Winter Solstice

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

Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

Hello,
On Friday evening I made the five-hour return train trip to Angel Place for the Sydney Writers’ Festival to see Scotland’s best-selling crime novelist Ian Rankin discuss his work and life with Australian writer Michael Robotham.
IAN RANKIN TICKET
Never leave securing tickets for the hot sessions! By the time I booked, only two seats remained – both in such elevated positions I expected Michael and Ian to do a pre-flight safety demonstration before we taxied over their heads.
image via @Breathhigh twitter

image via @Breathhigh twitter

Despite the vertigo, the hour was engrossing and inspiring. Ian was candid, witty, and clever and Michael was a terrific interviewer – his journalistic experience was in evidence as he led the conversation but still managed to keep himself back.
 I’ve paraphrased below some of Ian’s talk (I was so engrossed in the conversation I missed a lot). This is my own version, so please keep that in mind. You really had to be there to hear Ian’s Scottish accent to appreciate it more. I’ve also added a few details from a 2009 Times interview.
image credit Murdo MacLeod for Guardian

Image credit Murdo MacLeod for Guardian

 I.R spoke about the years when he didn’t think his career as a writer was ever going to happen. He’d published quite a few books but they were languishing in the midlist. One of his lowest points was when he went into his local bookshop after he had about five books published, to discover none of his books were on the shelf. The books of a rival crime writer in the same city featured prominently and when Ian commented, the owner said, ‘But he sells extremely well.’ M.R then related his own story of when he asked his publishers why his books weren’t in a shop and was told they were trying to create a ‘vacuum’. Ian then laughed, quipping that’s exactly what we want! A vacuum.
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Five publishers turned down Knots & Crosses. I always love stories of publishers getting it wrong…
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Ian was in London at this stage. He had a job and was writing on the side, with his wife Miranda Harvey the main breadwinner. His first royalties were so mediocre that Miranda (who sounds an incredible powerhouse and support) suggested moving out of expensive London. They hoped Miranda could support Ian’s writing by teaching English in the French countryside while they grew vegetables and lived a self-sufficient life on a farm in Dordogne. Well, that was the plan, but unfortunately in the French village they moved to, the locals weren’t interested in learning English.
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M.H is the daughter of two university lecturers, and according to the Times 2009 interview, had just started a course in Ancient Greek with Open Uni because she wanted to read Homer in the original. Ian describes his wife as the brains of the family. Ancient Greek would have been her fourth degree. She has also studied psychology. Miranda said she never thought Ian would become as famous as he is. But she always believed writing was a perfectly reasonable career and never saw it as a hobby or as a waste of time, even if it didn’t prove to be a big earner.
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The couple had two sons, Jade and Kit, during this time. Very tragically, Kit was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic condition with severe disabilities – he was partially sighted and unable to speak or walk (in the Times interview, when Kit was fourteen, he was learning to walk). Due to all the stress Ian was having panic attacks and would go on all-night drives, screaming and shouting. He was also trying to write two books a year.
image of Edinburgh Castle via Ian Rankin's website

image of Edinburgh Castle via Ian Rankin’s website

He wrote Black and Blue in 1997, the eighth of his Inspector Rebus books. Eight, a lucky number and the symbol of infinity, proved to be a breakthrough. It was his Big, Angry book. His Why Me, Why Us?
How many people would have given up on the third, fourth, (gulp) seventh book?
REBUS'S SCOTLAND PUB IMAGE
He knew he’d become successful when Miranda phoned him with his six-month royalty statement, saying it was a six-figure statement. The couple thought a mistake had been made but it turned out that his backlist had begun selling from readers newly hooked into Rebus’s world via Black and Blue.
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Ian said that he had to write, that it was therapy for him and that crime writers are all lovely people in real life because of the cathartic effect of their writing. You have to watch out for the Romance writers – they’ll stab you in the front! (I have to agree with him on this one. The crime writers I’ve met have, without exception, been the loveliest, most supportive people.)
Image of West Bow via website Undiscovered Scotland

Image of West Bow via website Undiscovered Scotland

With the money that has since flowed to him, he can now provide Kit with the best equipment.
Image from Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts via Youtube

Image from Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts via YouTube

Michael asked about the  documentary, Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts, a three-part series about the nature of evil. Michael informed Ian that it is on Youtube. During the series Ian analysed cultural definitions of evil. He travelled to death row in Texas and spoke to inmates, examined Nature versus Nurture, and  was also exorcised at the Vatican by an Exorcist who had performed 15000 exorcisms. More chillingly, the crew arranged for him to speak to the mother of Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, but Brady insisted that Ian only speak directly with him.
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Ian declined, and when Michael asked why (I’d love to know whether Michael would have done it) Ian replied that once Brady was in your head, you’d never get him out. He described Brady as a seriously sick, clever, sadistic man. Brady wrote a book called The Gates of Janus which Ian said was a horrible book. Its subject matter is basically that serial killers should be revered. It’s banned in the UK, but available in the US.
Ian interviews Juliet Hulme/Anne Perry

Ian interviews Juliet Hulme/Anne Perry

There were some killers Ian said he would be comfortable interviewing, such as the one-time killer Anne Perry (Juliet Hulme), who murdered the mother of her childhood friend, Pauline Parker, in New Zealand in the 1950s. The killing of Honorah Rieper has always really affected me terribly. I’ve always felt so much pity for the mother brutally killed by her daughter and Perry – girls she trusted. Just contemplating how much violence it would take to bash someone’s head in with a brick…
Image of Ian Rankin via Daily Mail Jan 2017

Image of Ian Rankin via Daily Mail Jan 2017

We had now reached the part of the evening when the audience asks questions. My plan was to sneak away and catch my country train back up the mountains. But Michael Robotham is a wily fox and onto this trick, and he requested that people actually ask questions and not make statements (I hate how there’s always someone who has to ramble on with some statement on these occasions; we need a hook to be rid of them so we can return to those whom we paid to see). But hurrah! The people brave enough to take the mic managed to keep me in my seat (at the risk of missing my train) by asking about Ian’s writing routine and other interesting questions.
The Oxford Bar Edinburgh

The Oxford Bar Edinburgh

Ian said that when he’s writing, he goes to his house in Scotland where there’s no television etc and works solidly all day in peace and isolation. At night he goes to the local pub and has a simple meal like fish and chips. He writes the first draft as quickly as he can. He doesn’t know the ending of his books when he begins, just a little of the plot and the main characters. He uses his first draft to find out  what’s going on.
His advice for writing short stories is keep it crisp and have a great opening line.
He advised writers to try to have some fun. Writing should be fun. It should be like creating imaginary characters when you were young.
Image via M.R Twitter of Michael Robotham & Ian Rankin

Image via M.R Twitter of Michael Robotham & Ian Rankin

The session was recorded, and The Sydney Writers’ Festival should be adding it to their website, so if you enjoyed reading this far, you’ll be able to listen to the entire conversation. There was a wealth of inspiration for all creatives. Thank you to Ian Rankin (if he ever stumbles across this) for being so open and genuine and thank you to Michael Robotham for being such a terrific interviewer.  And yes, despite having to forfeit the endless signing queue line and battle the crowds who were thronging down to Circular Quay for the Vivid light display, I did catch my country train.
If you know of anyone who might be inspired and enjoy this post, please share.
Thank you for visiting,
Josephine
All black and white images used of Scotland via this book: Rebus’s Scotland A Personal Journey. photo credits. Ross Gillespie and Tricia Malley
IAN RANKIN SCOTLAND PHOTO BOOK

The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks

Secrets, Lies and Deceptions in Elizabethan England.

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

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The Locksmith's Daughter

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

Seething Lane Skulls

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

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

Dark Places

The Days were a clan that mighta lived long
But Ben Day’s head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan’s power
So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast
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Baby Libby somehow survived
But to live through that ain’t much a life
– schoolyard rhyme, circa 1985 from Dark Places
I’m not easily scared by books, but Dark Places had me so terrified by the time I reached the final twist I couldn’t sleep and had to leave lights on.
dark-places-book
My heart  pounded so hard as I neared the end I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It didn’t help that I read the book late at night, with everyone asleep, on Boxing Day Night.
dark-places-farmhouse-two
By the end of the story, I felt my brain needed to take a bath to rid itself of some of the more disturbing images planted by Gillian Flynn. In a lesser writer, Dark Places would have been a grisly story like some 80s slasher film, but Flynn elevates the material she is working with to a book that is gripping, disturbing and heartbreakingly poignant.
dark-places-girl
The story is narrated in multiple viewpoints alternating between Libby Day in the present day , the survivor of the grisly murder of her mother and two sisters in 1985. Michelle Day, the eldest girl, is strangled. Nine-year-old Debby is killed with an axe and Patty Day, the matriarch is stabbed, hacked and shot as she tries to protect her children. Patty and Ben, Libby’s older brother, relate their points of view in the back story from the time leading up to the Day Family Massacre.
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The family’s farm in Kinnakee, Kansas, has been going under along with several others. Patty Day, suffering from depression can barely function or care for her children. Ben, 15, a moody, devil-worshipping, heavy-metal listening misfit, is involved with the wealthy, bad-arse kids at his school. Ben is accused of the murders and seven-year-old Libby’s testimony puts him in gaol.
dark-places-quote-scribble
In the present day thread, twenty-five years later, Libby, in need of money, is contacted by The Kill Club, a group of obsessives who specialise in killings and crimes they wish to solve and role-play. When she first meets with the creepy secret society, Libby rejects the idea that Ben could be innocent. But as she investigates further, she begins to doubt her own statements from the time. She meets several key players from the 80s, who were all involved directly or indirectly with the Day massacres. She travels from strip clubs to abandoned tourist towns in her quest to discover if her brother Ben was really innocent.
This is a book about poverty and how it bankrupts you on all levels. My heart was breaking for Patty, the mother, as she struggled to keep her farm afloat and bring up four children as a single mother. And also her neglected children who have to suffer a myriad of humiliations daily from other children.  It also deals with themes of drug use, Satanism, heavy-metal music, farming and under-age sex. The violence is depicted so graphically that I couldn’t read some of the animal torture scenes. It was hard enough to read about a child being axed to pieces while her mother fought to try to save her children with her own fatal injuries.
The tone of the book draws you in. Flynn is a great storyteller and her language is powerful. Her characters are repulsive and dysfunctional but also realistic. There are few likeable characters with most of the children playing dark roles in the tragedy that follows. The only part that fell down for me slightly was when Libby in the present day visits Diondra. I’m still undecided if the book really needed that scene. I found my credibility stretched here as this scene dipped into horror genre territory, but I still awarded Dark Places five stars.
Gillian Flynn on right with Charlize Theron.

Gillian Flynn on right with Charlize Theron.

Dark Places will haunt you. It’s not a book that you’ll put away and forget, even if you wish you could. I loved it more than Gillian Flynn’s first book Sharp Objects (which I also really enjoyed) and I also preferred it to the more commercially successful Gone Girl. Try to read it in sunshine on a crowded beach so you don’t suffer the same experience I put myself through. But I do think I have to re-enter the Darkspace of Dark Places to examine how devious, dark and twisty Flynn managed to pull it all off.
“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood.” Libby Day

Mystery, Intrigue, Wine, Plants and Storytelling

Hello, if you enjoy mystery, intrigue, wine, plants and storytelling, I am appearing next Tuesday
evening, 22nd November,  (along with fellow writers Anna Westbrook, Alexandra Joel and Sulari Gentill) at the incredibly atmospheric Stoneleigh 50 (Chippendale, near Central Station, Sydney).
The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

Presented by Better Read Than Dead bookshop, this special event combines wine-tasting with authors reading from their own works – I’ll be doing an excerpt from Currawong Manor.
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Really looking forward to being part of such a special evening. Places are limited – so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, please come along. Tickets can be booked here:
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Swans, Secrets and Shadows

It is the school holidays. I’m the first awake as my family were all up late last night. My eleven-year-old girl read The Cursed Child in bed with a torch till past midnight. She has re-read this book over ten times since we bought it for her. J.K Rowling’s world has meant to much to her over the years, just as Enid Blyton formed my childhood joy and provided solace in tough times.

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Outside, the weather is bleak and a wind blows hard, making the trees shake around the house. We are hoping for snow to fall in the Blue Mountains, despite the fact we are now in October. Snowfalls are still possible in early Spring when you live above the clouds.

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It was vastly different weather conditions in January, 2014, when I sat by the river in Richmond, Tasmania, on a family holiday watching the golden sunlight and the shadows dapple and form patterns on the water.

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As with several of my books, an image came to me as swans glided past. I was luxuriating in the peace of the convict-built bridge and village – a place so seemingly tranquil, but which contained shadows.

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The scene that came to me was of a young man sitting by the river writing a note, confessing to a crime he believes he is guilty of. Two girls rowing a boat on the water sing ‘Buttons and Bows’ and suddenly the serenity of the sleepy Tasmanian hamlet is shattered when one of the girl’s oars snags on a floating body.

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This was the beginning of The Secret Echoes, which I just finished this week. From the very start, I knew it would contain certain elements: the golden Tasmanian sunshine and mellow light, a bridge that harboured secrets, a supposed ghost that haunted the bridge, letters, a poison-pen writer, the death of the town’s most popular golden girl. Swans, secrets and shadows. I couldn’t wait to start writing to discover who the body was in the river and whether the boy confessing to the crimes was as guilty as he believed. The working title of the book was Sweetwater.

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As the book progressed those elements remained but it took an unexpected journey. I always knew I wanted to set it in the 1950s, but a 1920s thread also felt strong and a few months into writing, a fairly minor character in the 1880s became increasingly insistent to be featured more. This put the book back about six months, as I had to put it aside to research 1800s Australia before I felt confident about being able to portray this headstrong character and her life and times.

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My journal entry for August, 2014 records I had just begun the first draft.

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I could not have conceived at that time how dramatically different my life would be from that day I began the opening scene. My family faced several major challenges: we moved house from the city to the country. In our city life we had to deal with bullying developers, bullying children (and their even worse bullying mothers) and a health diagnosis for one member of our family that was shattering.

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But throughout the chaos, I kept returning to the book and although it took me a few months longer than planned, I was delighted to finish the final segment, Wattle Dreaming, this week of The Secret Echoes.

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I hope it makes it way with confident strong legs out into the world and finds a readership. With the New Moon (the Black Moon) just having passed us, I made wishes and blessings for its journey. And I’m excited to begin the next book, which has been calling impatiently to me for years.

Love and Light,

From above the clouds,

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

The Quality of Silence

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

image via Rosamund Lupton

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

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

map of Alaska via author’s website

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

Black Rabbit Hall

I discovered Black Rabbit Hall on an outing to the Blue Mountains, after finishing my train book on the journey up. Fellow bibliophiles will understand my panicked dash to the local bookshop before my city train was due. fef106c85135361ed6ff421611acb10d   Browsing in Blackheath’s Gleebooks, I picked up Black Rabbit Hall with its intriguing title and lovely cover design. I was instantly hooked by the synopsis: mysterious Cornish mansion near creepy woods, the shadow of the past creeping into the present, family secrets held over decades – exactly the sort of book I love to read and write. Also the blurb by acclaimed Tasmanian John Harwood – who has achieved international success with his literary Gothic novels The Ghost Writer, The Séance and The Asylum  – decided me. I’d never heard of Eve Chase, which isn’t surprising as Black Rabbit Hall is her debut novel, but it was proof that you don’t necessarily need glossy author photos and a large publicity campaign to sell a book. Sometimes the product sells itself. 11326661_676156795853799_628218284_n   My trip back down the mountain passed in a blur as I lost myself in the world of Black Rabbit Hall. I was disappointed to find myself back in Central Station in Sydney, as I wanted to keep reading. aa70e1d1c7967ed897b1c8e71cb78eca   The books parallel storyline is set between the 1960s and the present day. Lorna Smith in the present-day thread is scouting a suitable venue for her wedding, and finds herself drawn to the mysterious, crumbling, faded gentry beauty of Pencraw House (Black Rabbit Hall) against her fiancée’s wishes.

A Black Rabbit hour lasts twice as long as a London one, but you don’t get a quarter of the things done. ’

In the 1960s thread, the Alton Family, who spend country holidays at Black Rabbit Hall, suffer a tragedy. Life for the Alton children alters forever, and the families destiny entangles with Lorna Smith’s in the present day thread. 8f94d9b1d1bbe1753f8168deb6961db1   Black Rabbit Hall is an intrinsically English novel, and does remind me in tone of Dodie Smith’s, I Capture the Castle. The 1960s thread, narrated by the very likeable Amber Alton, is strong and I revelled in the description of the the kitchen at Black Rabbit Hall, with ‘cornflower-blue walls – blue to keep the flies away – and a larder with broken lock. Bread dough rising in china bowls like pregnant bellies: pig guts soaking in salted water before being stuffed and turned into hog’s pudding; tin buckets writhing with conger eels, buckets of crabs.’ And Cornish food such as the dreaded ‘Kiddly’ broth. Eve Chase deftly brings the mysterious hall, with its groaning pipes, black and white tiled hall and constant power cuts to life with lines such as: ‘drawers stuffed with all manner of odd things: ration books, gas masks, a loaded pistol, a sheaf of golden curls from a dead baby, who, Daddy says, would have been our great-aunt had she lived. Oh yes, and Princess Margaret’s glove. That’s about as exciting as it gets.’ d6a8963aa6f44ea027001aea699cc89e

‘The temperature drops, the sea changes from clear blue to murky dark green, like a glass of paintbrush water.”
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I enjoyed the slightly surreal touches, such as the image of vast amount of rabbits around the hall at dusk. The hall faces west, and the silhouetted rabbits resemble shadow puppets, giving Pencraw House its name. Time is ‘syrupy slow,’ none of the clocks work properly, and nobody seems to care.

Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers.’

It’s a beautifully written page-turner. My only very slight gripe was that the ending was a little too tidy and happy-ever-after for my taste, but I loved the journey into Black Rabbit Hall and it has stayed with me. This is one of those plot-driven story books that you want to gobble up, and keep the pages turning past the witching hour. 320ea507194ad7c1f881b39901df1c75   I look forward to reading Eve’s next novel. Black Rabbit Hall is published by Michael Joseph. “If Daphne Du Maurier and Ruth Rendell in Barbara Vine mode had been able to collaborate, they might have come up with something like Black Rabbit Hall: Rebecca meets A Fatal Inversion, so to speak. But Eve Chase is very much her own novelist, as fascinated by the varieties of love and affection that hold families together as by the forces that can tear them apart. A remarkable debut from an exceptionally talented and accomplished author.” —John Harwood, author of The Ghost Writer Eve’s website can be found HERE All images in this post with the exception of my train book photo via Eve’s Pinterest Inspiration boards.  HERE.