I miss my art school days, my studio space at COFA in Paddington,Sydney. The smell of turps, going to art galleries and rooftop art parties.  Sometimes I regret not doing more with my BA (a lot of my year became teachers or professional artists) but I have to remind myself I wrote my dark fantasy trilogy – Circle of Nine – based on symbols that evolved during my course.  David was in television production. I was at art school, working part-time cleaning hotel rooms. I rented a room in Paddington the size of a cupboard and shopped the local op shop where designer clothes were donated by affluent locals.I’d just had a bad car accident a few months before these photos. Three operations and a pin and plate installed in my right arm. I’m left handed, fortunately. David is holding my sling in one of the photos.





We’re so baby faced. I’m so thin and blonde. I wanted to live in Paris or Byron Bay.  Life changes in an instant.  A red light.  A speeding car.

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.
Image AgathaChristieMarpleLoc 1.3 25
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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

The Light Between Oceans – Review

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.

light between oceans


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.’

light between oceans two


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…

vintage lighthouse 2


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.

couple vintage light between oceans


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.

lighthouse australia


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.

M.L. Stedman


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.

Australian Women Writers Challenge


Currawong Manor Clip – Part One


Over the next two weeks, I’m going to post a couple of Youtube clips I made for Currawong Manor. This first one is a peek at the palette of the book that I was working with. Next week,  I’ll post a video where I’ll talk about some of the different inspirations for the book. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the world of my gothic mystery. If you feel like sharing it with kindred spirits in your online life, I’ll be most grateful.

Love and Light,

Josephine xx

Stopping Time

This is a review for The Australian Women Writers Challenge which you can read more about HERE. In the coming year I plan to review a host of female Australian writers, so watch this space. I always buy books from Australian writers in the popular fiction genre and they tend to form a tower in my room. It’s difficult to find time to read them with all the research reading required for my own books, not to mention my Magic Hat Bookclub, so The Australian Women Writers Challenge is an opportunity for me to lessen that tower of books.
For my first review I went with Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper.
First a disclaimer:
I’ve known Kate Morton as a writing colleague for years and we share the same agent. Along with many other writers and readers we also share a love of parallel timeline stories, mysteries, Enid Blyton, Barbara Vine and Daphne du Maurier. And so virtually any story Kate creates is going to be my cup of tea.
I love the cover design. It’s a gorgeous image and I had to look twice to check it wasn’t Kate herself.
The production team did a spectacular job with the end papers, which are reminiscent of a Persephone book (another thing I share with Kate is a love of Persephone books). And The Secret Keeper even had a brief Peter Pan mention.
I also love the title which lets you know exactly what this book is about. It also fits in nicely with Kate’s previous titles in its rhythm.
This is a big book. I had to cull several books to fit it on my shelf but I was prepared to do so because the cover design is so lovely.
I finished reading this book on a rainy Sunday night which of course is the perfect weather for a story such as this.
It’s always strange to read an author you know as you have to left go of your relationship to slip into the story, but as usual Kate lured me swiftly in to her web of parallel worlds of 1940s Blitz London, the smaller Australian thread in Tambourine Mountain and the present day/1960s and 2011 strands.
The book opens with a cracking scene as sixteen-year-old Laurel attempts to uncover the mystery behind why her mother stabbed a stranger to death as she looked on from her tree house. You always get a very strong visual sense when reading Kate’s books, which no doubt her drama training helped her develop.
I did spot the twist very early on, which is not Kate’s fault. It was more to do with so many people revealing online there was a twist and so I was on the hunt for it. If I’m going to be picky (and scratching hard for something here), the siblings never felt as developed as the leading characters. I kept getting confused with the siblings who weren’t in it a lot. And the characters seemed a bit too Downton Abbey ‘nice’, but that is also the broad appeal of Kate’s work as well.
In this book Kate seems to be having fun with us. The words play games and bounce along at times.
Kate’s skill is bringing history to life in a ‘can’t put the book down’ way. You catch glimpses of what it was like to live through 1940s Blitz London. I have been reading These Wonderful Rumours! A Young Schoolteacher’s Wartime Diaries 1939-1945 by May Smith.

This also gives you an insight into exactly what it was like for people living when normal life was ‘sort of as usual’ except bombs were going off down the road. One thing I really got from These Wonderful Rumours! was the effects of disrupted sleep from being summoned to air raid shelters in the middle of the night. And do you go coat shopping or to the cinema if they are sounding the raids? I can’t imagine living under the stress of this for years. I would highly recommend his book for the chirpy school teacher’s diaries of her war years.

Chirpy May Smith

Chirpy May Smith

But back to Kate and The Secret Keeper. I admire Kate’s elegant use of words and phrases which create such evocative pictures in your mind, such as on page 185 when the very-likeable Jimmy tries on his father’s suit. He reflects that his father ‘had always seemed such a giant but now it was possible he had merely been a man.’ Such a poignant world revealed in such few words.
And the vivid description on page 188 where Jimmy’s photographs reveal world of ‘private places suddenly made public’ of people’s homes who have been bombed.
The team leader, Mrs Waddingham, is described in Chapter 14 as having lips as tight as a ‘dachshund’s arse’. A glorious image which made me laugh out loud.
And so I finished the Secret Keeper as the rain pelted down outside with a satisfied sigh. I stroked that lovely book cover tenderly and slowly adjusted myself back to my ‘real world’ of Sydney 2013, realising I had to get ready for the school run but reluctant to bid farewell to her characters just yet.
And that is exactly how a great book and story should make you feel. Like many people around the world I am eagerly anticipating Kate’s next book.
On page 246, one of Jimmy’s photographs is of a little girl of 3 or 4 wearing an enormous pair of borrowed bloomers, an adult cardigan and tap shoes. She taps a little dance as she waits for the family who were never going to arrive to take her home. Jimmy’s images are said ‘to record individual tragedies such as a little girl losing her entire family which would otherwise be swept as easily as dust beneath history’s carpet.’
Kate’s The Secret Keeper also reminds us through a ‘can’t put it down’ good story of the human side of the Blitz. I was reminded of The Secret Keeper when I saw this recent quote on Good Reads.
Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: Let’s not forget this. Dave Eggers
I gave The Secret Keeper four stars out of 5.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

A great year to celebrate for women crime and mystery writers in Australia. This is an extract from a recent media release from Melbourne Sister in Crime, Carmel Shute.

Gabrielle Lord and a very blonde Josephine Pennicott

‘Award-winning Swedish crime writer Ǻsa Larsson presented the 12th Davitt Awards at a gala dinner of over 100 crime buffs at the Celtic Club in Melbourne where she also talked to Professor Sue Turnbull about her ‘life in crime’. Turnbull coined the term ‘Arctic Noir’ to describe Larsson’s novels which are set in the icy wilderness of northern Sweden.

Turnbull, also a national co-convenor of Sisters in Crime and the Sydney Morning Herald’s crime columnist) said that Sisters in Crime had been delighted (and amazed), to see women scooping the pools at this year’s Ned Kelly Awards (29 August).

“Four of the 6 awards on offer went to women including the Life Time Achievement Award which went to Gabrielle Lord. To cap it off, all presenters were women so it was far from the blokey affair of previous years,” she said.

Gabrielle Lord

“The sisters are doing it for themselves right across the crime board. This year, we’ve had the pleasure of the TV series, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries,based on the 1920s flapper detective series by Kerry Greenwood, a founding member of Sisters in Crime.

Kerry greenwood and Wizard Dafydd image by Pat Scala

Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries

“You open the Australian Women’s Weekly and you read a feature on Warragul member and author, Honey Brown. You open the Saturday Weekend magazine of the Herald Sun) and you read features about Sydney members Kathryn Fox and Josephine Pennicott – or Honey Brown. You walk into the airport and there is a giant illuminated poster promoting the latest novel by Cairns memberHelene Young.”’

And a few photos of my week and inspirations to share some of the Sydney sunshine.

shoes that crackle with summer anticipation and gypsy love

Thank you for visiting me. Stay creative. xx

Skin and Bone

My daughter and I have been enjoying snuggling together on these chilly winter nights watching the Sophie Dahl cooking series. I wish I had the very pretty house used to film The Delicious Miss Dahl. I love the literary thread Sophie weaves into her cooking. The references to Dorothy Parker, Christina Rossetti, Evelyn Waugh amongst others as she dices and chops. It’s a gluttonous bookworm’s porn.

I only wish that all ads were as good as this recent shoot that Sophie did. Whole stories in every moody, romantic shot.

The Art of Dreams

Loads of things I want to write about  but I have such little time to spend online with a deadline looming for my next mystery novel. In the next few weeks I shall aim to do a few quick blog posts – bloggy sound-bites – on the topics I’ve been longing to post about.

Spirit of the Plains by Sydney Long

I saw this beautiful art exhibition, Australian Symbolism The Art of Dreams, just before it closed in Sydney last weekend. I always enjoy symbolist paintings as I’m so inspired by the unconscious

By the Light of the candle by Alice Hambige

. It was like entering a strange dream in the art gallery.

Casting the spell Charles Douglas Richardson

‘Am I real or am I dreaming?’ my daughter often asks me. I never know how to reply to that one. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the Australian landscape with influences of Art Nouveau,  Pre-Raphaelite and mystical esotericism.

Pan by Sydney Long

I hope you have been well and the Mercury Retrograde has not been too harsh in your life. It’s been a frustrating and tumultuous time for many and publishing can be so affected as Mercury affects communication. Hasten to us, 8th of August, when the planets become more favourable. I shall meditate on some of the paintings from The Art of Dreams and plant some seeds in my garden. From the earth and creativity is where the hope of the world flowers.

The Spirit of the Southern Cross by Arthur Loureiro

Thank you for visiting me, stay creative and keep believing and dreaming. xx

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ― John Lennon