soon absorbed in this unusual story.
Duel

Duel

This book reminded me of a literary version of the 70s Spielberg movie, Duel, in which Dennis Weaver is pursued and persecuted by an anonymous truck driver. Scripted by Richard Matheson (who also wrote the original short story published in Playboy), Duel haunted me when I was a teenager and is a cult favourite. It has parallels to The Quality of Silence with its silent menace, and unbearable tension of how quickly you can become prey to a stranger. Spielberg understood that people fear the unknown more than the known. The unknown of  the blue lights following Yasmin’s truck and why tortured animals are being sent to their computer provides page-turning tension in The Quality of
Silence.
“He is right behind me. My legs are too heavy to move. I can’t run away. The monster clamps his jaws all the way around my face and my arms and legs and his scissor-teeth are biting into every part of me.”  Rosamund Lupton – The Quality of Silence
map of Alaska via author's website

map of Alaska via author’s website

The Quality of Silence is also about the connection we share on earth. The potential we have to destroy ourselves is always pulsing beneath the words of the novel. We are not separate. In our most isolated places on earth we are able to communicate by means of the internet, and we have more power than we realise to make effective change or create total destruction.
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The book is a split narrative between third-person, the mother and daughter and both voices and their alternating  perspectives work beautifully.  I loved Ruby’s thoughts on language and her Twitter feed – @Words_No_Sounds is one I’d follow in a heartbeat.
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All the characters are strong. Yasmin is described as a ‘gutsy-lady’ by other truckers. Ruby is eloquent, off-beat and a victim of bullying at her school. The Inupiaq people are absorbing to read about. There is a sub-plot where Matt has kissed one of the Inupiaq women, and some reflection on marriage, family and communication in all its forms, both internal and oral language. But even the strong characters and plot take a back-seat to stunning descriptions of the wilderness which becomes a looming, fantastically beautiful character in itself. The heart of this novel is the descriptive phrases of the Alaskan winter landscape.
“Early one morning, the snowy landscape had eyes, looking at him with bright intent. Only when the snow moved did he see that a part of the snow was the feathers of a white ptarmigan, nesting a few feet from him.
In summer he’d come here and seen fawn-feathered ptarmigans and brown-furred hares and tawny-grey foxes and brindled wolves ; now their feathers and fur were white, as if they were made out of the snow itself. On his final evening, he’d seen a snowy owl in flight, it’s white wings spanning five feet across ; it was as if the bird had been cut from the sky.” – Rosamund Lupton -The Quality of Silence 
As always, Rosamund’s eloquence evokes the images that make this book such a scintillating pleasure to read.
I didn’t see the denouement coming and the twist was a satisfactory conclusion to a poetic and thrilling read.
Once again Rosamund Lupton has trumped with an innovative, dazzling, elegant page-turner.
author
Rosamund Lupton was found to be deaf in one ear when she was in Primary school. She has an interest in stars and this darkly imaginative novel, set in the Alaskan frozen wilderness, arrived in her head almost fully formed as she drove down the motorway in London.
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 Rosamund Lupton’s website HERE