CROOKED HOUSE

I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I either blocked Crooked House from my mind – or I’d never read it.
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A Christie I haven’t read? Scandalous! It’s hard to believe I could’ve forgotten this chiller. Crooked House was the Agatha Christie Book of the Month for November. There are no spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t read it, I vow to Keep the Secret.
CROOKED HOUSE PAN EDITION
Crooked House (1949) was one of Agatha’s personal favourites and I can see why. I always enjoy her standalone novels, like Endless Night – see review HERE. Free of Poirot and Marple, her work enters interesting shadows. I love both detectives, but it must have been refreshing for Agatha to write without them. She claimed Crooked House was pure pleasure to create. She mused over it for years and felt it one of her best. It is also pure pleasure to read.
Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

Agatha Christie Life Magazine 1940

The novel is set just after WW2 in 1947. Narrator Charles Hayward returns to England to marry his fiancée Sophia, whom he met in Egypt where she was working for the Foreign Office .
Sophia’s grandfather Aristides Leonides presides over The Three Gables (the Crooked House) where several generations of the family live. But he’s murdered when his insulin medication for diabetes is swapped with his eserine eye medicine. It’s a perfect set up for lots of simmering tensions and family secrets. Everyone, from Sophia herself to 12-year-old Josephine is a suspect, and everyone appears to have a motive. Classic Christie!
Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Crooked House signed copy image via Pinterest

Here’s an extract from when Charles asks ‘The Old Man’ (his father) what murderers are like:
‘But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse… And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ – murder is wrong – but not for them – for them it is necessary – the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.’
CROOKED HOUSE SHOES
Charles’s father is the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, so Charles is allowed to unofficially investigate under the eye of Chief Inspector Taverner.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Their flaws are shown but there is depth to every person Christie has created. An example is Laurence Brown, the tutor looked down upon by the family for being a conscientious objector. He was, as he admits to Charles, afraid to go to war, afraid to have to pull the trigger on what might appear to be a Nazi but is actually just a decent German village boy swept up in the conflict. Laurence believes war is wrong but is despised for his beliefs. Now he is under suspicion of murder along with the rest of the household. Laurence tries hard to do the decent thing and is always failing. He rushes into a burning building to save a woman but became unconscious with the fumes, earning the scorn of the fire-department when they have to rescue him as well.
CROOKED HOUSE NEEDLE
Christie doesn’t have a lot of time to let us get to know characters, but is skilled at giving us a full person in a few strokes. It is obvious that Christie, like Miss Marple is a keen observer and can pass a shrewd eye over people without judgement.
Also enjoyable is the goblin-like, horrible child Josephine. She enjoys playing detective, listening at doors and lives in ghoulish expectation for the ‘second murder to occur’. As we do – knowing it is coming. For as  Josephine points out: ‘Someone who knows something is bumped off before they can tell what they know.’ And – ‘Sometimes it’s something that they don’t know that they know.’
This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: “One day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself – I’ll begin it. 

Agatha Christie

The tension really escalates at the end. I had a sense of dread of what was coming:
‘Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces – and suddenly the faces change – and it’s not someone you know any longer – it’s a stranger – a cruel stranger.’ – Sophia, Crooked House.
The denouement (which I didn’t see coming but my husband did pick) was one that her publishers wanted her to change the ending. Thankfully, she refused and had enough clout that they conceded to her will.
Crooked House reminds me of some of Barbara Vine’s/Ruth Rendell’s work and is a wonderful forerunner for the twisty, psychological genre.
crooked house nursery rhyme
The title is taken from the nursery rhyme Crooked House, which is a trope that Agatha used in several of her novels. Yes, nearly everyone in the novel and that strange, rambling mansion is crooked in a psychological way. And it refers Aristides not permitting his family to grow independent and rise or fall on their own merits. By his over-control of their lives, the family members have grown crooked, under the crooked man, in his crooked, strangely proportioned mansion on the outskirts of London.
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Have you read it? If so, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. And if you know any fan of mysteries, or psychological thrillers, please share this post. I think Crooked House has become one of my new favourite Christie’s.
#keepthesecret.

Vale David Cassidy

Inside me is a wall of my pre-teenage bedroom with TV Week posters of David Cassidy, ABBA, Kate Bush, Blondie and Marilyn Monroe.
photo credit: Allan Warren

photo credit: Allan Warren

Like many girls in the 70s, I yearned for the sweet-faced, hip, young David Cassidy, little knowing of the real-life pressures he faced behind the scenes – a dysfunctional childhood and how Cassidymania only brought him despair.
DAVID IN CONCERT
How he retired shortly after a fourteen-year-old girl died of a heart attack in London at White City Stadium in 1974. Six hundred other girls were injured on the same night when they rushed the stage to reach their idol.
DAVID C ASSIDY
He represents the endless summer of the 1970s, a pre-computer age when everything seemed fresher and the world was free to laugh at itself. When I wore bobby dazzler socks and read Archie comics – but sneaked the occasional Stephen King and any other books my parents disapproved of.
DAVID IN LONDON
I didn’t know back then that the Twin Towers in New York would fall and a group called the Taliban were waiting ahead.
That trees would become  friends, that poetry would evolve into something more interesting than was ever taught in school, that international travel would become threatening. That a product called sunblock would replace the vinegar oil we used to burn our skin brown. That I would discover sea-monkeys were a rip-off. That the oceans were filling with plastic and my teenage poster pin-ups would be forgotten in the pressures of mothering and work. That my daughter would  read Archie comics, long for America and laugh over Danny’s wisecracks in the Partridge Family.
In concert in London 1974

In concert in London 1974

I felt sad this week to hear of David’s death – relatively young at 67, a couple of years older than my father when he died. Several girlfriends have described their grief and sense of loss upon hearing the news. We shared our realisations on social media and emails that we haven’t time to fritter on the trivial. The hourglass has turned for us. Trump is the leader of America and David Cassidy is dead.
And to show the Universe likes cosmic balance, David transitioned in the same week as Charles Manson, who only brought to the world pain, darkness and an ego out of control. Manson hungered for fame, which was denied him but given in excess to David Cassidy.
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Manson chose to slither on his belly into whatever waited for him, while David carried gifts of Apollo throughout his life despite the suffering he endured in later years.
photo image: Annie Leibovitz

photo image: Annie Leibovitz

The Times reported David Cassidy in a 1972 interview saying he dreamt of being not famous. His fantasy was to be on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I’m smiling, I’m healthy, I’m a family man.
PARTRIDGE FAMILY 1
Janice Turner in her Times column described him as the saddest, most tortured celebrity she ever interviewed. He was never allowed to grow old, and being sensitive, hadn’t coped with fame or his beauty. He retired at 24, burnt out and traumatised by the craziness of fame.
He died surrounded by his family and the people he loved with joy in his heart and free from the pain he had suffered from for so long.
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY TWO
Vale, David Cassidy. I hope you found your island. And that the sky is eternally blue and the sun forever shines.

Scorpio New Moon and Sylvia Plath

New Moon in Scorpio. 
As a Scorpio, this moon feels powerful, transformative and filled with possibilities. It’s raining heavily in the mountains this weekend: watery, emotional Scorpio weather. Heavy mist brings its usual mysterious atmosphere.
MOON VINTAGE PHOTOS
Another Scorpio who shares my birth date of October 27 is Sylvia Plath. 
Sylvia Plath in Yorkshire September 1956

Sylvia Plath in Yorkshire September 1956

Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, planet of death.
Rebirth, transformation, subconscious and the unknown.
Scorpio the Grey Lizard and Phoenix.
dying is an art
Scorpio – the Seeress. 
SYLVIA
Scorpio rises and rises and rises from its own transformation and death. 

Vale Pearl Goldman Australian Golden Girl

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

Pearl at five years

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

Miss Bondi Surf Queen 1937

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

Norman Lindsay photo by Harold Cazneaux

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

Pearl as model for Norman Lindsay’s Imperia

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl with first husband, Maurice Copolov, 1946

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

Pearl marrying Sydney Goldman, 1969

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

Pearl with Sophia Loren 1969

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

Josephine Pennicott and Pearl Goldman

Josephine Pennicott and Pearl Goldman

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

Portrait of Pearl by Helmut Newton

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

A Fever Dream

I see a lot of movies at  Mount Vic Flicks; it was my favourite cinema long before I moved permanently to the mountains. When I was an art-student and David worked in television production, we rented a flat in Glebe (Sydney) near the Valhalla cinema (originally known as The Astor), and often popped across the road to enjoy art-house films. It always saddened me to  witness Sydney losing its grand old cinemas as they were taken over for development.
image via TripAdvisor

image via TripAdvisor

Over twenty years ago I first visited Mount Vic Flicks with friends and I’d never forgotten the atmospheric interior, the piano player and the experience of going to the pictures in such a nostalgic fashion. I used my memory of it for a scene in Currawong Manor when Ginger gives a talk at a special showing of a similar cinema in Mt Bellwood. It’s always a treat to take the train to the charming heritage-listed village Mount Victoria, to contemplate my current book, write in the local park and then see a movie at Mount Vic Flicks.
The cinema, built in 1934, is a unique theatre experience, a time slip leaving more modern cinemas for dead. When we first moved up, my daughter was amazed to see kangaroos near the theatre.  The soup-in-a-mug and bread roll deal is wildly popular in the chilly mountains. There is an eclectic offering of films, and at times, theatre organist Wendy Hambly plays for cinema-goers.
The proprietors, Adam Cousins and Kirsten Mulholland (who fell in love with the cinema at 18, vowing to buy it if it ever came on the market), took over the cinema from owners who had it for 27 years.
motherwall
One of the films I saw recently at Mount Vic was mother! which I’ve been thinking about since. For some reason, despite its weirdness, or perhaps, because of it – it’s a film that still absorbs me.
mother! – with its lower-case title,  is a psychological thriller/horror directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and one of my favourite actors, Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a synthesis of Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and any David Lynch movie in its dreamlike, hallucinatory, disjointed sequences.
In the opening scene is a burnt-out devastated house and a crystal. The house morphs into a beautiful octagonal house where we see a radiant young woman (Lawrence) who appears to have formed magically in the bed. Her husband, a writer (Javier Bardem) struggles with writer’s block.
Uninvited Guest 2 arrives

Uninvited Guest 2 arrives

The couple’s idyllic Instagram country home is disrupted by the arrival of two uninvited guests who arrive separately. We never find out the names of the couple (played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer). The Writer (Him) invites the male to stay against his lover’s (Mother’s) permission.
In the toilet, Mother sees a big red organ like a pulsating jellyfish.  Man, the first guest, is peculiar and ill and has coughing fits. Him is eager for Man to stay because he discovers Man is a big fan of his work. Mother captures a glimpse of a terrible wound under his ribs. Him chastises Mother for looking at the wound.
MP mother!
Shortly afterwards, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, giving arch life advice to Mother on how to keep her older poet husband sexually satisfied.  At times Woman appears to be sinister but Michelle Pfeiffer said in an interview that she saw Woman as being like an angel to wake up Mother. I loved her performance in mother! she gave such an edge to the part and was genuinely chilling. Her reptilian gaze and sensual beauty is perfect for the surreal Woman.
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Him never permits anyone to enter his writing space, or touch the precious crystal that we see in the opening credits. Woman disobeys this rule, and breaks the crystal. Woman and Man are banished from the house.  But their two sons arrive and a violent fight ensues between the pair and one of them is brutally killed by the other.
The movie continues to escalate into an increasing dream like pattern with more uninvited guests arriving for different reasons and refusing to behave normally.
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Throughout the chaos, Mother continues to drink from a strange yellow potion that is open to interpretation of what it is, or does to her. Some viewers think it could represent Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. about a hysterical woman whose husband drives her slowly insane.
At different times, Mother touches the wall of the house. The house is a watching, living entity that she communicates with. Bloodstains appear on the floor.
Just like a dream, there is a strange logic to all the weirdness and watching the movie, you have to accept that nothing will make coherent sense. The film is filled with metaphors and symbols for those who want to analyse it, although the director has warned against overanalysing. He calls mother! a Fever Dream.
I had already read about the gruesome scene towards the end as events escalate in the house, and so I had my eyes shut for that bit. These scenes go on for twenty-five minutes gradually becoming more horrific and nightmarish. Suffice to say, there is riot police, Molotov cocktails and people being randomly shot at point blank range in the head but that’s all tame compared to the gruesome ritual that is enacted. I shut my eyes just after the shooting, although my imagination was on fire with the sound-effects.
 I had originally thought mother! was a metaphor for the creative process, but its also a call to arms environmentally.
THE GIVING TREE
Aronofsky has cited the children’s book The Giving Tree as one of the inspirations for mother!
Another inspiration he cites is Hindu religion and the concept of universes being destroyed and starting again.
Aronofsky quotes Hubert Selbert Jr: ‘You have to look into darkness to see the Light.’
He wanted to channel all his anger and rage about what he was seeing on the planet, and he wrote the first draft of the script in five days. It poured out of him. He has described it as a snapshot of a world threatened by overpopulation, climate change, poisonous politics and war. It’s a tale of a woman who is ‘asked to give and give and give until she can give nothing more.’
Reviews have been mixed: The National Review called it Torture Porn and the vilest movie ever released by a Hollywood Studio, warning the following groups of people to avoid it: pregnant women, those with nervous constitutions or heart conditions and anyone who happens to be burdened with good taste.
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Matthew Norma, in London’s Evening Standard said, ‘You may Love it, or hate it, or both but you cannot ignore it and will not forget it.
It was booed at the Venice Film Festival. While some praise it as a masterpiece.
Michelle Pfeiffer said when she first received the script she thought it was the weirdest thing she had ever read. It is certainly one of the more unusual films I’ve seen but it has stayed with me long after I viewed it.
Aronofsky is an environmentalist who originally studied as a field biologist in Kenya and Alaska.  As shattering as mother! is,  the real-life horrors happening to Mother our Earth make it look tame in comparison.

Celebration of the Flowers

The haunting notes of bagpipes sounded through the mist as Blackheath’s annual Rhododendron Parade began.
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I love this Celebration of the Flowers, featuring rhododendron and spring flowers seen in dazzling displays around the village and the Rhododendron Gardens. The festival is the longest continually running festival in the Southern Hemisphere.
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There is a Poet’s Breakfast in the iconic New Ivanhoe pub, woodchopping, a reptile display, jazz music, classic cars, an art show and free entry to the swimming pool for those hardy enough to take advantage.
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The local churches hold flower displays and a shuttle bus transports visitors from the train station to the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens to enjoy a Devonshire tea while seeing the gardens blazing with colour.
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Whether swaying along to the Hokey Pokey, or hearing the plaintive strains of Amazing Grace, the crowd was enthralled by he pipes and drums of the Lithgow Highland Pipe band as they played in the misty park. The popular pipe band was founded in 1913, when a small group of Scottish immigrants banded together to enjoy the music they loved.
The parade features the local dog walking group, schools, Rural Fire Service volunteers, the Blackheath Theatre Group, steampunks and a vast range of exotic characters who form the vibrant, eclectic community of Blackheath.
Celebration of the flowers in St Aidan's Church

Celebration of the flowers in St Aidan’s Church

And, of course, the Rhododendron Princess was crowned.
Monique Alison the Rhododendron Princess for 2018

Monique Alison the Rhododendron Princess for 2018

The mist and rain showers added to the atmosphere. Living above the clouds in the upper mountains means we enjoy plenty of misty days – my favourite weather for writing or just curling up with a book.
Rhododendron is a Greek word meaning Rose Tree.

Endless Night

I recently re-read Agatha Christie’s Endless Night (1967), for the Instagram Agatha Christie bookclub Maidens of Murder.
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Agatha wrote Endless Night in her seventies, and it’s one of her most chilling and accomplished books. It was one of her personal favourites, and her grandson Mathew Prichard recently voted it his favourite in a survey to mark the 125th anniversary of Agatha’s birth.
ENDLESS NIGHT ONE
Endless Night received some of the Queen of Crime’s best reviews and I wish she had written more standalones, as it is as strong as anything by Daphne du Maurier or Ruth Rendell.
From the film Endless Night

From the film Endless Night

It’s a psychological thriller, with no iconic detective or whodunnit, a beautifully crafted examination of evil and madness with a shocker of a twist. Even though I already knew the denouement, I was still hooked into the story. The prose is tight, the characters intriguing and it demonstrates how Agatha, in her later years was still able to pull off an accomplished piece. This is a crime writer on top of her game!
ENDLESS NIGHT THREE
I finished the book at 3am in the morning with a storm outside – appropriate for the menacing Third Act.
endless night seven
The narrator is a young working-class man Michael Rogers, who marries the fabulously wealthy Ellie. He first sees Ellie at Gipsy’s Acre, where a house, originally known as the Towers, is up for auction. Michael knows his dream of living at Gipsy’s Acre is impossible, but he fantasies about his terminally ill architect friend, Rudolph Santonix, building a modern house on the site. However, the land is cursed by gypsies and it’s said anyone who moves there will have bad luck.
ENDLESS NIGHT SIX
When Michael and Ellie fall in love, the impossible dream of owning Gipsy’s Acre is within reach. But Michael has to learn the rules of the privileged world he has now joined – and deal with a cast of characters who threaten his happiness, including the capable and controlling Scandinavian beauty, Greta. Then there’s the suspicion of Ellie’s family, who see Michael as a fortune hunter. Ellie’s guardian and trustee Andrew Lipincott is one of my favourites, but there are many well-written characters including Michael’s mother, Mrs Rogers, who doesn’t appear a lot, but is realistically drawn.
endless night eight
The Gypsy curse is always shadowing their new home and life. Neither Michael or Ellie are superstitious, until the local village gypsy, Esther Lee, begins predicting Ellie’s death.
The Endless Night of the title is taken from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake, and is suitably sombre, haunting and mystical.
ENDLESS NIGHT TWO
In the Youtube clip Mathew Prichard made announcing his choice for the World’s Favourite Christie, he explained how his friends would visit Agatha with him and how she was always curious about their lives and choices. Through his friends, Agatha became familiar with the mood and tone of the 60s and he believes she gleaned influences from her conversations with those young people that went into the book.
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A movie of Endless Night, released in 1972, starred Hayley Mills, Britt Ekland, Per Oscarsson, Hywel Bennett, and George Sanders. I have the DVD and really enjoy it. It has recently been turned into a Miss Marple adaptation, which I think is disappointing as the book doesn’t feature Marple. I’m a huge Miss Marple fan, but she doesn’t belong in Endless Night.
For readers who love psychological thrillers, domestic noir and the awful sounding grip-lit – if you haven’t read Endless Night, I highly recommend it!
endless night nine
Endless Night has gothic overtones and, as with several of Agatha’s books, a nod to the supernatural. But the haunting in this isn’t from any wraith within the pages, but from how the book plays with your mind afterwards. It is one of my favourite Agatha Christies and a perfectly suitable book choice for the October Spooky season.

Photo Shoot

Walking through the gate in the dry stone wall, I sensed the enchantment that had lured me and countless other artistic people over the years. Whenever I sight Norman Lindsay’s romantic-looking sandstone house and the first standing nude statue flanked by lavender, I feel as if I’m entering a bohemian, magical world.
Jennifer playing Shalimar on L and Daisy playing Dolly on R

Jennifer playing Shalimar on L and Daisy playing Dolly on R

Today, I wasn’t here to look at Norman’s artworks, or wander around the gardens as I did many times planning scenes for my gothic mystery, Currawong Manor. Instead I’d come with photographer Nicole Wells, her daughter Jennifer and my own daughter, Daisy, to shoot scenes inspired by Currawong Manor.
Nicole in action

Nicole in action

Nicole, a confirmed bibliophile, has been involved in a project photographing Australian authors dressed as their characters. When she first approached me two years ago, I instantly thought I’d like to portray feisty, flamboyant Ginger Lawson, one of the book’s ‘Flowers’ (life-models for artist Rupert Partridge). Her personality is vastly different to my more introverted character. Ginger has remained with me throughout the years. I often find myself asking in difficult situations – what would Ginger do?
Norman Lindsay at work

Norman Lindsay at work

Rupert – the tempestuous, notorious artist of Currawong Manor – is a synthesis of Albert Tucker, Norman Lindsay, Sydney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. My life models Ginger, Kitty and Wanda, were all inspired by Norman’s life models, especially Pearl Goldman and Rose Lindsay, his wife.
Creepy dolls and selfies

Creepy dolls and selfies

An added bonus with this shoot is that Nicole and I have daughters the same age and the right appearance to play Dolly and Shalimar from the book.
Although it took two years for Nicole and I to finally collaborate on our shared vision due to work, family and my own tree-change to the mountains, I always knew we would meet and make the ‘magic happen.’
Except – disaster first struck when my 1940s outfit, ordered from Etsy, became lost in the mail. It is apparently still heading back and forth between America and Austria (!). But the show had to go on, as Nicole had booked a family break in the mountains, so I improvised with what I could throw together.
After many dry months in the mountains, the longed-for storm-clouds arrived on the week of our meeting. A soft misty rain fell throughout the day of the shoot. The numerous statutes on the grounds watched over us as we re-created the eerie world of Currawong Manor. It felt as if the story’s pages had sprung to life.
Norman Lindsay with seahorse statue

Norman Lindsay with seahorse statue

It was a unique experience to bring a character from a world you have created into three-dimensional being, to be a small part of the fantastical world of Magic Puddings, Sirens, art and bohemia.
Nicole and 'Ginger' with the iconic Magic Puddings

Nicole and ‘Ginger’ with the iconic Magic Puddings

I watched ‘Dolly’ and ‘Shalimar’ running over the grounds, their white dresses glimpsed through the trees. The world felt tilted, as if from any moment along the bush tracks, a centaur, a fairy woman, or Norman himself would go rushing past us, hurrying to his studio.
MORE MAGIC PUDDINGS
When posing on the verandah of the house in Ginger mode, a volunteer came to watch. ‘My god, it’s like watching Rose Lindsay come to life,’ she said.
Rose and Norman Lindsay

Rose and Norman Lindsay

I can still smell the fragrant odours of the bush after the rain, and the velvet air of gentle sensuality and bohemian inspiration that ripples throughout the grounds. My legs ached for days with the high heels I wore, stumbling over the uneven ground of the bush where we shot the swimming pool. Some of you may recall the swimming pool from the movie Sirens. The misty rain added its own radiant light. The eucalyptus trees that laced the sky were the only witnesses to the story being re-enacted. I felt the whispers of my own characters in my ears as Ginger rose within me, with a pout, a snarl, determined to tell her story and strut her vibrant being.
Satyr and Sphinx guarding the bush swimming pool entrance

Satyr and Sphinx guarding the bush swimming pool entrance

Some days, from trees, leaves, and bark, we weave the magic. Some days, the sky and earth echo the timeless truth how stories matter. Art ignites, a character can change the destiny of the reader – or, the writer.
You can read more about the house and grounds of the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum HERE. Thank you to all the staff who were so helpful and friendly throughout the day.
You can see more of Nicole Well’s work HERE.