Research music for a Monday morning. #amwriting
Research music for a Monday morning. #amwriting
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.
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?
Rosaleen: And then they lived happily ever after?
Granny: Indeed they did not!
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.
I discovered Black Rabbit Hall on an outing to the Blue Mountains, after finishing my train book on the journey up. Fellow bibliophiles will understand my panicked dash to the local bookshop before my city train was due. Browsing in Blackheath’s Gleebooks, I picked up Black Rabbit Hall with its intriguing title and lovely cover design. I was instantly hooked by the synopsis: mysterious Cornish mansion near creepy woods, the shadow of the past creeping into the present, family secrets held over decades – exactly the sort of book I love to read and write. Also the blurb by acclaimed Tasmanian John Harwood – who has achieved international success with his literary Gothic novels The Ghost Writer, The Séance and The Asylum – decided me. I’d never heard of Eve Chase, which isn’t surprising as Black Rabbit Hall is her debut novel, but it was proof that you don’t necessarily need glossy author photos and a large publicity campaign to sell a book. Sometimes the product sells itself. My trip back down the mountain passed in a blur as I lost myself in the world of Black Rabbit Hall. I was disappointed to find myself back in Central Station in Sydney, as I wanted to keep reading. The books parallel storyline is set between the 1960s and the present day. Lorna Smith in the present-day thread is scouting a suitable venue for her wedding, and finds herself drawn to the mysterious, crumbling, faded gentry beauty of Pencraw House (Black Rabbit Hall) against her fiancée’s wishes.
In the 1960s thread, the Alton Family, who spend country holidays at Black Rabbit Hall, suffer a tragedy. Life for the Alton children alters forever, and the families destiny entangles with Lorna Smith’s in the present day thread. Black Rabbit Hall is an intrinsically English novel, and does remind me in tone of Dodie Smith’s, I Capture the Castle. The 1960s thread, narrated by the very likeable Amber Alton, is strong and I revelled in the description of the the kitchen at Black Rabbit Hall, with ‘cornflower-blue walls – blue to keep the flies away – and a larder with broken lock. Bread dough rising in china bowls like pregnant bellies: pig guts soaking in salted water before being stuffed and turned into hog’s pudding; tin buckets writhing with conger eels, buckets of crabs.’ And Cornish food such as the dreaded ‘Kiddly’ broth. Eve Chase deftly brings the mysterious hall, with its groaning pipes, black and white tiled hall and constant power cuts to life with lines such as: ‘drawers stuffed with all manner of odd things: ration books, gas masks, a loaded pistol, a sheaf of golden curls from a dead baby, who, Daddy says, would have been our great-aunt had she lived. Oh yes, and Princess Margaret’s glove. That’s about as exciting as it gets.’
I enjoyed the slightly surreal touches, such as the image of vast amount of rabbits around the hall at dusk. The hall faces west, and the silhouetted rabbits resemble shadow puppets, giving Pencraw House its name. Time is ‘syrupy slow,’ none of the clocks work properly, and nobody seems to care.
It’s a beautifully written page-turner. My only very slight gripe was that the ending was a little too tidy and happy-ever-after for my taste, but I loved the journey into Black Rabbit Hall and it has stayed with me. This is one of those plot-driven story books that you want to gobble up, and keep the pages turning past the witching hour. I look forward to reading Eve’s next novel. Black Rabbit Hall is published by Michael Joseph. “If Daphne Du Maurier and Ruth Rendell in Barbara Vine mode had been able to collaborate, they might have come up with something like Black Rabbit Hall: Rebecca meets A Fatal Inversion, so to speak. But Eve Chase is very much her own novelist, as fascinated by the varieties of love and affection that hold families together as by the forces that can tear them apart. A remarkable debut from an exceptionally talented and accomplished author.” —John Harwood, author of The Ghost Writer Eve’s website can be found HERE All images in this post with the exception of my train book photo via Eve’s Pinterest Inspiration boards. HERE.
Kate updates her very inspiring website regularly with loads of generous writing tips and fascinating interviews, and also runs writing retreats in the Cotswolds through the Australian Writers’ Centre. I hope you find as much inspiration as I did from Kate’s Ride on the Rhino.
Hello, Happy New Year Greetings. With all the traumatic events happening globally I’ve felt in need of creative and soul inspiration, and so I’ve begun a new series on Tale Peddler called The Eye of the Rhino. It’s from Stella Adler, who said success in the arts requires ‘the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose’. One observation I’ve made with my creative friends is they are tenacious. Creative success seems to involve a synthesis of Talent, Timing, Tenacity and Luck and it’s the tenacity aspect that interests me. What inspires some individuals to pursue their dreams despite inevitable disappointments along their path? I say inevitable as I’ve observed that even among my more successful creative friends, they have still had to overcome obstacles that you would never hear about on their social media accounts. I hope you enjoy this series and get as much inspiration from it as I do. First up is Anna Romer. I’ve known Anna for many years. I thought she’d be an interesting artist to begin with as she had a long apprenticeship until her success with her book Thornwood House, an Australian Gothic mystery published by Simon and Shuster in September 2013. Thornwood House broke though Anna’s years of writing in oblivion and was a bestseller. Anna was a graphic artist and has travelled widely. In an alternative career path she’d have made a powerful energetic healer as she does unforgettable massages (personally experienced). Anna’s a highly individual person and one of the more interesting authors I’ve met. Shunning a lot of technology, she prefers the rhythm of her own imagination and the pulse of the bush that permeates her writing. Lyrebird Hill (her second novel, also an Australian Gothic mystery) was released in September 2014. Anna and I share a love of communicating by letters, Spirituality, Joseph Campbell. I’m delighted Anna accepted my invitation to discuss her creative inspirations for Eye of the Rhino.
J – I know your writing path wasn’t a smooth trajectory. You spent many years working on another project which hasn’t yet been published. Can you talk about how it felt to work on that project and what it was like to cross over to the new genre you are working in with Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill?
You’re quite right, my writing path was long and winding – and there were times I was convinced it was leading nowhere. Luckily for me, I’m utterly addicted to the writing process, and that’s what kept me going. One of my great passions along the way was a historical novel I worked on for many years. It was an adventure story set in a time when people were restrained by archaic traditions and strict social laws. My favourite thing about writing this story was developing characters who were feisty and strong-willed, who flouted those laws and went their own way. The research for this project was intensive. I spent years losing myself in books and pictures and movies, drawing maps and diagrams and timelines and, even dreaming about my characters until they felt like dear old friends. I was totally obsessed! Sadly, the plot was very flawed. In my mind’s eye I could see a beautiful, richly-layered adventure story, but I didn’t have the skills back then to pull it into shape. My agent suggested I set the story aside for a while and work on something with less demanding research. So I dumped my beloved project in the bottom drawer with all my other rejects, and went back to the drawing board. I decided my next novel would be set in Australia – a simple mystery story about a woman who inherits an abandoned house. I would throw in all the elements I loved: forgotten old letters, a buried diary, an overgrown garden, and a star-crossed love story. Most importantly, I’d keep my research minimal. Famous last words. Before I knew it, my story had grown convoluted roots that reached back to the 1940s. Suddenly I had a mountain of memoirs and war diaries and biographies to read! I wasn’t really fazed about tackling a completely new genre. Early on I’d attempted to write a horror-thriller (while I was under the thrall of Stephen King), and when that bombed I tried my hand at romance, crime, fantasy. Each of the seven novels in my reject drawer is a different genre! But thanks to the lessons I learned from all my failed projects, I developed a much better grasp on how to structure a novel. I learned that each genre has its own specific requirements; romance focuses on the relationship, while a thriller constantly threatens the hero’s life.
And yet the core of any story is the same. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” which explores the idea that all stories – myths, fairytales, and legends – share the same basic components. A troubled character embarks on a quest to solve her problem; she undergoes a series of tests that ultimately transform her; by sacrificing what she wants, she achieves what it is she most needs – and in the process, she becomes whole. This theory sounds formulaic, but I found it wonderfully freeing. Once I started working with it, all other elements specific to genre fell into place. Suddenly my plot was holding together. The characters were making sense. The story had purpose, and because I now knew where I was going, the process became much more fun. J – What has kept you going throughout all the years you have worked away in solitude on your books? What helped to foster your own self-belief in your talent and enabled you to have a rhinoceros skin?
I’d always loved romantic adventure stories that changed the way I thought or felt – and that’s what I wanted to write. But my early attempts made it clear how much I needed to learn! The thing that kept me going all those years, was the challenge of somehow achieving my vision. It was like a carrot dangling just ahead of me, always out of reach – but soooo delicious-looking. I wanted to do justice to the stories I could see in my head, and the only way to do that was to develop my storytelling skills. I embarked on a mission, reading every how-to book I could lay my hands on, trying every technique. More importantly, I wrote and wrote. And whenever I looked back over my work and found even the tiniest improvement, a fresh rush of excitement would spur me on. I was never under the illusion that I was a particularly good writer. My self-belief fought a constant battle with my self-doubt. But I really loved learning about plot and structure and character development … I still do! Concepts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey were endlessly fascinating to me. I was like a drug addict, continually seeking my next fix of story know-how. Even if I’d wanted to stop, I couldn’t have.
J – Love of the Australian bush permeates Thornwood House. To me, the book really throbs with nature cycles. How important is it to you as an artist to live in the bush in the solitude you obviously enjoy? Could you have written Thornwood House in a city? I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon who wrote the immensely popular Outlander series. Her first book is set in Scotland in the 1600s, and it grippingly evokes the life and culture of that time.
I was fascinated to learn that Diana wrote her first book in the series without ever having visited Scotland. I read about how she listened to folk song recordings to hone her ear to Scottish accents. She quizzed experts, and no doubt used her own formidable researching skills to make her story world so believable. This taught me that it’s possible to write convincingly about any location or historical period or life experience – if you do enough research. But for me, as with most writers, immersing myself in a location brings additional insight and depth to that research. I love to sit and observe. I love to drink in the smell of wildflowers, or walk through the bush at night without a torch, or fire off a few rounds from a double-action revolver, or pick up an eastern brown snake so I can confidently describe the fine velvety nap of its skin. Besides all that, I’m the sort of person who thrives in a natural environment. If I spend a lot of time in town I get frazzled; there’s too much sensory input. My brain likes wide open spaces, and the sound of wind in the trees, and the pebbly smell of the river. I need to be among those nature cycles to understand them and allow them to permeate me. I know I sometimes get carried away with my descriptions, waffling on about leaves and flowers – but that’s how I write. Without the energy of the natural world flowing through my stories, I would quickly lose my excitement for them. J – Do you have any advice or insight for anybody who is contemplating changing their career and embracing a more creative path? Go for it! For me, the best advice regarding creativity comes from Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.” If you hanker to paint, then paint; if you yearn to tell stories, then do that. If you want to knit, or cook, or lose yourself in the garden – then embrace your creative yearnings with a full heart. Invest a lot of love into what you do, and don’t worry if you have to spend years working other jobs to support it. Walking a creative path is not always easy, but it’s a worthy challenge. Your life will be all the richer for it. And if it makes your soul sing, what is there to lose?
J – I know you don’t have a very active online presence; although you’re blessed with a sister who maintains your Facebook page. What is your take on social media for artists? I’m certainly blessed with a wonderful sister! In fact I have two wonderful sisters who rave about my books to everyone they meet – lucky me! Sarah saves my poor old brain cells by managing our social media page, which allows me to focus more on my writing. I find the energy of the Internet disrupts my creative flow. I get jittery when I’m online, and afterwards my thoughts feel quite scattered. For inspiration to flow, I need to be relaxed and centred. As an artist, you have to weigh up the benefits of spending time promoting your work on social media, against the advantages of using that time to develop and layer your work. For me, my stories are simply more important. I don’t consider myself a natural-born talent at writing. I have to work ridiculously long hours, drafting and re-drafting and editing my stories into shape before I’m satisfied that they’re ready to present to my readers. I’m always acutely aware that for a reader, a book is an investment. Not just of money, but of many hours of their time. I want to give my readers my very best, and this requires that I sacrifice nonessentials such as social media. I’m also a strong believer in word-of-mouth – if you hone your craft and put your heart and soul into creating an entertaining story, then there’ll be readers who will utterly love your books … and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? J – Thornwood House has a dark mystery at its foundations. How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book? How did writing Lyrebird Hill differ from the first book? I start any project with an enormous amount of brainstorming, researching, and planning where I want the story to go. By the time I’m ready to begin, I have a tightly plotted outline. But when I’m writing I tend to lose myself in the story. I forget all my well laid plans and get carried off by the adventure. Sooner or later I hit a brick wall, which sends me scurrying back to my outline. I replot, work out how to tie up the new loose ends I’ve created, and then freefall back into my characters’ lives. Lyrebird Hill was a very different writing experience to my first book; with Thornwood House I had the luxury of time. Years, in fact. The tight deadlines on Lyrebird Hill gave me no choice but to knuckle down and get the story written as quickly as possible. I didn’t have time to stop and agonise over the plot, or waffle off on tangents. I wrote only what I believed was necessary, and as a result went through a huge learning curve. It was crazy, daunting, obsessive … and bucket-loads of fun! And I think the story is better because of it. J – Are you a notebook person, or a writing online type of person? Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer?
I’m very much a notebook person. I usually have several notebooks per novel, which I refer to constantly. I love the tactile feeling of writing on paper – scribbling over words and rewriting, cutting out bits and moving them somewhere else, gluing in photos, drawing maps and diagrams and charts… bliss! Being a visual person, I love the chaos and colours of my notebooks and find working in them a very relaxing way to let the ideas flow. I seem to be sensitive to electronic equipment, and because I spend so much time staring at a computer screen – drafting or transcribing my handwritten notes or editing – by the end of the day I end up feeling very drained. Breaking up my computer time with other activities such as drawing maps or filling out charts in my notebook helps to keep my mind fresh. J – How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like? I know we share an interest in spiritual matters and so do you use that element of yourself in your writing process? I imagine my muse to be a sort of wild ghost-like creature in photo-negative form. I feed her on a varied diet of books: biographies, history, how-to manuals, as well as fiction – classic, popular, and sometimes downright trashy. She regularly feasts on films and a smorgasbord of music. She responds well to a hot bath, a walk in the bush, a river swim, or some therapeutic opp-shopping! She’s also fond of conflicting emotions, arguments, love gone wrong, betrayal and disappointment – so occasionally I let her binge on one of these as well. I believe that our creative selves are very much grounded in the spirit. For me, writing a book is a magical sort of experience. It requires a lot of trust in yourself to embark upon such a huge task and commit to finishing. And it also requires that you set aside your fears and expectations, and surrender to the process. I spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve the craft of writing, how to strengthen my weaknesses and hone my skills. But I think the success of any creative project really relies on less tangible elements. Instinct, impulse, intuition. It’s exhilarating to connect with your spiritual self and allow it to guide you; to follow those improbable threads of thought that you know will eventually weave something special into the story. I find that when I let go of all the writerly rules that I’ve learned in my how-to books, and instead focus on the pleasure my writing brings me, I can relax and enjoy the process. I trust my muse to guide me, and that’s when the magic really begins to happen.
J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also ? how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities? I’m probably the opposite – with the hide of a rose, and the heart of a rhino! I seem to absorb everything around me, as if there’s no filter between me and the outside world. Sights, sounds, smells … are all vibrant and mesmerising, and all too often overwhelming. I pick up other people’s moods, and I’m sensitive to vibes between others. That’s why I’m such a hermit – I need to remove myself from the fast pace of the world so I can reflect and channel my energies into my work. If I don’t, I burn out very quickly. I suppose my rhino hide is really a cloak of determination. It’s the one quality that’s kept me going. Whenever the cold winds of doubt or disappointment begin to blow, I draw my cloak more tightly around me and march on. Determination is a quality I’ve learned from the women in my family – my granny, my grandma, my mum. Incredibly resilient women, who forged on no matter what. I’m blessed to have been close to all three, and the qualities they passed along to me are among my most treasured possessions. Jo, I love your image of an artist’s soul resembling a rose … but mine doesn’t feel very rose-like. I’d say it’s closer to a stringybark blossom or hakea flower – thrives in the bush, is quietly productive, and mostly drought-hardy!
Thank you, Anna Romer for sharing your inspiration with us. Thank you Jo, it was my pleasure.
And so I hope you enjoyed the inspiration from this post. Thanks again Anna for your generous sharing and if you did enjoy, please share with your social media friends who may also benefit. Look out for my next Eye of the Rhino post with another special guest. Anna Romer’s website is HERE Love, Light and Peace, Josephine xx
Thank you to Sandi Wallace for inviting me to play Meet my Character for a blog hop. MEET THE CHARACTER Answer these questions about your main character from a finished work or work in progress: 1.) What is the name of your character? Ginger Lawson. In the 1940s thread of the book, she’s a sixteen-year-old feisty and naive redhead who goes to the Blue Mountains to pose for a notorious artist, Rupert Partridge. In the year Ginger is at his home, Currawong Manor, Rupert’s family suffers a triple tragedy: his wife, Doris is killed by a train, his daughter, Shalimar drowns and Rupert vanishes. Ginger knows the real truth of what happened to the family. In the present day thread when she’s in her seventies, she’s finally ready to reveal her secrets.
2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person? Fictional, but I was inspired by Pearl Goldman, who was one of painter Norman Lindsay’s favourite muses and models between 1938-1945. I was fortunate to hear Pearl speak at the Norman Lindsay House in Springwood just after starting the book and was really impressed by Pearl’s vivacity, glamorous flamboyance and being so active in her 90s. She added a lot of spark to Ginger.
3.) When and where is the story set? In the Blue Mountains in the fictional upper mountain village of Mt Bellwood between the 1940s and present day and the surrounding bushland of Owlbone Woods. The Blue Mountains is an area I’ve lived in and I’m constantly drawn back to. I love its mysterious valleys, misty landscapes, creative people, gothic atmosphere and changing seasons. 4.) What should we know about him/her? Beneath the seeming confident and self-obsessed facade of Ginger is a young girl willing to do anything to escape her mother’s fate of being one of the ‘Surry Hills rats’ of the 1940s. And not to believe Ginger’s version of events too closely…
5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? By not revealing what really happened to the Partridge family in the Blue Mountains. Ginger’s had to live with a lot of guilt and anguish over the years. She made two choices back in 1945 that affected many people and she has the burden of the consequences of her silence. 6.) What is the personal goal of the character? The goal of Ginger in the 1940s thread is to escape the drudgery of Molly (her mother’s life) and to become an independent earner. She represents women in Australia in the forties who entered the workforce with the male population away in World War II – and the impact of that transition upon the women of Ginger’s generation. In the present day thread, her goal is to reveal to Rupert’s surviving relatives the truth of what happened to Rupert and his family on the 9th November 1945.
7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? The working title and the title are one and the same – Currawong Manor.
8.) When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published? Currawong Manor was published by Pan Macmillan Australia in June 2014. I hope you enjoyed this brief instruction to my character and now it is my turn to tag two writers. I have tagged: Kim Wilkins who also writes commercial women’s fiction novels under the pseudonym of Kimberley Freeman. Kim’s an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction. She has an Honours degree, a Masters degree and a PhD from The University of Queensland where she is also a senior lecturer. You can read more about Kim HERE And I’ve also tagged Karen Brooks who is the author of nine books, an academic of more than twenty-years experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years and prior to that, dabbled in acting. You can read more about Karen on her website HERE If these writers choose to accept their tags, you’ll be able to read about their chosen charcters on their websites the following Thursday 27th November. Love and Light, Josephine
Leura is one of the prettiest Blue Mountain villages and Spring is the perfect time to visit, when the mountain air feels enchanted from the cherry blossom and jacarandas trees. As I said in my previous post, we’ve recently introduced our daughter to The Secret Garden book and film and so we enjoyed a family day out at the Leura Garden festival. A few photos below.
We came away with plenty of ideas for our Secret Garden journal. Definitely a must in my Secret Garden is gatepost rabbits.
A wishing well, sacred bells, Madonna figures and a drystone wall.
I’ve been working on my current book, another mystery novel set in Tasmania. So far the characters are materialising beautifully and all the twists and main plot seem strong. I’m at the stage where I want to find out what happens and how it evolves which is the best place for me to be in. When I haven’t been writing, I’ve been catching up on reading. I’m working my way through the large pile of books in my TBR pile. I’ll do a separate post on a few I enjoyed over the holiday break.
Along with my family I completed a course at the Transcendental Meditation Centre in Sydney. The TM centre is located in the striking AWA building in the CBD in York street. The communications tower was designed in 1937-1939 by architects Morrow and Gordon. It has a geometric art-deco design and also features symbols of communication such as a winged Pegarsus. The tower has been featured in the movie The Matrix.
I’ve been meditating regularly for many years now but have always been intrigued by TM and the effects on the creative brain after reading David Lynch’s Catching The Big Fish (highly recommended book on creativity and abstract thought).
I’ve only been practising for a couple of weeks, but it has exceeded my expectations on how deeply you can transcend in twenty minutes. I was surprised by how effortless and easy the process is. I’ll write more on meditation and the effects on my creativity when I’ve been practising TM for a few months.
In Australia, we have celebrated the seasonal Beltane, but being Scorpio and fascinated by death and transfiguration, I view the 31st of October as the Day of the Dead – we enjoyed All Hallows at a friends in the inner-west suburb of Tempe.
I volunteered to walk the children around the streets for a couple of hours which was surreal and dreamlike. In the darkened streets I passed witches, zombies, a live python, and excited children claiming the streets on the night the veils are thin and mayhem rules.
Thank you for visiting me. Please share this post if you know of anyone who would be interested.
In Love and Light,
In 2013, I saw Kate Mosse speak at the Sydney Writers Festival. I found her sparky and passionate and I loved her funky platform shoes. She reminded me of a pretty English mistress from an Enid Blyton boarding school book. The following is taken from my scribbled notes; as so much time has passed since I wrote them (due to me being busy with my own Currawong Manor), I may be paraphrasing her a little, but what she said really resonated with me. I know from comments from other audience members of the audience that she inspired them too.
She spoke about her love of the old-fashioned adventure story and how she enjoys having women as the hero of her tales.
She is not very modern and is British to the core.
She sees the shadow of the past as being everywhere.
She spends about three quarters of her writing time on research and a quarter on writing the book.
When researching and writing, she reminds herself that real people died and that she’s telling their story. That we are part of a common bond and link of humanity.
To her the best fiction comes from lack of control rather than having a cast-iron control over the work. And she has to learn to let go.
For Citadel, she spent four years in research.
She described how her characters get her to follow them.
It’s love that matters in the end. Her father taught her this lesson from when he was away at war and his relationship with his family.
The lead character in her book is always the landscape.
She experienced an almost psychic experience once in a vision and eight years later, the character that appeared to her then came to her through a manuscript. But it took that length of time until the character was ready for Kate to write the story.
She does about three drafts of each of her books. Because she writes parallel time-lines she does one strand of the history line and then works on the other. With the second draft, she plaits them together.
I was so engrossed in her talk that I didn’t take as many notes as I would have liked. Which is always a good thing.
HERE is a link to an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that she did when she was here for the Writers Festival.
And a link HERE where she discusses how landscape influences her writing
And another link HERE where she discusses her writing process in a fascinating conversation with writer Denise Mina.
And a link HERE to an interview with my writer friend Kate Forsyth.
Thanks for visiting me. Please share this post with your social media friends if you think they might be interested.
“The thing about The Taxidermist’s Daughter is people think it’s a big departure, but I quote the American writer Willa Cather at the beginning of the book ‘Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet’ Kate Mosse.
Love and Light,
I nearly didn’t read this book. It received so much acclaim and hoopla that I didn’t think I’d find it interesting. If a book or film is very hyped, I have a bad habit of losing interest. I’m an inverted snob in such matters.
I sent it to my mother-in-law and after reading it, she returned it saying she thought I should reconsider as she knew I’d love it.
Thankfully, I obeyed her instructions. I found this a terrific read, which left me longing for as many people as possible I knew to read it, so we could discuss it. Luckily it was one of my Magic Hat Book Club choices this year.
The cover tag line is: ‘This is a story of right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same.’
We enter the world of a young lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne and his wife, Isabel, on a remote island off the Western Australian coast. They decide to keep a baby found alive on ‘The Day of the Miracle’ with its dead father in a boat. Isabel has suffered three miscarriages and the baby appears to be a gift from God: there can be no harm in keeping her…
This is the clever and intriguing set-up of an engrossing story which weaves between the ‘The Day of the Miracle’ (27 April, 1926) to the emotional final scene in 1950. The book describes the consequences of the decisions of keeping the ‘miracle’ baby.
Throughout the narrative we are introduced to some vivid characters:
Tom Sherbourne the lighthouse keeper, with his measured outlook on life and his beautiful handwriting. His sense of decency and his moral code. An ex-army man with experience in Egypt and working in Morse and international code. Tom is suffering the trauma of his war experiences from one of the most grisliest of wars: a lighthouse posting seems the perfect change to escape his memories. By steamer boat on his way to the lighthouse from Sydney to Perth, he rescues a young woman from a lecherous ex-soldier, a chance meeting pivotal later in the book:
“Being over there changes a man. Right and wrong don’t look so different anymore to some.” – Tom Sherbourne.
In Port Partageuse, a small coastal community where a fresh granite obelisk lists the men and boys who will not be returning to the community. The town’s scars are raw. In this community, Tom meets and falls in love with defiant, sparkling Isabel Graysmark, the only daughter of the headmaster Bill, and his wife, Violet, who lost both sons to the war.
The nature cycles of the island and Port Partageuse, are hauntingly portrayed. And the real life ghosts of the living, still mourning so many lost, are also wonderfully captured. The Australian phrases, increasingly also lost to American slang, are resurrected in bold splashes which contrast well against the more lyrical descriptions. You ache for all the characters. Even very minor characters who barely appear such as Frank, the baby’s father, become important. Septimus, the grandfather, is also beautifully sketched and an entire book could be devoted on his story.
The character’s roles are superimposed against the lighthouse itself, the great light illuminating to protect the sailors, but also revealing the deeper shadows that are lurking within every member of Port Partageuse. People are getting on with life – but the war has taken so much.
The Light Between Oceans is a book that should give inspiration to all writers who think they may have left their run to late to start. It is Stedman’s debut full-length novel, written in her mid-sixties. I was most fascinated by her writing process which is very similar to my own using visual imagery and a method of ‘free falling’ into the story, allowing the visual images to guide you. She worked a lot from original material in the British Library, reading war-time diaries and journals which she said ‘brought her to sobbing many times’. This first-person research shines through. The two images of the ocean used above were both taken by Stedman when she was working on the book.
I feel that with a different cover design, it might have reached more of a male audience. My partner began reading the book after hearing my enthusiastic appraisal of it and is really enjoying it. He would never have picked it up on its cover normally.
Thankfully, many people did. Nine international publishing houses bid on the rights for the book. In Australia The Light Between Oceans was:
Winner of three ABIA awards for Best Newcomer, Best Literary Novel and Book of the Year Winner of two Indie Awards for Best Debut and Book of the Year Winner of the Nielsen BookData Bookseller’s Choice Award for 2013 Recently voted Historical Novel of 2012 by GoodReads’ reading community
The names of the miracle child in the story, Lucy, means Light and she represents the Hope of the story. I also took the Light Between Oceans to represent the break between the two World Wars. Ultimately, I saw this as a book about the ripple effects of war. A story of right and wrong and the different shades of grey in between – a tale of forgiveness and redemption. Janus Rock, where Lucy washes up, represents the Ancient God of Doorways – transitions and beginnings. Janus presided over beginnings and endings of peace and conflict. As a transitional god, he had a role in birth and exchange as well. Janus also represents a middle ground between barbarism and civilisation.
If you are interested to read more about M.L Stedman’s writing process, there is an interview HERE
This review is for my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014.