It is the school holidays. I’m the first awake as my family were all up late last night. My eleven-year-old girl read The Cursed Child in bed with a torch till past midnight. She has re-read this book over ten times since we bought it for her. J.K Rowling’s world has meant to much to her over the years, just as Enid Blyton formed my childhood joy and provided solace in tough times.
Outside, the weather is bleak and a wind blows hard, making the trees shake around the house. We are hoping for snow to fall in the Blue Mountains, despite the fact we are now in October. Snowfalls are still possible in early Spring when you live above the clouds.
It was vastly different weather conditions in January, 2014, when I sat by the river in Richmond, Tasmania, on a family holiday watching the golden sunlight and the shadows dapple and form patterns on the water.
As with several of my books, an image came to me as swans glided past. I was luxuriating in the peace of the convict-built bridge and village – a place so seemingly tranquil, but which contained shadows.
The scene that came to me was of a young man sitting by the river writing a note, confessing to a crime he believes he is guilty of. Two girls rowing a boat on the water sing ‘Buttons and Bows’ and suddenly the serenity of the sleepy Tasmanian hamlet is shattered when one of the girl’s oars snags on a floating body.
This was the beginning of The Secret Echoes, which I just finished this week. From the very start, I knew it would contain certain elements: the golden Tasmanian sunshine and mellow light, a bridge that harboured secrets, a supposed ghost that haunted the bridge, letters, a poison-pen writer, the death of the town’s most popular golden girl. Swans, secrets and shadows. I couldn’t wait to start writing to discover who the body was in the river and whether the boy confessing to the crimes was as guilty as he believed. The working title of the book was Sweetwater.
As the book progressed those elements remained but it took an unexpected journey. I always knew I wanted to set it in the 1950s, but a 1920s thread also felt strong and a few months into writing, a fairly minor character in the 1880s became increasingly insistent to be featured more. This put the book back about six months, as I had to put it aside to research 1800s Australia before I felt confident about being able to portray this headstrong character and her life and times.
My journal entry for August, 2014 records I had just begun the first draft.
I could not have conceived at that time how dramatically different my life would be from that day I began the opening scene. My family faced several major challenges: we moved house from the city to the country. In our city life we had to deal with bullying developers, bullying children (and their even worse bullying mothers) and a health diagnosis for one member of our family that was shattering.
But throughout the chaos, I kept returning to the book and although it took me a few months longer than planned, I was delighted to finish the final segment, Wattle Dreaming, this week of The Secret Echoes.
I hope it makes it way with confident strong legs out into the world and finds a readership. With the New Moon (the Black Moon) just having passed us, I made wishes and blessings for its journey. And I’m excited to begin the next book, which has been calling impatiently to me for years.
Love and Light,
From above the clouds,
The trees in the village are ablaze with Autumn colours. It’s like you’re in fairyland when the leaves fall around you. I walk everywhere on a scrunchy carpet of leaves.
Carloads of tourists arrive to photograph our streets. I relish feeling the dip in the seasons. We have farewelled daylight savings. The nights draw in faster and the days have a chilly bite.
Our neighbour informs us that there’s a local saying that winter arrives with Anzac Day. It appears to be true. I love Autumn – the transition season but it can also bring a melancholy with the change in light.
I’ve been living a hermit life (as much as possible with an eleven-year-old daughter) to complete my current book. My agent is really enthusiastic about the chapters she’s read. My husband, David thinks it’s the ‘best one yet’ – which is what every writer wants to hear. Technically, it’s been a challenge as I’m working with three time periods (the 1800s, 1920s and 1950). Thank you to readers who have written to me, or commented on my social media, saying how much they are looking forward to this book. The feedback means everything.
I would like to share this photograph I took in Sydney recently on an outing with my daughter to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This beautiful mer-child with the body of a child and the head of an ancient fish is called “To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved in the other.” The artist is Sangetta Sandrasegar.
The work is a comment on our changing relationship to the sea brought about by technology. Also, the disappearance of our marine-life and our move away from mythology and old sea-tales. I love her brooding power as she watches a bustling Sydney harbour and the passing clouds, unnoticed by the crowds below her. You can read more on this piece HERE. I share the artist’s thoughts on our increasing detachment from myths and nature.
I find it essential to my own balance to acknowledge seasons and moon cycles. When friends have commented on my passion for comparative religions and ritual, I think of Joseph Campbell’s quote that if you want to know what a society is like without its rituals – read the New York Times.
Here is a photo of a simple ritual my daughter and I did for the New Moon.
We attended our first Lithgow Ironfest which was a colour and enjoyable day with artisans, jousting, knights, battle re-enactments, steampunks and 1940s army nurses – an enjoyable contrast to the crowds and materialism of the annual Sydney Easter Show.
We’ve also been attending quite a few sessions at our favourite mountains cinema. Mount Vic Flicks is a traditional cinema experience plus the best hot soup in mugs. Once the manager even delayed putting the movie on to give patrons down the highway a chance to make the movie in time as the traffic was heavy. It’s these olde world courtesies that make our new mountain life such a pleasure.
I’ve also been reading a lot. I keep wanting to have time to write a post featuring the books I’ve read this year but with trying to finish my own book at the moment it’s been impossible. But it’s a long list with thrillers and mysteries comprising the bulk. I love staring up at the stars which blaze in a way unimagined in the city. It’s so easy to let go of the trivia and dust of everyday life when you view Saturn through the telescope.
We are now back in Sydney, still reflecting over Heron Island’s turquoise sea and sky, and the ever-gliding shadows in the ocean of sharks, sting-rays and turtles.
Heron Island, one of the great natural wonders of the world, is a coral cay which began forming around 6000 years ago. Situated off the Queensland coast, Heron has been described by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places to see marine wildlife up close. The island is small; it takes about 20 minutes to walk it (double that time when we were with our ten-year-old daughter at night on our turtle hatchling expeditions). We chose Heron to retreat and recharge because there’s no technology there and we were all longing for a break from Wi-Fi and computer screens. Plus, it was turtle hatching time and who can resist baby turtles born in the wild?
I miss circumnavigating the island’s white sands. I loved being in that world of primary-coloured crayon blue sky and sea. If I close my eyes now and attempt to block out the traffic and the workmen’s constant drilling from the factories surrounding me, I can hear a faint lapping of water, and feel within me the elegant unexpected beauty of a turtle swimming past and the graceful otherworldly shapes of the stingrays in their exquisite ocean glide.
I have emerged like the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale from an enchanted underwater world of coral forests, exotic fish and – onshore – luxuriant green foliage that parasolled us overhead in a magnificent jungle. Heron Island is home to up to 100,000 birds. At night the shearwaters return from the sea and the calls to their waiting children sound like the eerie screech of restless, uneasy ghosts.
We wandered for five days in a tourist postcard of Australia, marvelling over this parallel tropical world as we swam with reef sharks and stingrays. We even saw a manta ray on the semi-submersible boat tour of the reef.
As Daisy and David snorkelled out trying to find sharks, I was paddling around knee deep trying to avoid them (the sharks). Then I realised I was surrounded by what looked like twenty fins. For years I’ve had a severe shark phobia, but once you’ve experienced them around you and realise these reef sharks are not interested in you as dinner, then you form a new respect towards these elegant and fascinating beings.
We cheered on baby turtles as they hatched, making their plucky and courageous dash to the ocean. Some sadly were snatched instantly by the waiting sharks, but others were taken by the current to hopefully travel the world before they miraculously return to their original hatching place.
Daisy loved the Junior Rangers programme and made good friends amongst the children there. They called themselves The Clan and bonded immediately over turtles hatching and snorkelling with sharks. Daisy is still thrilled she managed to snorkel with her new friends out to the shipwreck that serves as a breakwater.
Walking on the beach one night, my daughter cried out as a baby turtle fell from the sky at her feet, obviously dropped by a bird. We watched in awe as it managed to upend itself the correct way and continue its journey to the sea. My daughter christened that turtle Lucky and we vowed to return at the same time in 30 years to see if Lucky would return to her original hatching place.
It’s hard to believe that in the 1920s Heron Island was a turtle cannery and in the 1950s tourists rode the turtles for sport. Thankfully, turtle riding was outlawed circa 1960.
And so we are back in Sydney. The jackhammers are jarring as the workmen dismantle the shoe factory next door to make yet more flats and shops. The city seems a grotesque heavy charcoal drawing next to the primary-coloured island with its pristine air and breathtaking scenery.
I hope it is not too long before we make that journey over the sea to Heron Island and enjoy the island’s “Welcome” cocktail. I watched Heron disappear from the boat as we left, farewelling sadly that magical coral cay with its turquoise waters and sea life until it became a distant faint smudge on the horizon.
I could have sat on the sand forever watching the marine life circle the island, listening to the call of birds and staring into the shimmering dramatic blue that stretched forever. But I should feel lucky to have seen it at all.
It’s been sobering learning from the guides on Heron Island about how the impact of global warming and mankind’s impact has had a noticeably detrimental effect on the reef. We are all part of the same web and, as legendary marine biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle warned in the papers this week: “If you like to breathe, listen up, the message is to protect the ocean as if your life depends upon it, because it really does. No ocean, no life. We’re so concerned about the green movement, but without the ocean, there’s nothing there. No blue, no green.”
Hello, October is my birthday month, and in Australia, Spring is carolling the senses. I love the transitional times of nature seasons and Spring always feels optimistic and burgeoning with new possibilities and change. My family spent a garden-filled school holidays exploring not-so Secret Gardens in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. We have just introduced our daughter to the book and film of The Secret Garden, and we were looking for inspiration for our own Secret Garden.
We finally had a family day out at Wendy Whiteley’s magical garden at Lavender Bay. Wendy, grieving the tragic death of her only daughter Arkie, began landscaping the neglected plot of land in front of her Lavender Bay terrace.
In the process of working through her grief, Wendy created a tranquil sanctuary enjoyed by many today. The land which ran alongside the railway track and owned by the NSW Railway Corporation had been overlooked despite its jawdropping harbour views and proximity to Sydney’s Luna Park. In an early and inspiring example of guerrilla gardening, Wendy began the transformative process of creating an oasis where office-workers and families could recharge. A place with so much green energy that the screams from Luna Park doesn’t diminish its nurturing effect. New birdlife now visits the area thanks to the garden. Palm and fig trees jut out from a steep cliff which has been landscaped beautifully with rocks. There’s a special energy to this garden where it’s easy to imagine nature devas and fairies frolicking. With its superb views, and magical touches in the form of bells, hidden bird-feeders and Asian statues, it’s a serene spot to contemplate life, enjoy loved ones and soak up the best of Sydney. The ashes of Wendy’s husband, well-known artist Brett Whiteley, who died of a heroin overdose in 1992 and also the ashes of their daughter Arkie, are buried in the garden in a secret spot.
The garden has come to mean a lot to Sydneysiders. Wendy was a promising art student who later became famous as her husband’s muse, but her creativity and vision with her garden will make a lasting difference to the city of Sydney.
I’ve long been fascinated by Arkie Whiteley, who was beautiful, talented and spoken of very highly by everyone who connected with her. Only recently David and I watched her in Gallowglass, a Barbara Vine psychological thriller and thought how strong her performance was.
The other gardens I enjoyed visiting were at Leura in the Blue Mountains for the town’s annual garden festival. Which I shall continue in Part Two of this post.Thank you for visiting me. If you would like to keep up with me on social media, I am on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. And please share this post if you know of anyone would enjoy it or my writing. Love and Light, Josephine xx ‘
The garden, the studio, friendships, somebody’s life, are all those things that keep you going. I don’t feel any great urge to actually paint again. I want to just go and be the mad old bag lady in the garden. I love the fact that Arkie participated in it a bit and loved it. Sometimes I suddenly realise I’m talking about her or Brett or anybody else in my life as though they’re still alive. And in a way they still are. And then you realise that they’re not there anymore, except in your memory. Or in your bones. In Arkie’s case, she’ll always be there. And in Brett’s case, he’ll always be there in part of me. You know? But in her case particularly.’ Wendy Whiteley on Australia Story
You can read more about Wendy Whiteley’s Lavender Bay garden on the following links below:
Wendy Whiteley transcript from Australia Story HERE
Interview with Peter Wilmot – Bohemian Rhapsody HERE
Designed by Harry Seidler for his parents, Rose and Max, Rose Seidler house in the 1950s must have looked as if it came from outer space. Positioned at the edge of the bush, its cube-like form was a sensation to a Sydney emerging from the depression and two world wars. But the decade’s optimism was impacting all the arts – including the housing industry. Harry Seidler was like all the modernists, looking to the future in his design. His vision excited the public as he overthrew all previous conventions concerning Australian architecture.
Even finding a builder prepared to work on such an innovative house was a challenge, not to mention that building materials were in short supply after World War II. But following a lengthy construction; the Seidlers moved into their new home in late 1950.
Over 17 years, Rose built rockeries, stone walls and she added plants and flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden produced copious amounts of vegetables which she pressed generously upon friends including Max Dupain, who would go home with great boxes full of fresh vegetables.
Today, Rose Seidler House is owned by the Historic Houses Trust and annually hosts the Fifties Fair which my family attended today with a friend.
We travelled to the fair in true vintage style via a genuine 1950s bus.
I loved marvelling over all the vintage frocks. Here are some photos from the parade.
Daisy and I entered the family group section.
But as soon as we spotted our competition – this amazing looking family – we knew we had lost this year. Hats off the mother of this family who spent weeks hand sewing their outfits.
Some of the frocks being judged.
Here’s the beautiful winner of the Ladies section.
Of course the Fifties Fair wouldn’t be complete without some great music. Here are the lads from Rusty Pinto’s Shotdown from Sugartown.
And some swing and jive cats and kittens.
And there’s always the cars too ooh and aah over.
Too soon, the Fifties Fair was over for another year.
Sorry Daisy, that’s not our car.
But here comes the bus to take us home.
And so we departed Rose Seidler House leaving that unique house in its isolated spectacular setting of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
When they occupied Rose Seidler House, the Seidlers had to endure uninvited visitors who would queue outside to peer through the glass walls, awed by the house. It’s hard to imagine what they would have thought if they had a time capsule and could have seen what would be the destiny of their son’s design.
You can read more about Rose Seidler House and the Fifties Fair HERE.
An early morning walk through our local park. My partner, David has gone diving with platypuses in Queensland – a most magical sounding pursuit.
I walk down the early morning city streets where fog has gifted an enchanted hush to the area.
My daughter has been taken by a friend to her netball game for the day. I have an entire day to write. But first, I have to see the fog.
In our local park, familiar paths fork into mysterious avenues.
Other walkers, cameras ready, are awed into silence as we encounter each other on the bush tracks. Sydney Park holds us in a spell.
The simple moments often bring the most joy.
I have time to contemplate the new book I am beginning.
It’s always a disconcerting feeling when starting a new project and you’re stepping into the unknown.
Characters have already formed; the book hovers, as haunting as as the early-morning city fog. An idea that has simmered for years, now beginning to evolve.
Life – a matter of focus: on my right side, swans and ducks glide with knowing beauty through the serene atmosphere.
And on my left side, the rubbish bins amongst the mud.
On Sunday, my daughter goes to her NIDA class and I write in my notebook. Yes, the old-school way of pen to paper and photographs for visual inspiration.
I am now in the 1950s in Tasmania and a doorway to a new world has opened for me. Characters are introducing themselves. The book has the working title of Sweetwater.
One step in front of the other. You never where the path will take you, but it is the act itself, the process that is the enchantment. One step towards the book and more is revealed. Another step and it’s waiting for me, calling me through the fog. One more step.
Spring is coming to Sydney. I can smell the jasmine on the city streets.
Currawong Manor has everything I love in a novel – a decaying house creating a dark and oppressive setting (enhanced by the mountain location), a heightened sense of suspense, a slowly-unfolding mystery, and some sinister characters (including the house and the nearby woods). There are also secondary romantic elements, which add to the tension. The standout feature for me was the sense of place; because it was captured so well, it made me want to plan a holiday to the Blue Mountains sooner rather than later.
For those who love a good gothic-style mystery, add Currawong Creek to your to-read list – I highly recommend it. I’ve added Pennicott’s 2013 novel, Poet’s Corner, to my to-read list.
Thank you, Monique. The rest of the review can be read on her review site HERE. I was most taken with the fact she used a painting from Frederick McCubbin, The Lost Child as I was working with that image on an early draft of Currawong Manor. It also means a lot to me when I can make people long to revisit a place through my prose.
Feeling absolutely helpless in the face of the madness and violence of the world. I’m making things up to keep sane. I’m in control there.
Lately I feel like Toad from Wind In The Willows. I’ve recently moved over from WordPress.com to WordPress.org and being a total Toot, Toot Technophobic, I’m finding it a challenge. I feel as if I’ve swapped my comfortable cruisy car that I’ve tooted along in over the years for a spaceship where I can barely fathom the controls. Hopefully I’m going to be able to work out how to even post this journal. Despite all the stimulation to be discovered online, I must confess I do yearn for the time when writers could just write and not have to fathom the mysterious intricacies of our technological age. I know WordPress.org claim Code is Poetry, but give me Mary Oliver or Keats any day.
I’ve had my daughter home for a fortnight’s holidays and we’ve enjoyed a few jaunts around Sydney and into the mountains to see the Autumn leaves fall. Staying home on holidays is always a good chance to rediscover Sydney. I feel very fortunate to live in an urban inner-city area surrounded by so much bush land. We’ve enjoyed exploring islands around the harbour where we’ve escaped the crowds and enjoyed panoramic views of the cityscape amongst pine and oak trees surrounding silver-grey Sydney Harbour. Such bliss to read a good book with million dollar views to reflect upon. You can hear the echo of long-ago and lost-to-time picnics and imagine the cries of children as they explored the leafy island. I could sense the deep sigh of relief as dusk falls and the ferry arrives to collect the few tourists and the ghosts begin to dance.
Life is filled with change and I feel that Autumn, a transitional time, is heralding a new season for me as well.
Watch this space for future changes. The Autumn light has been golden and mellow. I love this season as we bid farewell to Sydney’s humidity. I am busy planning my new mystery novel which I am very excited about as it’s been coming together wonderfully well. I also have ideas for a crime series I am very, very excited about. I’ve been mulling this one over for a few years.
A busy month filled with activity. In Australia we bid farewell to Summer and welcomed Autumn.
In Germany my Currawong Manor was released. It’s German title is Sturmtochter which translates most poetically to Daughters of the Storm. I hope that my world of Currawong Manor is enjoyed as much as Poet’s Cottage was received there.
In the mail I not only had the delightful pleasure of my receiving my beautiful copies of Sturmtochter, but also Poet’s Cottage (Dornen Tochter) in another edition with its SPIEGEL Bestseller tag.
Just yesterday at the seaside after my daughter’s netball, I spotted a gentleman who sparked a character and an entire addition to a book I have been mulling over for years came to me. Luckily I had my notebook and I began sketching and writing ideas that came to me as I studied him. My husband walking past this unsuspecting man engaged in a brief conversation which was reported back. Strangely enough, notes I had taken regarding his culture, his appearance etc were proven accurate. Plus, he said a most intriguing sentence to David which I can definitely use in the book. I was surprised by the speed of the information triggered by this gentleman that came to me. You must always carry a notebook! More on notebooks in another post.
And here is a shot of my Currawong Manor edit for the Australian version.
And my stunningly beautiful Australian cover for Currawong Manor has now been revealed. I love it so much as it really conveys the darkness and mystery in the books. So happy with my Australian covers for both my mysteries from Pan Macmillan.
Currawong Manor will be released in Australia in June. You can read a synopsis HERE.
In July on the 26th at 3pm, I am going to be at Better Read than Dead in Newtown for a High Tea to discuss murder, mystery, and creativity over cupcakes and tea. If you live locally I would love to see you there.
In Love and Light