Happy New Year 2016

Hello, I’ve just finished a yearly tarot reading on my deck on New Year’s Eve and the Magician card made a welcome reappearance and also the Hermit card is the year’s overall theme card. I’m feeling good about 2017 after the Beast of 2016.

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Wishing you and your loved ones, a Happy New Year. If you’ve been doing it tough in 2016, I raise a glass to you tonight. Thank you for your support of my writing this year. May a thousand Bluebirds of Joy bring you happiness in 2017.

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Love, Light and Moonshine

Josephine xx

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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

Wisdom from The Company of Wolves

Little girls, this seems to say / Never stop upon your way / Never trust a stranger friend / No-one knows how it will end / As you’re pretty, so be wise / Wolves may lurk in every guise / Now as then, ’tis simple truth / Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.
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Granny: Your only sister, all alone in the wood, and nobody there to save her. Poor little lamb.

Rosaleen: Why couldn’t she save herself?

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Rosaleen: And then they lived happily ever after?

Granny: Indeed they did not!

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Rosaleen: Is that all you left of her? Your kind can’t stomach hair, can you? Even if the worst wolves are hairy on the inside.

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Carried away by the Current

The trees in the village are ablaze with Autumn colours. It’s like you’re in fairyland when the leaves fall around you. I walk everywhere on a scrunchy carpet of leaves.

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Carloads of tourists arrive to photograph our streets.   I relish feeling the dip in the seasons. We have farewelled daylight savings. The nights draw in faster and the days have a chilly bite.

Our neighbour informs us that there’s a local saying that winter arrives with Anzac Day. It appears to be true.    I love Autumn – the transition season but it can also bring a melancholy with the change in light.

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I’ve been living a hermit life (as much as possible with an eleven-year-old daughter) to complete my current book.   My agent is really enthusiastic about the chapters she’s read. My husband, David thinks it’s the ‘best one yet’ – which is what every writer wants to hear. Technically, it’s been a challenge as I’m working with three time periods (the 1800s, 1920s and 1950).   Thank you to readers who have written to me, or commented on my social media, saying how much they are looking forward to this book. The feedback means everything.

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I would like to share this photograph I took in Sydney recently on an outing with my daughter to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This beautiful mer-child with the body of a child and the head of an ancient fish is called “To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved in the other.” The artist is Sangetta Sandrasegar.

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The work is a comment on our changing relationship to the sea brought about by technology. Also, the disappearance of our marine-life and our move away from mythology and old sea-tales. I love her brooding power as she watches a bustling Sydney harbour and the passing clouds, unnoticed by the crowds below her.  You can read more on this piece HERE.    I share the artist’s thoughts on our increasing detachment from myths and nature.

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I find it essential to my own balance to acknowledge seasons and moon cycles. When friends have commented on my passion for comparative religions and ritual, I think of Joseph Campbell’s quote that if you want to know what a society is like without its rituals – read the New York Times.

Here is a photo of a simple ritual my daughter and I did for the New Moon.

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We attended our first Lithgow Ironfest which was a colour and enjoyable day with artisans, jousting, knights, battle re-enactments, steampunks and 1940s army nurses – an enjoyable contrast to the crowds and materialism of the annual Sydney Easter Show.

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We’ve also been attending quite a few sessions at our favourite mountains cinema. Mount Vic Flicks is a traditional cinema experience plus the best hot soup in mugs. Once the manager even delayed putting the movie on to give patrons down the highway a chance to make the movie in time as the traffic was heavy. It’s these olde world courtesies that make our new mountain life such a pleasure.

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I’ve also been reading a lot. I keep wanting to have time to write a post featuring the books I’ve read this year but with trying to finish my own book at the moment it’s been impossible. But it’s a long list with thrillers and mysteries comprising the bulk.    I love staring up at the stars which blaze in a way unimagined in the city. It’s so easy to let go of the trivia and dust of everyday life when you view Saturn through the telescope.

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Roots

I love our new life in the Blue Mountains. Waking to a heavy veil of silence, the air so crispy-fresh that I can feel my lungs celebrate when I inhale, desperate after years of inner-city living to consume the sparkling prana. I love the school run where strangers smile hello and artistic-looking parents in paint-smeared jeans drop artistic-looking children.
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Birdsong permeates the village and in one day several seasons can pass and I love them all. I walk everywhere marvelling over big kookaburras and the sound of lawn mowers instead of aeroplanes overhead. The smell of freshly cut grass.
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After so many years of talking about moving to the country, we fled Sydney. Developers taking over our street and the towering apartment blocks were squashing us. I felt sadness watching a lot of the working artists’ studios closing as the apartments mushroomed. An ongoing bullying case at my daughter’s school – too many toxic environmental pollutants in the air and toxic situations. Life is too fragile to keep trying to make the intolerable work. We fled hurriedly, like characters in a fairytale, leaving behind my roses, writing shed, our good friends, but knowing it was time.
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I wanted my daughter to enjoy the childhood I had been privileged to have: a small village with chimney smoke fire and ethereal mist. A village where the trees stand guard and healthy-looking children  are surrounded by the changing seasons and a caring community. I wanted her to run free in the woods and not become part of the concrete dragon we had escaped. Without my Tasmanian midlands childhood, I could never have written Poet’s Cottage.
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I wanted Daisy at ten to have that depth of life experience. I was weary of smog and bringing in washing streaked black from plane fuel. The air felt as if it was choking our family and our life.
On the Taurus Scorpio Full Moon, we settled the sale of our house. The date was my birthday, 27 October, which was a mystical synchronicity to my family and rounded our city time perfectly, for the day we settled the purchase, all those years ago, was also 27 October. I see our current home in the mountains as a gift from the universe.
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I know this velvet silence will bring my current book to life. I delight in sitting on my new deck, listening to the sound of birds and watching ladybirds and butterflies as I write.
Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Queen for 2015 Eleni Vergotis

Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Queen for 2015 Eleni Vergotis

Being among the trees and gazing upon the panoramic mountain views feels like returning home. We now live in a village I have been escaping to for years and which I used as inspiration for my mystery novel, Currawong Manor.
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On my last visit here, I literally felt roots from my feet grow deep into the soil and spread outwards. I knew the time must be approaching that we would find our mountain home . Shortly afterwards, we did find her. She is a grand old mountains lady, a 1920s character weatherboard and I feel a deep joy every day to have finally, after so many years of yearning, to have become a part of this village and country life.