ART SCHOOL PINING

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.

GHOSTS, STORMS AND BLUE HYDRANGEAS

A third low-key Christmas, unable to have any guests. This year and 2020 it was thanks to Covid19. Christmas 2019 was a non-event because we evacuated in the monster fires. A subdued tense feeling simmers in the upper mountains village I live in as the Omicron figures rise daily. At the time of writing, we have 21,151 known new cases daily in New South Wales, which would have been unthinkable this time last year. It’s a stormy, un-seasonally cold summer which I’m not complaining about as the heat is normally intolerable in the mountains when my soul craves wild Tasmanian seas or the bright iridescent blue of Heron Island. At night we watch M.R. James’s  1970s box set of Ghost Stories for Christmas, a welcome reprieve from the daily horrors of the news.

‘Who is this who comes?’

I read one book after another like a drug addict desperate for a fix and to lose myself in other worlds and different times. I don’t know how I would have survived the last few years without books. I post a lot of my book recommendations and reviews on Good Reads, Twitter, my Facebook Author Page and Instagram, so please follow me there if you’re interested.

I’ve just finished writing my current book and hoping it finds a good home. It’s a mystery similar to Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor, set in the 70’s and 90’s. It took two years and four months to write, which was quite an achievement as it was sandwiched between the monster fires, floods, a world pandemic, three plays I was involved in with the local theatre company, the Certificate of Energetic Healing I studied at Nature Care College in Sydney, my Masters of Reiki course and starting a new business, The Mystic Rose Energetic Healing, which was doing splendidly until the lockdown hit. Then there are all the demands of  life with a teenage girl in high school. Even before the novel is picked up, I’m proud I’ve completed it. I’m already itching to start the next book; I’m trying to decide between several ideas.

Joan Didion

Sadly, this year we witnessed the deaths of three of my writing inspirations – Anne Rice, Joan Didion and my friend Clare (aka Mo Hayder) whom I wrote about HERE.

Clare Dunkel aka Mo Hayder

In the garden our hydrangeas are blooming in blue perfection. I’m trying to focus on the good things, no matter how small they might seem to be. Nature is always such a consolation with its rhythms and cycles. I now know when the wild daisies come, and the flannel flowers and waratahs, and when it’s storm and magpie season. It’s a gentle reminder to trust in timing and permit things to unfold in the perfect season.

 

My key words for 2022 are Alignment, Health, Strength and Power. It’s the year of the Tiger which represents attributes like strength, power, confidence, self-esteem. Tigers never back down from a challenge which I think we’re all going to have to foster a sense of in the time to come. Like many, I’ll be avoiding crowds this New Year (which I actually do every year) and staying home with my family to watch our annual reminder that despite everything – It’s  A Wonderful Life.

Wishing you all the Blessings in 2022. Stay safe, keep creative.

 

 

WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS – BOOK REVIEW

I read everything Laura writes and collect hardcover editions of her work. WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS contains her trademark tropes of small-town secrets in the Ozarks, poverty, intergenerational abuse and family ties.

Author photo – Paul Leonard

Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth’s world turns upside down when her family moves to a remote rural region of Arkansas, start home-schooling their children and join a conservative church.
Sarabeth is abducted near a cornfield by a masked man, taken to a unidentified spot, blindfolded, chained to a wall and held captive. When she is returned and dumped by the road a week later in a bloody nightgown, her family and the police refuse to believe her story.
The second timeline is Sara (Sarabeth) five years later, now working in an animal shelter near St Louis, trying to escape her past. Investigator Nick Farrow contacts her as girls have gone missing in cases similar to her own and he wants Sara to return with him to the scene where she escaped not only her masked abductor but her controlling religious-zealot family.


This is a slim book but it’s spellbinding and Laura manages to pack a lot in examining issues such as home-schooling, religion and victims of crime not being believed in some cases. Laura’s work is always evocative, unsettling, beautifully written and expertly plotted. From her debut with THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD, I’ve been a fan. Laura grew up in the Ozarks, she has first-hand experience of the towns she writes about and that comes through in the landscape descriptions and characters. She is interested in True Crime and has recently started a Tik Tok highlighting cases of missing women in her community ignored by the media.

Laura’s website can be found HERE

CINDERELLA

 

 

 

For National Poetry Day, a tribute to Anne Sexton and her brilliant poem, “Cinderella” from the book Transformations which I’ve been reading before sleep to guarantee disturbing dreams.

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.


Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.


Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.


Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.


Once
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother's grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.


Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That's the way with stepmothers.


Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince's ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn't
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.

As nightfall came she thought she'd better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story. 

 

VALE CLARE, MY ENGLISH ROSE

This week I lost my beautiful, brilliant friend, Clare, aka Mo Hayder/Theo Clare to motor neurone disease.

photo credit: Robin Matthews

On December 2, 2020, as I was about to board a train to Sydney for my Diploma of Energetic Healing course, I received a message from Clare saying she believed she might have motor neurone disease and that she wouldn’t survive it. I was stunned. In the bleakest of years with the covid-19 pandemic putting the world on pause, this was the cruellest blow. ‘Pray for a miracle,’ I texted back, or something similarly optimistic. But even before the diagnosis came through of bulbar, one of the most savage versions of motor neurone, we both guessed the bleak ending. For the next seven months, I sent Clare daily distant Reiki energy and we kept in touch daily. I sent her an online rose a day.

I hadn’t heard from her for five days, which was unusual. I was about to contact her partner, when I woke up to his message that Clare had passed the day before. Although the news wasn’t unexpected, I experienced such deep sadness. There will never be another friend to replace Clare. Although we only met in person three times, living on opposite sides of the globe, we corresponded over the years through countless letters and emails. I counted her among my closest friends.

I was introduced to Clare over twenty years ago, when I was at art school and working for an aromatherapy company at Myer department store, Sydney. ‘You might like this book,’ Michael, one of the office staff said. ‘It’s a grisly crime and the author looks like she could be your sister.’ (I was very blonde and thinner back then). Intrigued, I took Birdman home to read and instantly became hooked on her debut novel, which had as its subject matter a killer who sews live birds into the chests of his victims. I wrote to Clare saying how much I enjoyed the book and about a year later received an apologetic letter back. We spasmodically exchanged a few emails. Clare was frantically busy with her writing career which was peaking with her best selling series of dark thrillers, featuring moody, troubled Jack Caffery.

In 2008, Clare appeared at the Sydney Writers Festival to promote Ritual, her third book. I instantly enrolled in a writing workshop she was conducting, although the thought of meeting one of my writing idols was daunting. I’d met other writers who didn’t live up to their books, and I was nervous Clare might be the same. However the reverse was true. I’ve copied and pasted an extract from my online journal (archived here) at the time.

I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival and did a workshop with Mo Hayder. What can I say about that woman except I love her to bits! She really is the most gracious, kind, intelligent, totally gorgeous woman and writer I’ve ever met. She gave me some killer advice and a much needed buck-up with my writing. I received so much from Mo and will be forever grateful.

After all these years of feeling slightly isolated by how my mind works, I feel I found a kindred spirit in Mo. I was more than a little nervous about meeting Mo as I’ve met so many writers over the years and sometimes they don’t always match their books. They can have inflated egos and be quite shabby, dysfunctional people. It’s always ruined their books for me if they don’t match their words. But Mo was one of those rare people who actually exceeded my expectations.’

Meeting Clare in person in 2008 at Sydney Writers Festival Workshop

Clare was travelling with her daughter Lotte, who was six at the time, and she was keen for Lotte to meet my three-year-old daughter, Daisy. My partner brought Daisy in her ballet class tutu to the  hotel at the wharf where Clare was staying with her partner, Bob, who she had met while researching her books. Bob was a police sergeant and rescue diver – the character of police diver, Phoebe (Flea) Marley is inspired by him. Bob is twinkly, charming and we instantly felt we had known him forever. Daisy performed arabesques for Clare, and Clare and Lotte did a dance for us in return. My partner likes to dive and so he enjoyed his conversation with both Clare and Bob.

My much loved, well-read collection.

Over the years, Clare and I continued our correspondence. We shared our feelings on parenting, our creative successes and disappointments (in my case!) and she was always there for me. Whether it was offering to do a blurb for my books, giving me industry advice, or just sharing our very different lives on opposite sides of the planet. Clare was incredibly successful with her books, selling well over a million copies and I was a mid-list author. My Poet’s Cottage in particular had done extremely well overseas, nowhere near the sales Clare achieved, but Clare was interested in the person, rather than how many books sold. Clare even turned my daughter, Daisy into a character in her book, Skin.

 

In 2017, my family travelled to England and we reunited in Avebury with Clare and Bob. We often speak about this being a perfect day. I remember gazing at the stones, seeing the vivid crayon-blue spring sky, the golden yellow rapseed, sheep birthing lambs and the Avebury wishing trees. Clare laughed with Daisy as they strolled, and I thought, ‘This is the most amazingly perfect day.’ Daisy, now 12, thought Clare was the coolest mother ever as Clare and her attracted tutting disapproval in a cafe for snorting like pigs. Clare could be hysterically funny.

With Clare and Bob at Avebury, 2017. A perfect day.

Clare was disappointed when I first told her I was doing my Diploma of Energetic Healing in 2020 . ‘What about your writing? You should be focusing on your book. You can’t give up.  You’re too good,’ she protested. I felt however, driven to do the course. A lot of my family had developed severe health conditions. Several people were close to death around me. I’m grateful I did it now, as I also studied my Masters of Reiki, which helped Clare throughout the last seven months.

I love all of Clare’s books but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Tokyo (Devil of Nanking in the US) as it displayed what crime/thriller fiction was capable of. It was an incredibly courageous work. I also really enjoyed her standalones, such as Hanging Hill and Pig Island. The Treatment remains the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.


It was a privilege to be Clare’s friend. We had the chance to tell each other of how we loved each other many times before she died. Plenty of people don’t have that grace. I’m proud she wasn’t afraid to change direction and write the book that she really wanted to write. I’m very much looking forward to her speculative fiction novel The Book of Sand to be published in 2022 under her pseudonym, Theo Clare

I am grateful I got to share the joy of her marriage to her soulmate Bob in January and that she’s no longer suffering in her physical body. All my love to Lotte, Bob and anyone reading this who knew and loved her. Clare was courageous, idiosyncratic, intelligent, dazzling, light-filled. She was as beautiful, pure and giving as a rose.

I will always miss her.

photo credit via Whole Beauty by Shiva Rose 

ENID BLYTON, WORD MAGICIAN

She made my childhood magic.

 

She gave me a lifelong love of reading, writing, Cornwall, mysteries. Her books were loved over thirty years later by my own daughter who wanted stories (not to be lectured to on worthy topics). So bored with all the Cancel puritans judging artists from a previous time on current thinking and mores. My own Poet’s Cottage book was inspired by Enid Blyton’s two daughters having varying accounts of their childhood.

I recently began re-reading Five On A Treasure Island and was instantly transported back to Kirrin Island, shipwrecks, secret maps and castle ruins. Thrilling stuff!

 

Fly High, Storm Constantine

For so long the world has seemed upside down and tilted sideways. I’m on the third draft of my current book but haven’t felt able to post here. But Storm Constantine’s death on 14 January has evoked memories of another life for me, a pre-pandemic time that seemed more dazzling and less constricted. 

I was travelling in the UK with David in November 2002. I’d just had my first Dark Fantasy book, Circle of Nine, published. I was in correspondence with Storm, whose lyrical writing had inspired me for years. Our trip was filled with mysticism. We were given a tour of a private underground chamber by a Knights Templar at mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. This knight took us into the chamber to show us mason markings on the wall. He was dowsing for energy lines in the chamber, and talked about the society he belonged to, which held ritual meetings there. 

In Edinburgh, we saw books made out of human skin in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. I fell in love with the Black Madonna when I came across her at Chartres Cathedral in France. And, of course, we went to many stone circles and the like: Boscawen-un, the Merry Maidens, the Men-an-Tol, Lanyon Quiot, the Hurlers, Castlerigg and Long Meg & Her Daughters. On this trip, I also travelled to Boscastle for the first time and formed my life-long obsession with the Cornish sea-fishing village and its Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. 

Meeting Storm was one of the magical moments of our trip. In appearance she was very much the Goth beauty. She was down-to-earth, hospitable, generous and shared information about publishing. We enjoyed our afternoon with Storm, her husband Jim, and friend/fellow author Eloise. Her home was filled with Pre-Raphaelite prints. I still remember the smell of the incense, and several cats. Publishing seemed a different world. The world was a different world. 

 

Fly high, shine bright, mystic rose, Storm. 

Condolences to Jim and who all love Storm. 

 

RE-VISITING REBECCA

This weekend it snowed in the Blue Mountains, always a joyful event. I spent the time in bed with the fire glowing (no cosier sight), snowflakes drifting outside, wind gusting, dog snoozing beside me, lost in the gothic world of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

 

I’ve read Rebecca several times in my life, and just like my favourite of her books, My Cousin Rachel, my perception of it shifts as I’ve grown older.

Rebecca opens on an iconic cracker of a line: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

The scene is set for a strange, dreamlike world where everything seems so normal on the outside, but unsettling undercurrents are evident.

The narrator is an unnamed young woman. Daphne set herself the technical challenge of not awarding her a Christian name. We first meet the narrator in Monte Carlo where she is a paid companion to the snobby and wonderfully portrayed Mrs Van Hopper. The narrator meets Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, who is recovering from his first wife’s (Rebecca) death a year before in a boating accident.

After a rushed courtship, Max proposes to the narrator and despite grim predictions from Mrs Van Hopper, the woman travels to Cornwall, to Maxim’s grand home, Manderley.

Here the shy and socially awkward young woman, feeling hopelessly out of her class, battles inferiority and envy about Maxim’s first wife, beautiful accomplished Rebecca, whose presence haunts Manderley.

Mrs Danvers, the grim housekeeper, who was devoted to Rebecca, carries malice towards the new Mrs De Winter and goes out of her way to ensure the new bride can’t relax in her role. Everyone the narrator meets praises Rebecca extravagantly and the Narrator becomes more cowed and insecure.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock’s 1940 film release

Maxim becomes more distant and after a disastrous masked ball where Mrs Danvers spitefully excels herself by encouraging the Narrator to dress in the same costume Rebecca had worn at the previous ball just before her death, causing Maxim to retreat further.

After a shipwreck occurs, a second boat is uncovered – Rebecca’s sailing boat with Rebecca’s body in it. Suspicion is cast upon Maxim, as he previously identified a body found washed up on the coast as Rebecca.

The twists continue until the grim ending which contains lines just as potent and evocative as the opening.

 

There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.’ 

Daphne du Maurier began Rebecca in late summer 1937 when she was stationed with her husband Tommy ‘Boy’ Browning in Egypt. Tommy was the Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

 

Daphne made slow progress on the book in Egypt and on their return to England in December she spent Christmas away from her family to finish Rebecca. The book was published by Victor Gollancz in April 1938.

Daphne was toying with themes of jealousy. Tommy had been engaged to marry a beautiful, dark-haired woman, Jan Ricardo. Daphne found herself obsessively thinking about Jan, and comparing herself unfavourably.

Like the narrator in the book, Daphne was introverted, disliking social events and small talk, whereas Jan/Rebecca were extroverted, flamboyant glamorous women. Daphne had found and read old letters between Tommy and Jan and was struck by the self-assured tone of her predecessor and the florid way she signed the R in her correspondence compared to her own spidery writing. Rebecca has this trait in the novel. Tragically, Jan Ricardo committed suicide at 39, throwing herself under a train on August 4, 1944.

Daphne was surprised by Rebecca’s popularity – and also that it was marketed as a romance. Today it is seen as a gothic psychological thriller.

On this read, I was struck by how passive the narrator is. Her very passiveness gives her power. I found myself empathizing more with the absent Rebecca. Even before arriving at Manderley, the narrator is ripping out pages from books that Rebecca has inscribed with her distinctive R. She began to irritate me with her inability to stay in the present and her paranoia.

When Maxim reveals his secret to his second wife, she barely seems to care about his admission.

I also had a lot more empathy for the archetypal crone, Mrs Danvers. She is loyal to her first mistress and she probably guessed the truth of what happened at Manderley. She genuinely mourns Rebecca and it must have appalled and infuriated her that Maxim marries such a young woman a year later.

Lily James as the second Mrs De Winter and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers in the Netflix 2020 version

There is something sickly and rotten about Manderley and its inhabitants. The overlong driveway with overgrown red rhododendron bushes. The sprawl of rooms with a web of secrets contained within.

Daphne and her children at Menabilly

 

Manderley – a conglomeration of Milton Hall in Cambridgeshire, where Daphne visited as a child and Menabilly, a Cornish estate that obsessed Daphne and which she leased from the Rashleigh family – has gripped readers since its first publication. She called Menabilly ‘her house of secrets’ and she loved it, as she admitted, more than she loved people.

That corner in the drive too, where the trees encroach upon the gravel, is not a place in which to pause, not after the sun has set. When the leaves rustle, they sound very much like the stealthy  movement of a woman in evening dress, and when they shiver suddenly, and fall, and scatter away along the ground, they might be the patter, patter, of a woman’s hurrying footstep, and the mark in the gravel the imprint of a high-heeled satin shoe.’

The writing is atmospheric and the words convey a haunting, ominous beat. There is a terrible inevitability to where the novel is leading us. ‘Rebecca has won,’ Maxim says at the novel’s closing chapter.

Rebecca is a dark novel filled with complex characters and shadows. I’ve no doubt that when I re-read it in another five years or so, I’ll have a different perspective on it.

 

The novel has been in print since 1938. In 2017, it was voted the UK’s most popular book of the last 225 years. It’s been adapted for film and television several times and we will see a new adaption in 2020 from Netflix. Not bad for a novel that Daphne declared in a letter to her editor when finishing:

‘Here is the book. I’ve tried to get an atmosphere of suspense. It’s a bit on the gloomy side. The ending is a bit brief and a bit grim.’

 

THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE AND DEAR OLD TABBIES

There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’ 
Even before Coronavirus stopped the world, I had begun re-reading my Miss Marple collection. I always find Marple a tonic in tough times, and her shrewd no-nonsense appraisal of people a great comfort.
I began in January with the first Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage (1930). The elderly spinster first appeared in short stories, later collated into The Thirteen Problems (1932). Miss Marple obviously wasn’t content with just being in short stories, and thankfully for those of us who love her, managed to break through into a full-length novel.
Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool.’
The Murder At The Vicarage introduces us to the world of St Mary Mead, an idyllic, seemingly sleepy English village in south-east England. It has a pub, vicarage, shops and Gossington Hall Estate. Miss Marple’s cottage is Danemead Cottage in Old Pasture Lane.
Colonel Lucius Protheroe, the much disliked church warden, is found shot through the head in the vicarage study. Everybody believes they know who’s responsible, including Miss Marple, one of the ‘old cats’ of the village, who sees everything, hears everything and knows everything! Miss Marple goes as far to declare there are at least 7 suspects who would want the Colonel out of the way.
Just before the unfortunate man’s death, Leonard Clement, the local vicar who narrates the story – and is one of the Seven Suspects – makes the tactless remark that ‘anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service’.
Some of the other suspects include the vicar’s wife, Griselda, a flamboyant character who is a lot of fun. She reminds me of Tuppence Beresfold. I suspect Christie enjoys these young and spirited characters – perhaps reflecting her young and spirited side. She was, after all, one of the first British women to surf standing up in Australia during her Grand Tour in 1924.
Agatha must have been fond of Leonard and Griselda as they also appear in The Body In The Library (1942) and 4.50 From Paddington ( 1957).
The Colonel’s second wife, Anne and her seemingly scatty daughter, Lettice.
Mr Dawes, the new rector under suspicion of stealing from the church collection plate.
Lawrence Redding, the rakish artist and ex-war veteran.
The mysterious Mrs Lestrange, a newcomer to the village.
‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’
The Murder At The Vicarage is filled with red herrings and twists. It also has a lot of humour and some really fun characters and observations on village life. Even in my Australian Blue Mountains village so many decades later, I can recognise some of the personalities Christie has so much fun with.  A Miss Hartnell is described as ‘weatherbeaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor.’ Agatha can sum up so much in so few words.
Inspirations for Miss Marple included the spinster sister, Caroline Sheppard from The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends.
I love Miss Marple because I appreciate that an elderly woman is given such power. Dismissed and overlooked by so many to their cost, Miss Marple is always observing and noticing. Nothing appears to unduly shock her.
At my time of life, one knows the worst is usually true.’ – Miss Marple
I enjoyed revisiting The Murder At The Vicarage. I love Vicar Leonard and Griselda and of course, I will always love Miss Marple. The plot is slightly convoluted and it’s not my favourite of Agatha’s books but it’s a classic Agatha mystery. I am now about to re-read The Thirteen Problems where Miss Marple first appeared in short story form.
Agatha Christie, reflecting on The Murder At The Vicarage, found it sound but thought it was filled with too many characters and sub-plots.
Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid has cited The Murder At The Vicarage as being the novel that inspired her to write detective novels.
Dorothy L. Sayers was so taken by The Murder At the Vicarage and Miss Marple, she wrote the following to Agatha Christie:
‘Dear Old Tabbies are the only possible right kind of female detective and Miss M is lovely… I think this is the best you have done – almost.’

Agatha Christie – The Duchess of Death

THREE HOURS

And You? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
Rumi (1207-1273)
I’m superstitious when it comes to Rosamund Lupton. Not only is she one of my favourite writers, but after reading Sister, her 2011 bestselling debut thriller, I won The Scarlet Stiletto Award. And so, in true writerly superstitious style, I always re-read one of her enthralling stories when I’m working on a book. A new Rosamund Lupton book is always cause for celebration. She is one author I’ll buy the paperback and then end up purchasing the hardcover as soon as I finish it.
Her current book Three Hours is highly lauded and concerns a school shooting set in rural, snowy Somerset. It sounded like a book I’d love, so on the perfect rainy weekend, I opened it with great anticipation.
Like her previous books, Three Hours is a page-turner, clever and stylishly executed. It filled in my rainy weekend admirably.
And this is what evil does, Neil thinks. It exposes your fear and cowardice, your vulnerability and your fragility, makes you confront your mortality; but it also finds courage and selflessness that amaze Neil. He thinks of white type of a white screen, the poem’s beauty invisible until the background screen is turned black.’
A progressive private school in Somerset in England is besieged by two masked gunmen. Children and staff are barricaded inside classrooms, the library and theatre. In a symbolic scene, books are piled against a door to keep the gunmen out. The identity of the gunmen become known, but the question of whether there is a third gunman remains. The multiple characters are given their separate viewpoints in parallel strands.
They include:
The liberal Headmaster, Matthew Marr, who is critically shot in the beginning of the book, and who recognises the voice of the gunman but is unable to voice who it is.
His heroic Deputy Head, Neil Forbright.
Daphne Epelsteiner, the drama teacher.
Two Syrian Refugees taken in at the school, Rafi, and his younger brother, Basi Bukfari. Both suffer from PTSD. Alone and vulnerable outdoors in the snow seeking his brother, with killers on the loose,  Basi is unable to determine what is real and what is genuine. Rafi and Bafi’s journey to England is memorable it its poignant detail such as Bafi’s shame over bedwetting. The brothers cling to the memory of the kindness of strangers and they are unable to trust the normal authority figures.
Not enough money for her, just him and Basi; ten thousand euros each to go via Italy, the safest route, the people smugglers, said. And oh for fuck’s sake, people are bored of this story, all that tugging misery, and you get fed up with desperate people and he gets that, he really gets that, because he’d rather binge-watch a series on Netflix, or listen to Spotify, or play Xbox or hang out with his friends too, who wouldn’t?’  
Detective Inspector Rose Polstein, a pregnant forensic psychologist whose role it is is to get inside the head of the gunmen in order to prevent the tragedy unfolding rapidly.
Beth Alton, an increasing desperate mother trying to get in touch with her son, Jamie, and her mental communications to him. I really enjoyed this character. Whether her action right at the end is something I could relate or believe in, I’m still thinking about.
Hannah, Rafi’s girlfriend who is left caring for the Headmaster, while trying to locate Rafi.
The book rises in intensity as social media picks up the school crisis and the police try to contain the rippling of it via social media to the world as different countries begin to wake up to the drama. Some of these scenes are fascinating for the research on technology and the experts having to encrypt messages and clues from computers with little time to do so.
There are several issues explored in Three Hours: hate crime, white supremacy, radicalisation, teenage alienation, extremism and refugees. The overriding theme of the book is Love.
‘Love is the most powerful thing there is,’ the headmaster tells his student. ‘The only thing that really matters.’
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse…’
The plot device of using Macbeth (the Syrian refugees have a copy of it from their father, and the school is staging it) works well although I’m still wondering if rehearsals would continue with gunmen at their school. The finale (no spoilers) with the trees, didn’t fully convince me, but visually it’s a spectacular scene.
‘Rafi told her once that for him it isn’t Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are the frightening characters, but First Murderer, Second Murderer, Third Murderer, men without names; unknown killers in the darkness.’
FIRST WITCH Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wrecked as homeward he did come.
THIRD WITCH A drum, a drum;
Macbeth doth come.
‘Oh hellfire, Daphne thinks, the tedious Norwegians have finished and the violence is about to start; a spreading evil that leads to children being murdered and men not being able to walk at night, and the world turning dark even in daylight.’
Like The Quality of Silence, some beautifully evocative writing comes from the poetic description of the landscape adding to the melancholy tension. The landscape becomes its own character:
‘A gust of wind batters the police Range Rover. Out of the window, the snowflakes are thick and frenzied, each one an insubstantial feather, weightless, but massed together they are piling on to trees, fences, hills of grass and ploughed fields. Everything weighted down and smothered; the landscape being suffocated.’
Three Hours is a stylish and absorbing read. It has remained with me after I finished the book and I know I will return to it. It’s a call for tolerance and love. I’d love to see it on the Reading List of all schools as well as on the big screen.  I can’t wait to see what Rosamund Lupton offers next.

author photo: Vicki Knights Photography

‘To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden
The moment in the arbour when the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.’
T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’ . Four Quarters (1936)