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 

Vale Pearl Goldman Australian Golden Girl

I discovered Pearl Goldman while researching online for a photo shoot for Currawong Manor, which you can read about HERE . Pearl, Norman Lindsay’s muse who inspired my character Ginger Lawson (one of Rupert Partridge’s Flowers – life models – in my mystery novel Currawong Manor) died in June 2016.
Pearl with portrait
I felt saddened by Pearl’s death, although I am sure her vibrant spirit is dazzling wherever she has journeyed. She was a big energy! But I was always grateful that I had the chance to hear her speak at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum . A lot of her sassiness went into Ginger. I was wowed by  her glamour, even in her nineties, and her sense of humour. I could have listened to her talk for days. When asked the secret of her youth and dynamic energy, she put it down to surrounding herself with young people; age was all in the mind. It felt so special to be in the room with the last of Norman Lindsay’s life models. But Pearl’s life was extraordinary even without the Norman Lindsay years.
Pearl was born in Sydney in 1919 to Gertrude and Joseph Schweig, a dressmaker and tailor who owned a store in George Street. Of  course Pearl was always the best-dressed child.
Pearl at five years

Pearl at five years

She was also always extroverted and loved attention. She went to Sydney Girls High School and Agnes Kent Modelling School, where she learnt to balance books on her head amongst other tips.
Miss Bondi Surf Queen 1937

Miss Bondi Surf Queen 1937

She was employed as a mannequin for the department stores Mark Foy’s and David Jones as a young woman, and modelled for Jantzen swimwear because of her good figure. She first came to Norman Lindsay’s notice in 1937, when Norman, suffering from depression and living in the Blue Mountains, rented a place in The Rocks (Sydney) to paint. He noticed the newly crowned Miss Bondi Surf Queen in a newspaper and thought painting Pearl might be the antidote to his blues. Pearl had been entered into the competition secretly by a girlfriend who thought Pearl ‘the ant’s pants’.
Norman Lindsay photo by Harold Cazneaux

Norman Lindsay photo by Harold Cazneaux

A  youthful Miss Bondi put off Norman’s son request to meet his father for around eight months. She was too busy with theatre pursuits and modelling and knew little about Australian art. But finally, curious, Pearl took up the son’s invitation (Norman hated the telephone so had his son make his calls). She  was greeted by Norman’s classic opening line when he opened the door: ‘I love your devilish eyebrows.’
Pearl as model for Norman Lindsay's Imperia

Pearl as model for Norman Lindsay’s Imperia

Pearl posed for Norman from 1938-1945; her parents didn’t know about it. She found Norman to be a gentleman and nothing like his depiction in the 1994 movie Sirens. By the time she came to disrobe for him, he had earned her trust and she always enjoyed her sessions. Norman spoke to her about history, politics, art and culture and introduced her to a life she hadn’t imagined.
The Amazons 1939: Pearl is on the horse on right in the helmet

The Amazons 1939: Pearl is on the horse on right in the helmet

She was the muse for some of Norman’s more famous works: Amazons, Imperia, and Gifts to Venus.  Norman described Pearl in letters as, ‘having a great head and sitting perfectly.’
Pearl’s friendship with Norman lasted until his death in 1968.
Pearl - second on back left with cast from The Women 1939 photo by Sam Hood

Pearl – second on back left with cast from The Women 1939 photo by Sam Hood

Pearl also had a career in the theatre and was a showgirl with the JC Williamson Group. Acting followed with parts in Australian television and movies such as Bellbird and Homicide, including a small part in On The Beach (1959), in which she was impressed by Ava Gardner’s style and beauty, and enjoyed hanging out with Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck.  She also had a career as a newspaper columnist in Australia, and was painted for the Archibald Prize for Portraiture four times.
Pearl with first husband, Maurice Copolov, 1946

Pearl with first husband, Maurice Copolov, 1946

After the death of her first husband, Maurice Copolov, Pearl, like Ginger in my book, travelled to America. She married Sydney Goldman, Vice President of  New York City Radio.
Pearl marrying Sydney Goldman, 1969

Pearl marrying Sydney Goldman, 1969

Her life was now dramatically different; she mixed with and befriended luminaries such as Sophia Loren and Helmut Newton. She described this part of her life: ‘I had a white Jaguar, I had furs, I had diamonds. You name it. I lived like a queen.’
Pearl with Sophia Loren 1969

Pearl with Sophia Loren 1969

In her later years, Pearl lived in a Gold Coast penthouse, enjoying yoga and talking to schools and the media about Norman Lindsay.
When I saw Pearl talk, she mentioned writing her memoirs, which I hope she managed to complete. For my research when writing Currawong Manor, I used this terrific little book, Memories Of Norman Lindsay & The Theatre by Pearl Goldman, which can be purchased through EBay as it is out of print.
Although small, it’s filled with personal anecdotes and photographs and is worth tracking down if you’re interested. Of course, I treasure my personal signed copy.

Josephine Pennicott and Pearl Goldman

Josephine Pennicott and Pearl Goldman

Pearl is survived by two sons, David, a professor of neuroscience, and Mark, a computer analyst.
Interviewed in 2007 by the Courier Mail, Pearl reflected on her amazing, outrageous life and said she sometimes looks at the ocean and thinks, ‘Did that really happen? It’s strange. It’s my life, but it’s like a dream.’
Portrait of Pearl by Helmut Newton

Portrait of Pearl by Helmut Newton

Vale Pearl Goldman. Australian Golden Girl. Travel well.
Please share this posts with kindred spirits who may find it of interest.
photos of Five year old Pearl, Pearl with Sophia Loren, Pearl as Imperia, Miss Bondi Surf Queen, Helmut Newton portrait, Sam Hood photo of cast of The Women, Wedding Portraits with Maurice and Sydney are all taken from Memories of Norman Lindsay and the Theatre.

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. 

Magicians and Hermits

Hello,
Thank you for your support of my online journal this year and also to those who signed up to my newsletter. Hopefully in 2017, I’ll actually send out a ‘proper’ newsletter. I also aim to return to my Rhino interview series, and review more books online that I read, but I’m the mother of an eleven-year-old girl with limited time and I’ll always prefer to put my energy into creating my tales.
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It has been a beast of a year for so many, including my family, but I’ve continued writing throughout all the chaos. I finished The Secret Echoes, my mystery novel set in Tasmania.
This book is set between three time periods of 1800s, 1920s and 1950s and shows the impact on a Tasmanian riverside village in 1949, when the town’s most beautiful girl is murdered. I also am halfway through a psychological thriller which is an idea I’ve nursed for several years. This book has been coming out very quickly and I’m trying to let that process happen. Here’s a tarot reading I did one morning in a query to my current work. I loved its potent accuracy – the Magician and the Hermit.
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My daughter is starting high school next year and we have a couple of holidays planned. We will return to our much loved Heron Island and we’re also heading to London for a family short break, which I’m excited about.
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If 1916 was also a painful and tumultuous year for you, take heart from the J.K Rowling’s Twitter feed who posted a series of twelve tweets in response to followers who were experiencing really tough times: “At this time of year, we’re bombarded with images of perfect lives, which bear as little relation to reality as tinsel does to gold. If you’re lucky enough to be with the people you love, warm and safe with enough to eat, I’m sure you feel as blessed as I do. But if your life is currently full of difficulties; if you aren’t where you want to be, either literally or figuratively, remember that extraordinary transformations are possible. Everything changes. Nothing is forever. Thinking back to my worst Christmas, I found it hard to believe that my unhappiness would pass. I was truly afraid of the future. You never know what the future holds. Astonishing reversals of fortune happen every minute. So if you’re sad, or lonely, or bereaved, or ill, separated from  your loved ones or in any other way suffering this Christmas, I send you love and wish luck and better times. Millions of us have been where you are now.”
J.K Rowling
I’ve included several photos from the night I did a reading at the atmospheric pop-up venue in Sydney, Stoneleigh 50.
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I loved this night and the chance to read from my gothic novel in a setting that looked like Miss Havisham’s attic.
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Thank you to everyone who attended and listened so avidly to the readings. Also, to Better Read than Dead bookshop for the invitation and for all they do for Australian authors. It was great to connect with the audience and also fellow authors Sulari Gentill, Anna Westbrook and Alexandra Joel. I am seated next to the wonderful Stephanie Beck, Events and Marketing Manager from Better Read than Dead Bookshop.
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It was an enchanted night of mystery, intrigue, plants, wine and storytelling.
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There are only a few things I miss about life in Sydney – Better Read than Dead bookshop, my women’s circle at Dickson Street, and the smell of the sea in the air.
One thing that has been positive about 2016 was I’ve never regretted moving to the country. We love our life above the clouds with the silence, birdlife, mists over the valleys, dramatic storms and sparkling mountain air.
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My husband took this photo from Govett’s Leap and I posted it on the Solstice. Wishing you on this Capricorn New Moon, all peace, joy and positive vibes for 2017.  I think Liz Taylor, as always, provided the inspiration I really needed this year.
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Love, Light and Capricorn Moonshine,
Josephine

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

Kate Forsyth and the Eye of the Rhino

Hello, IMG_1670 I’m delighted to present my next author for my Ride the Rhino Inspiration posts – the beautiful Kate Forsyth. 2 (2)   I feel as if I’ve known Kate forever. We we were both briefly involved with The Drinklings many years ago, when we enjoyed wine and book chats in Sydney with a group of writers and we’ve spoken on a couple of panels together. group   She always inspires me with her intelligence, talent and her generous nature towards other authors. When I began this series of inspirational interviews I knew I had to have Kate aboard. When we last spoke at the Newtown Writers Tent for Better Read than Dead bookshop, we ended up in rain-soaked Newtown talking for hours in a cafe about writing, publishing, our children and the juggling act we have to go through. It’s a true testimony to how highly I regard her that when I suffered a major heartbreak with my publishing career, it was Kate I trusted, sending off a frantic email asking for her advice. In the very competitive world of publishing, Kate has always sought to encourage other authors to fulfil their dreams and destiny. Bitter Greens high resolution   Kate is an international bestselling author of 36 novels spanning a range of genres. She writes for both children and adults and has won many awards, including Five Aurealis Awards in a single year and a CYBIL award in the United States. Her bestselling novel Bitter Greens won the American Library Association Award for Best Historical Novel of 2015 and the library journal US Best Historical Novel. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies from the University of Technology in Sydney and a BA in literature and a MA in creative writing. Writing talent is obviously in her blood: she is a descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children published in Australia, “A Mother’s Offering to her Children” (1841).
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Her Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather James Atkinson (Charlotte’s husband) wrote a book about Australia in 1826. Their daughter Louisa was also the first Australian-born journalist and novelist.
Louisa Atkinson

Louisa Atkinson

Kate’s sister Belinda Murrell is also a talented bestselling, internationally published writer as is their brother, Nick Humphrey.

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

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.

J – Kate, you studied at Macquarie University where you did your Bachelor of Arts in Literature and after graduating, you worked as a journalist across a wide range of publications before you quit to work freelance. Throughout your years of study, you wrote the first book in your much lauded fantasy series, The Witches of Eileanan, but you’ve also written poetry under your maiden name Kate Humphrey. You wrote Full Fathom Five republished as Dancing on Knives as part of your Master ‘s thesis and you’re now finished your doctorate in fairy-tale retelling at the University of Technology. Academia is obviously hugely important to you. Do you feel continuing your education is necessary for writers in this competitive climate? On Twitter recently I retweeted Ann Patchett’s quote, ‘No-one should go into debt to study creative writing. It’s simply not worth it. This is not medical school.’ What advice do you have for those of us who would have to go into debt to study writing?
K – I  do not think you need to undertake a degree to be an author. I think you need to read a lot, and read widely, and a degree in Literature like my first degree can obviously help you do that. I think you need to learn your craft, and learn discipline, and a degree in Creative Writing like my second degree can help you in that task. And I think an intense period of research and reflection into an area of personal interest to you – like my doctorate in fairy tales – can only help you acquire the kind of depth of knowledge that can be of use to you as an author. But I certainly don’t think a set course of academic study is the only way to go! I think I learned more by my own reading and my own dedication to learning the craft by studying the work of other writers, and reading books on writing, than by going to university. I did all of my degrees for my own pleasure, and to learn as much as I could, and to become aware of other ways of thinking and doing … but anyone can challenge themselves and learn and grow, simply by living and reading and wondering and learning at their own pace and rhythm.
J  – Will we see more poetry from you? Do you still write poetry?
K- I was actually only thinking about writing a new poem yesterday … I never know when an idea for a poem will strike me. Usually I write poems in the small spaces between novels … or essays or picture books or short tales … and then I get all consumed with the next novel and have no room left over for short-form writing. The last poem I wrote was after I had finished BITTER GREENS – its a Rapunzel poem, showing the story still had not been fully exorcised. Here it is:
Kate Forsyth at seven

Kate Forsyth at seven

J – At two years of age you were badly savaged by a dog and your injuries were so severe that a man fainted when he first saw them and your mother was warned to expect you would die. You spent your formative years up to the age of eleven in and out of hospitals enduring many painful operations – during this time you lost yourself in the world of fiction and creating stories. Rapunzel was one of your favourite stories which formed the basis for your book Bitter Greens. Where did your strength come from to survive and transcend this extremely traumatic time?
K –  I don’t remember the accident. So I think it was my poor mother who suffered the most trauma at that time. Most of my memories of hospital come from around the ages of seven to eleven … and also I remember always having to be careful, especially if it was windy, about playing outside or playing with animals in case I got sick again. I still don’t like hospitals – the smell of them and the sound of them can make me feel anxious and even panicky – and so I do my best to avoid them. And I’m always interested in hearing about other authors who had childhood illnesses – I think we all coped in similar ways, by turning to books and stories, by reading voraciously, by imagining ourselves into other places, by having a rich interior life. I was lucky – an operation I had when I was 11 meant that I could have a relatively normal life from that time on, though I still do need to go back and have another procedure every few years (which I hate!)
Kate and her sister Belinda

Kate and her sister Belinda

J – When you first began writing for publication, I read in online interviews that early books you were trying to write to ‘fit into the market’ were knocked back. It was only when you began writing for yourself that The Witches of Eileanan was picked up in an international bidding war. What inspired you at this time to keep going? How important do you feel it is to write the book you love as opposed to writing for the commercial market?
K – In my 20s, when I was first trying to get published, I heard all the time that the only books publishers wanted were dark and gritty post-modernist contemporary novels – my least favourite type of book! I loved historical fiction and fantasy and old murder mysteries and romances, and books that had a story to tell. I was working on a novel at the time – it was set in contemporary times but it was certainly not gritty realism – but I was not able to find a publisher for it then (the book was eventually published as Full Fathom Five, and was recently re-released under the title Dancing on Knives). I was not trying to fit into a market by writing that book, the story was one that I had laboured over for many years and which was very close to my heart. I think it was just that I was still only a young author (I started it when I was 16) and it simply was not yet good enough to be published. It is true that while I was doing my Masters of Arts in Creative Writing, and used that novel as my major piece of work, I received a lot of encouragement to make it darker, grittier, more violent and less magical. But I did not know how to write it that way (many tears were shed as a consequence). It is also true that once I began to write Dragonclaw, my first published novel, I felt as if I had shed the shackles of expectation and I just ran wild, putting in everything I love about books and nothing I didn’t. I was lucky to write Dragonclaw at a time when publishers realised that there was a huge market for that type of books – a book filled with magic and mystery and romance .. and my life was transformed as a result.
The Puzzle Ring
J  – You’ve achieved so much already – but I know that even the most successful people have their setbacks and disappointments. What do you do when you do hit those moments? Is there any advice or words of wisdom you can share with us that may help creatives reading to deal with the discouraging times?
K – Of course! Being a writer is a constant rollercoaster of emotion – flying high one day and crashing down the next. It’s because we invest so much emotion in what we do. I have a couple of things that help me when I’ve been hurt or disappointed by something that happens. I print out any lovely fan mail I get, or any exciting emails from my publishers and agents, or amazing reviews, and then I stick them in my journal. So on a bad day I can go back and read them and remind myself that there are people who love what I do. I also write it out. My daily journal writing is a great source of comfort to me – I pour out all my feelings, all my unspoken hopes and fears, and then work through what is upsetting or bothering me. I’m also very lucky to have a very loving and supportive family and circle of friends, and so I talk to them about it, and they tell me not to worry about it – and that really helps!
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J  –You have a very active online presence; with blogging where you provide massive inspiration through your writing tips and interviews with other authors. You’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads. What is your take on social media for artists? Why is it important for you to publicise yourself in this way? And how do you balance your time so that you’re not constantly distracting yourself from the work you’re doing with beating your own drum on social media? Which one is your personal favourite social-media platform?
K -I really enjoy blogging and all the rest, and so I do it for my own pleasure and to connect with kindred spirits. It helps me to easily stay in contact with writer friends all over the world, which I really love, and it means people can know what I’m up to at well. Although its a great quick way to let people know what I’m doing, I don’t like to think of it purely as a promotional tool. I think that kind of thinking leads to the kind of relentless self-publicizing that can be so off-putting. I tweet or post about what I’m reading and what I’m writing, and share links to articles I think are interesting or informative, I share poems that I love or pictures that I find inspiring, and support all my friends and colleagues as well. If I’m teaching a course or have some other event coming up, I’ll let people know – and if I’m doing some kind of giveaway or competition – and of course if I have a new book out, I’ll blog and post about that. In general, though, my social media is simply about connecting with other people who love what I love – and isn’t that we all write in the first place?
DANCING ON KNIVES
J –  You’ve written across genres and for all ages, Historical Fiction, Children’s Books, literary mystery, poetry. In this publishing climate do you feel that it’s important for writers to be this diverse? You’ve never had to use a pseudonym for your books as many other writers have had to do. Was this something your publishing houses and agents decided or did you want all your work under your name?
K – I’m not at all sure that its a good idea to be as diverse as I am. The accepted wisdom is find your niche and stick to it.
I’m not very good at doing that, though. I love to read so many different genres of writing and I don’t see why I can’t write in all different genres too. I hate to be confined in any way. I also love new adventures. I like to stretch myself, and challenge myself. And mastering a new genre is one way to do that. Also, I need to say that I don’t choose what I’m going to write next with an eye on what the market is doing, or what publishers want. I get a new idea for a story that utterly electrifies me, and then the story tells me what it wants to be. The story determines its own shape.
In fact, I have risked a lot to write the stories I wanted to write.
For example, I had a big early success with writing epic fantasy novels for adults and it was a big risk for me (and my agents & publishers) for me to then choose to write for children and then to move to historical fiction. In fact, my US publishers told me that they would gladly continue to publish me if I kept on writing fantasy fiction for adults, but they would not publish me if I changed. So when I wrote the books I wanted to write, it was with the full knowledge that I was losing my US publishers and may not be able to find another (happily, I did!) It was not a marketing decision at all! I always have to write the book that is burning a hole in my imagination. I don’t choose the story, the story chooses me – and then I just try to do the very best I can. I’ve just been very lucky that the big gambles I’ve made have paid off.
FULL FATHOM FIVE KATE HUMPHREY
And in regards to pseudonyms, my novel Full Fathom Five, the contemporary family drama/murder mystery that I wrote in my 20s, was originally published under my maiden name Kate Humphrey, at the suggestion of my publisher who was worried that my fantasy fans would find it too different. However, it has since been re-published under my married name Kate Forsyth (and a new title Dancing on Knives) because what we have discovered is that readers will follow an author they really love and trust. However, if I was to do something really different, I may well decide to use a pseudonym in the future, if I thought it would give me greater creative freedom.
US cover of The Wild Girl

US cover of The Wild Girl

J – 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?
I like to have a vivid sense of the shape of my story and of my characters and setting before I start writing a single word. I like to see it, hear, it, smell it. I take a long time to daydream about my story, and research it, and plot it, and then I write quite swiftly and strongly. I always leave space for new ideas and new flashes of inspiration, while still being in control of how the story develops. This is one reason why I can be so productive. I never get myself in a tangle (or rarely anyway!)
The beast's Garden High res
J – Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer? Do you like to read on kindles or paper books?
K – I write all my ideas and questions and flashes of inspiration and research notes and early plans in my notebook … and continue to use my notebook as the story grows and changes. However, I generally write straight into the computer. (There are a couple of exceptions to this. I write poetry longhand and any sentence which is giving me trouble, I’ll write and rewrite longhand until I get it right).
I prefer to read paper books for a multitude of reasons, but I travel so much that I do a lot of reading on my ipad. Before I go away, I load up a dozen books so I have a choice of what to read. If I really love a book I’ve read in e-book format, I often buy it in p-book format when I get home.
One of Kate's notebooks from The Wild Girl

One of Kate’s notebooks from The Wild Girl

J – There’s so many things I admire about you Kate, and one in particular is how hard you work at publicising yourself. You seem to be at every Writers’ Festival, every library event, book club meeting and anything literary related. Is it
important for writers to be entrepreneurs, market themself and what tips and advice can you share in this area? You’re a Gemini who loves communication and so what advice do you have for more introverted types?
K – I do think its very important for writers to be the engine of their own success. I often hear writers moaning about their editors or their publicists or whatever, and it makes me a little uncomfortable. You need to be very aware of how the industry works, and how you can best work with it to maximise your success. You need to think: what do I know, what can I do, to help give my book wings?
It is true that I am a Gemini and I love to connect and communicate … but one half of me is very much an introvert, and I often find it hard to leave my peaceful green study and go out and face the world. So I try and think, what can I give today? Who can I help today? What amazing connection might I make today? What I have discovered is that every small effort I make often creates ripples beyond what I could ever have imagined. And so I’m encouraged to keep on working, keep on trying, keep on reaching out … and then wait to see the astonishing rewards I reap.
Wild Girl notebook

Wild Girl notebook

J – I know how uplifting your public-speaking is and I’m longing for the day you start your marketing courses for writers. Your public speaking never fails to elevate and inspire me no matter how many times I hear you speak. Your public speaking skills are even more impressive as you’ve been afflicted with stuttering since you were very young. How did you find the confidence and strength to keep going to become the acclaimed public speaker you are?
K -That is such a lovely thing for you to say! Thank you.
It is true I was afflicted with a stutter for most of my childhood – and it still can trip me over today. It was a very hard battle that I fought. My mother was incredible. She invested a lot of money into speech therapy for me when she was a struggling single mother … and she invested a lot of time into encouraging me to read aloud – poetry and Shakespeare, mainly, because I seemed to stutter less when I read them. Mainly I overcome my stutter by avoidance – I won’t utter a sound that I know is likely to trip me – I find other words, other ways to say what I mean. I also learnt to control my breathing better, and slow down, which I think has really helped me in my public speaking. Sometimes I get a faint sing-song quality to my voice, particularly when I’m telling a story, which comes from the speech therapy. We were taught to sing what we could not say.
The other thing I have come to realise is that most people are very forgiving of my stutters and stumbles – they lean forward, urging me to recover, wanting me to go on. My vulnerability makes me easier to connect with. At least, that is the feeling I get.
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J –  How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like?
I daydream a lot. I love the shadowy space between sleep and wakening, as I get so many ideas then. I love to walk and think in silence, taking in the beauty of the world. I read poetry, and listen to music, and watch ballet and theatre and films. I love to travel, to imagine lives unlike my own. I love to listen to people tell their life stories – and people do! Often complete strangers will confide the strangest things to me. I write in my journal most days, as you know, and that is a wellspring of constant inspiration and refreshment to me. I read a lot, across all genres, including non-fiction. I never know when an idea will be sparked for me.
What does my muse look like? Like me, I suppose, only a shadowy green-dark version like an image in a deep well or an old silver mirror …
Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

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?
K – I don’t think I have the hide of a rhino. In fact, I think its very important that creative artists remain sensitive and open to the world and alive to possibility. To encase ourselves in a hard carapace is to lose what makes us so gifted as creative artists – the ability to feel intensely.
What I do have is utter determination. No matter how many times I’m knocked over, I pick myself up and keep on going. To allow myself to be broken would be to deny my true destiny (I know, I know, but that’s how I feel, truly). All I want to do is write. And so I have to somehow find the strength of will to never give up, and to never admit defeat.
 
Thank you, Kate. xx

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

You can find Kate at her glorious website HERE
If you have enjoyed this post, please share with kindred spirits. Love and Light Josephine xx

Vale Ruth Rendell. Keeper of Secrets.

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

Anna Romer and The Eye of the Rhino

Hello, Happy New Year Greetings. With all the traumatic events happening globally I’ve felt in need of creative and soul inspiration, and so I’ve begun a new series on Tale Peddler called The Eye of the Rhino. It’s from Stella Adler, who said success in the arts requires ‘the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose’. IMG_1671   One observation I’ve made with my creative friends is they are tenacious. Creative success seems to involve a synthesis of Talent, Timing, Tenacity and Luck and it’s the tenacity aspect that interests me. What inspires some individuals to pursue their dreams despite inevitable disappointments along their path? I say inevitable as I’ve observed that even among my more successful creative friends, they have still had to overcome obstacles that you would never hear about on their social media accounts. I hope you enjoy this series and get as much inspiration from it as I do. First up is Anna Romer. ANNA ROMER   I’ve known Anna for many years. I thought she’d be an interesting artist to begin with as she had a long apprenticeship until her success with her book Thornwood House, an Australian Gothic mystery published by Simon and Shuster in September 2013. Thornwood House broke though Anna’s years of writing in oblivion and was a bestseller. Anna was a graphic artist and has travelled widely. In an alternative career path she’d have made a powerful energetic healer as she does unforgettable massages (personally experienced). Anna’s a highly individual person and one of the more interesting authors I’ve met. Shunning a lot of technology, she prefers the rhythm of her own imagination and the pulse of the bush that permeates her writing. Lyrebird Hill (her second novel, also an Australian Gothic mystery) was released in September 2014.  Anna and I share a love of communicating by letters, Spirituality, Joseph Campbell. I’m delighted Anna accepted my invitation to discuss her creative inspirations for Eye of the Rhino.

J – I know your writing path wasn’t a smooth trajectory. You spent many years working on another project which hasn’t yet been published. Can you talk about how it felt to work on that project and what it was like to cross over to the new genre you are working in with Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill?

You’re quite right, my writing path was long and winding – and there were times I was convinced it was leading nowhere. Luckily for me, I’m utterly addicted to the writing process, and that’s what kept me going.   One of my great passions along the way was a historical novel I worked on for many years. It was an adventure story set in a time when people were restrained by archaic traditions and strict social laws. My favourite thing about writing this story was developing characters who were feisty and strong-willed, who flouted those laws and went their own way.   The research for this project was intensive. I spent years losing myself in books and pictures and movies, drawing maps and diagrams and timelines and, even dreaming about my characters until they felt like dear old friends. I was totally obsessed!   Sadly, the plot was very flawed. In my mind’s eye I could see a beautiful, richly-layered adventure story, but I didn’t have the skills back then to pull it into shape. My agent suggested I set the story aside for a while and work on something with less demanding research. So I dumped my beloved project in the bottom drawer with all my other rejects, and went back to the drawing board.   I decided my next novel would be set in Australia – a simple mystery story about a woman who inherits an abandoned house. I would throw in all the elements I loved: forgotten old letters, a buried diary, an overgrown garden, and a star-crossed love story. Most importantly, I’d keep my research minimal.   Famous last words. Before I knew it, my story had grown convoluted roots that reached back to the 1940s. Suddenly I had a mountain of memoirs and war diaries and biographies to read!   I wasn’t really fazed about tackling a completely new genre. Early on I’d attempted to write a horror-thriller (while I was under the thrall of Stephen King), and when that bombed I tried my hand at romance, crime, fantasy. Each of the seven novels in my reject drawer is a different genre!   But thanks to the lessons I learned from all my failed projects, I developed a much better grasp on how to structure a novel. I learned that each genre has its own specific requirements; romance focuses on the relationship, while a thriller constantly threatens the hero’s life.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

  And yet the core of any story is the same. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” which explores the idea that all stories – myths, fairytales, and legends – share the same basic components. A troubled character embarks on a quest to solve her problem; she undergoes a series of tests that ultimately transform her; by sacrificing what she wants, she achieves what it is she most needs – and in the process, she becomes whole. THE HERO'S JOURNEY   This theory sounds formulaic, but I found it wonderfully freeing. Once I started working with it, all other elements specific to genre fell into place. Suddenly my plot was holding together. The characters were making sense. The story had purpose, and because I now knew where I was going, the process became much more fun. JOSEPH CAMPBELL BOOK J – What has kept you going throughout all the years you have worked away in solitude on your books? What helped to foster your own self-belief in your talent and enabled you to have a rhinoceros skin?

I’d always loved romantic adventure stories that changed the way I thought or felt – and that’s what I wanted to write. But my early attempts made it clear how much I needed to learn! The thing that kept me going all those years, was the challenge of somehow achieving my vision. It was like a carrot dangling just ahead of me, always out of reach – but soooo delicious-looking. I wanted to do justice to the stories I could see in my head, and the only way to do that was to develop my storytelling skills.   I embarked on a mission, reading every how-to book I could lay my hands on, trying every technique. More importantly, I wrote and wrote. And whenever I looked back over my work and found even the tiniest improvement, a fresh rush of excitement would spur me on.   I was never under the illusion that I was a particularly good writer. My self-belief fought a constant battle with my self-doubt. But I really loved learning about plot and structure and character development … I still do! Concepts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey were endlessly fascinating to me. I was like a drug addict, continually seeking my next fix of story know-how. Even if I’d wanted to stop, I couldn’t have.  

J – Love of the Australian bush permeates Thornwood House. To me, the book really  throbs with nature cycles. How important is it to you as an artist to live in the bush in the solitude you obviously enjoy? Could you have written Thornwood House in a city? 465       I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon who wrote the immensely popular Outlander series. Her first book is set in Scotland in the 1600s, and it grippingly evokes the life and culture of that time.

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

  I was fascinated to learn that Diana wrote her first book in the series without ever having visited Scotland. I read about how she listened to folk song recordings to hone her ear to Scottish accents. She quizzed experts, and no doubt used her own formidable researching skills to make her story world so believable.   This taught me that it’s possible to write convincingly about any location or historical period or life experience – if you do enough research.   But for me, as with most writers, immersing myself in a location brings additional insight and depth to that research. I love to sit and observe. I love to drink in the smell of wildflowers, or walk through the bush at night without a torch, or fire off a few rounds from a double-action revolver, or pick up an eastern brown snake so I can confidently describe the fine velvety nap of its skin. EASTERN BROWN SNAKE   Besides all that, I’m the sort of person who thrives in a natural environment. If I spend a lot of time in town I get frazzled; there’s too much sensory input. My brain likes wide open spaces, and the sound of wind in the trees, and the pebbly smell of the river. I need to be among those nature cycles to understand them and allow them to permeate me. I know I sometimes get carried away with my descriptions, waffling on about leaves and flowers – but that’s how I write. Without the energy of the natural world flowing through my stories, I would quickly lose my excitement for them. IMG_3192   J – Do you have any advice or insight for anybody who is contemplating changing their career and embracing a more creative path? Go for it! For me, the best advice regarding creativity comes from Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.” FOLLOW YOUR BLISS     If you hanker to paint, then paint; if you yearn to tell stories, then do that. If you want to knit, or cook, or lose yourself in the garden – then embrace your creative yearnings with a full heart. Invest a lot of love into what you do, and don’t worry if you have to spend years working other jobs to support it. Walking a creative path is not always easy, but it’s a worthy challenge. Your life will be all the richer for it. And if it makes your soul sing, what is there to lose?

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna's sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna’s sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

  J – I know you don’t have a very active online presence; although you’re blessed with a sister who maintains your Facebook page. What is your take on social media for artists?     I’m certainly blessed with a wonderful sister! In fact I have two wonderful sisters who rave about my books to everyone they meet – lucky me! Sarah saves my poor old brain cells by managing our social media page, which allows me to focus more on my writing. I find the energy of the Internet disrupts my creative flow. I get jittery when I’m online, and afterwards my thoughts feel quite scattered. For inspiration to flow, I need to be relaxed and centred.   As an artist, you have to weigh up the benefits of spending time promoting your work on social media, against the advantages of using that time to develop and layer your work. For me, my stories are simply more important. I don’t consider myself a natural-born talent at writing. I have to work ridiculously long hours, drafting and re-drafting and editing my stories into shape before I’m satisfied that they’re ready to present to my readers.   I’m always acutely aware that for a reader, a book is an investment. Not just of money, but of many hours of their time. I want to give my readers my very best, and this requires that I sacrifice nonessentials such as social media. I’m also a strong believer in word-of-mouth – if you hone your craft and put your heart and soul into creating an entertaining story, then there’ll be readers who will utterly love your books … and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? THORNWOOD HOUSE   J – Thornwood House has a dark mystery at its foundations. How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book? How did writing Lyrebird Hill differ from the first book? I start any project with an enormous amount of brainstorming, researching, and planning where I want the story to go. By the time I’m ready to begin, I have a tightly plotted outline. But when I’m writing I tend to lose myself in the story. I forget all my well laid plans and get carried off by the adventure. Sooner or later I hit a brick wall, which sends me scurrying back to my outline. I replot, work out how to tie up the new loose ends I’ve created, and then freefall back into my characters’ lives. LYREBIRD HILL   Lyrebird Hill was a very different writing experience to my first book; with Thornwood House I had the luxury of time. Years, in fact. The tight deadlines on Lyrebird Hill gave me no choice but to knuckle down and get the story written as quickly as possible. I didn’t have time to stop and agonise over the plot, or waffle off on tangents. I wrote only what I believed was necessary, and as a result went through a huge learning curve. It was crazy, daunting, obsessive … and bucket-loads of fun! And I think the story is better because of it. ANNA SIGNING BOOKS     J – Are you a notebook person, or a writing online type of person? Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer?

I’m very much a notebook person. I usually have several notebooks per novel, which I refer to constantly. I love the tactile feeling of writing on paper – scribbling over words and rewriting, cutting out bits and moving them somewhere else, gluing in photos, drawing maps and diagrams and charts… bliss! Being a visual person, I love the chaos and colours of my notebooks and find working in them a very relaxing way to let the ideas flow.   I seem to be sensitive to electronic equipment, and because I spend so much time staring at a computer screen – drafting or transcribing my handwritten notes or editing – by the end of the day I end up feeling very drained. Breaking up my computer time with other activities such as drawing maps or filling out charts in my notebook helps to keep my mind fresh. GHOST MUSE J – How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like? I know we share an interest in spiritual matters and so do you use that element of yourself in your writing process?  I imagine my muse to be a sort of wild ghost-like creature in photo-negative form. I feed her on a varied diet of books: biographies, history, how-to manuals, as well as  fiction – classic, popular, and sometimes downright trashy. She regularly feasts on films and a smorgasbord of music. She responds well to a hot bath, a walk in the bush, a river swim, or some therapeutic opp-shopping! She’s also fond of conflicting emotions, arguments, love gone wrong, betrayal and disappointment – so occasionally I let her binge on one of these as well.   I believe that our creative selves are very much grounded in the spirit. For me, writing a book is a magical sort of experience. It requires a lot of trust in yourself to embark upon such a huge task and commit to finishing. And it also requires that you set aside your fears and expectations, and surrender to the process.  I spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve the craft of writing, how to strengthen my weaknesses and hone my skills. But I think the success of any creative project really relies on less tangible elements. Instinct, impulse, intuition. It’s exhilarating to connect with your spiritual self and allow it to guide you; to follow those improbable threads of thought that you know will eventually weave something special into the story.   I find that when I let go of all the writerly rules that I’ve learned in my how-to books, and instead focus on the pleasure my writing brings me, I can relax and enjoy the process. I trust my muse to guide me, and that’s when the magic really begins to happen. 

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also ? how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities? THE HERMIT   I’m probably the opposite – with the hide of a rose, and the heart of a rhino! I seem to absorb everything around me, as if there’s no filter between me and the outside world. Sights, sounds, smells … are all vibrant and mesmerising, and all too often overwhelming. I pick up other people’s moods, and I’m sensitive to vibes between others. That’s why I’m such a hermit – I need to remove myself from the fast pace of the world so I can reflect and channel my energies into my work. If I don’t, I burn out very quickly.  I suppose my rhino hide is really a cloak of determination. It’s the one quality that’s kept me going. Whenever the cold winds of doubt or disappointment begin to blow, I draw my cloak more tightly around me and march on. Determination is a quality I’ve learned from the women in my family – my granny, my grandma, my mum. Incredibly resilient women, who forged on no matter what. I’m blessed to have been close to all three, and the qualities they passed along to me are among my most treasured possessions. STRINGYBARK BLOSSOMHAKEA FLOWER   Jo, I love your image of an artist’s soul resembling a rose … but mine doesn’t feel very rose-like. I’d say it’s closer to a stringybark blossom or hakea flower – thrives in the bush, is quietly productive, and mostly drought-hardy!

Thank you, Anna Romer for sharing your inspiration with us.   Thank you Jo, it was my pleasure.

And so I hope you enjoyed the inspiration from this post. Thanks again Anna for your generous sharing and if you did enjoy, please share with your social media friends who may also benefit. Look out for my next Eye of the Rhino post with another special guest. Anna Romer’s  website is HERE Love, Light and Peace, Josephine xx

This interview with Anna is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for  2015.2015 AWW badge

quote joseph campbell