MONSTER

As I write this, Australia is on fire. My family had to evacuate from our Blackheath, Blue Mountains home just before Christmas.

 

In a long string of unfortunate events, we were left without a working car and it was safer for us to leave with the great fire they call The Monster having entered the Grose Valley frighteningly close to our house.

Locals being advised by our incredible RFS as the fire approached

 

The Fire Captain at the local station said at an information evening we attended that he’s never seen a fire like this in his decades of fighting fires. The size of two trees combined, it crowns in places and it doesn’t obey the ‘normal’ rules of any fire. A fire christened The Monster by locals.

 

Like countless others we were packed and prepared to go for days. When you live in bushfire country you prepare early with a suitcase by the door. My daughter’s clothes took up half the suitcase. My own packing (somewhat less glamorous than Joan Didion’s famed packing list):

 

Tarot Cards,

Reiki Symbols

A notebook, pens

Books – The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (review to come), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Initiated by Amanda Yates Garcia

Photographs of baby Daisy

Ancestor photos

My mother’s wedding ring

Family documents such as Daisy’s medical folders, passports

Daisy’s diabetic equipment and medication

Sunhat

Cosmetics

Toiletries

Bach Flower Essences

Change of clothes for a couple of days

Hanako mist spray

Letters my father wrote to me before he died

The dog’s supplies and lead

The dog carrier

A lock of my father’s hair cut from his head when he died

 

Christmas plans had to be abandoned. We became addicted checkers of the Fires Near Me app and worried over elderly neighbours and our home.

We felt heartbroken for those who lost their homes. We wept over images of children whose heroic firefighting fathers had died.

 

We are enraged by a Prime Minister who chose to holiday in Hawaii with his family, and only returned because of public pressure. Then he partied on New Year’s Eve with fireworks in polluted Sydney skies and hosted a garden party with cricketers as people died and Australia was ablaze. The Emergency Minister, David Elliot, also shockingly chose his family holiday during this time of severe crisis. I’ve avoided ever posting anything political before but their actions went beyond political. This country will not forget easily the betrayal of the climate-change denying Liberal Party.

LISMORE ROSE our adopted Koala from the incredible Koala Hospital Port Macquarie

Heartbreakingly, our already fragile Koala population was decimated at the time of writing by thirty per cent. And a HORRENDOUS over a BILLION animals killed. 28 people have died. Over 2000 houses destroyed. An area four times the size of the Amazon Rainforest burnt.

The heavy plume of smoke choking Sydney for weeks caused record spikes in hospital admissions. When I travelled down to Sydney with my daughter, I was shocked by how polluted the air was. Sydneysiders in facemasks. An oppressive feeling in city streets. It felt as if I’d entered a science fiction novel, so terribly wrong and tilted.

Brighton Le Sands

Near where we were staying, the beach was packed with thankfully no smoke in the air. We walked the beach twice daily, feeling like aliens in this culture of bronzed people on jet-skis.

 

 

Women in hijabs ran on beaches with their small children. Palm trees waved their fronds against an unnatural salmon-coloured sky. We collected bag after bag of plastic and rubbish, hoping it would inspire others to do the same.

At night I listened to hoons in their cars. I constantly checked the Fires Near Me app before falling into a restless sleep. I would wake at 3am and check the app again to see if the flames had reached our street.

 

It was not the Christmas we had planned but we had a roof over our heads and a beach a short walk away.

I followed images of exhausted RFS service people. Blackened faces, their endurance stretched to the limit. Unforgettable images of wild koalas allowing Firies to give them water. A devastated farmer forced to shoot his scorched stock. A kangaroo found in a swimming pool, desperate for water. A Firie describing koalas screaming as their trees burned. Friends on social media begged for people not to share images of burnt koalas but I couldn’t let those last screams go unheard. I couldn’t look away.

 

The Firies, who sacrificed employment to fight fires unpaid. Several lost their own home while they fought to save a stranger’s. Some even had to take out loans to cover their mortgages. I marvelled over the goodness and the valiant nobility of these warriors who face fires bigger than two tall trees.

Australia feels tilted, shaking. White ash blazing us into a scorching and volatile dead world. It feels as if a doorway has closed.

broken koala image via #kassiissac

 

 

SUMMER STORMS AND STEPHEN KING

Hello,

Australia has been experiencing a summer of record-breaking heatwaves. As I write this post, my home state of Tasmania is suffering bushfires that firefighters have been battling since before Christmas.

 

In the Blue Mountains we’ve sweltered under high temperatures combined with dramatic summer thunderstorms with heavy hail, causing widespread damage to cars and technical equipment.

 

Summer is never my favourite season – more snakes, more spiders. I tend to hibernate under a fan, preferably with an engrossing book.

 

January passed in a pleasant haze of culling papers in my office, spending time with my daughter and reading. I’d yearned for a summer like the summers of my youth, lounging around the local swimming pool and reading. Vinegar splashed over my body in the hope of burning. Book smeared with coconut suntan oil, droplets from the pool and choc wedge smears.

 

I went through a big Stephen King stage as a teenager. I’d also read James Herbert but King, with his ballsy storytelling voice, was my favourite.

His quirky but realistic characters with their drawling Maine accents were a world away from my dozy Tasmanian village life, but I believed in them as I believed in the evil they faced.

 

 

Somehow his stories made my problems disappear as I fell into darkness filled with rabid dogs, school bullies, rampaging obsessive fans, haunted hotels, dysfunctional families and pet cemeteries. I even cherished a fantasy to become one of the characters in his book – journalist Ben Mears who returns to his small town in Salem’s Lot.

 

But as I grew older, Stephen King followed other paths with his pseudonym Richard Bachman and his Dark Tower series. I began reading more widely from a range of authors.

His massive doorstopper books with their gaudy vintage covers were given away by my parents decluttering their house, although I later returned to his excellent memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

My thirteen-year-old daughter, obviously inheriting my macabre bent, also became fascinated with horror. This summer I borrowed her copy of Stephen King’s It (1986), which was inspired by a Norwegian fairytale and devoured by millions.

 

A summer from long ago came flooding back to me as I was pulled into the sewers and nightmare truth of Derry, a normal-enough town on the outside, but with a dark energy permeating it which takes the shape of people’s fears.

I loved It. I enjoyed the weight of the hefty tome and hearing Stephen’s voice again emanating from the pages with his sly unveilings and gutsy storytelling. I cheered for the Losers Club, willing them to take on the town bullies and the monster in the drains they feel morally obliged to destroy, because It kills children.

Every January is going to be reserved for submerging myself in a Stephen King book as I catch up on his backlist. Sometimes in summer’s blazing heat we need to retreat into the darkness.

Further Links connected to this story:

Richard Flanagan article via Guardian: Tasmania is Burning https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/05/tasmania-is-burning-the-climate-disaster-future-has-arrived-while-those-in-power-laugh-at-us

Stephen King It inspiration https://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/it_inspiration.html

images used via Pinterest.

Carried Her So Far

Happy Birthday to Kate Bush and Emily Bronte.  Both born on this day, 30th July. Two unique women who made my world more magical, strange and burning bright.

 

 

photographer John Carder Bush from Cathy

I love the synchronicity of not only both women sharing the same birthdate but also their brothers iconic images: Branwell Bronte painting Emily and John Carder Bush photographing Kate for his beautiful books, Cathy and Inside the Rainbow.

 

Kate Bush’s poem to Emily inscribed on stone in West Riding.

Emily, by Kate Bush
She stands outside
A book in her hands
“Her name is Cathy”, she says
“I have carried her so far, so far
Along the unmarked road from our graves
I cannot reach this window
Open it, I pray.”
But his window is a door to a lonely world
That longs to play.
Ah Emily. Come in, come in and stay.

photographer: Gered Mankowitz

CHANGE

2018 has been a year of transformation. Although it has had its
challenges, it has also been a year of stronger focus for me. One of the really
wonderful happenings is that I have just signed with agent/director Oli Munson
at A.M. Heath literary agency in London.
I could not have envisaged a better agency to
represent me, with its  prestigious pedigree and the fact it is celebrating its
centenary next year.  A.M. Heath has been one of the UK’s top agencies since
1919. Its esteemed catalogue of authors include George Orwell, Shirley Jackson,
Joan Aiken and Noel Streatfeild, along with present-day luminaries such as
Hilary  Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell. I feel really honoured to be a part of such
an impressive agency.  For years UK friends have asked when my books will
be published there. Hopefully that day will be soon!
The leaves are turning to golden autumn colours in the upper mountains in
Australia. Because of the delayed summer heat, the trees have been slower to
turn colour this year and aren’t as stunning in their display. The streets
aren’t as choked with the tourists who arrive annually to photograph the trees.
When I’m watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos cracking their seeds among the
golden russet leaves, London seems another world. It has been roughly a year
since we were in the UK and we all miss it. My daughter can’t wait to grow up
and move either to London or New York!

Everything changes. Children grow up. Good news turns to bad and bad to
good. The merciless summer yields to transitional, mellow autumn. We make new
connections, but lose treasured friends. One thing that stays consistent in my
life is writing. I am roughly half-way through the first draft of my new crime
novel.
In other good news my writer partner David
Levell has just completed his latest non-fiction book. It is gripping,
intelligent and with its original research, a fabulous read (totally unbiased
opinion). I’m  always in awe of how David can take really dense historical
material and transform it into a page-turning read. It is his gift.
Wishing you peace, resilience and dreams come true.

 

Protection Owl and Keats for Autumn Equinox

 Because it’s World Poetry Day and the Autumn Equinox, here is one of my favourite poems and a protective, mystical Joshua Yeldham owl. I love this artist’s work, which captures the mysterious power and spiritual energy of the Australian bush.

 

To Autumn

John Keats

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Surfing and the Duchess of Death

Honouring International Women’s Day with Agatha Christie. Here she is in 1922 on a global tour where in Africa and Honolulu she became one of the first Britons to learn to surf.

A real achievement for the 20’s when surfing wasn’t considered a sport for ladies and particularly a lady from Agatha’s class. This social more didn’t deter the plucky novelist who wrote in her memoir, ‘Surfing looks perfectly easy. It isn’t. I say no more.’

 

 

And later she said despite the physical pain that surfing was one of the most perfect physical pleasures she had known. May we all challenge our own social mores. 📸 via The Christie Archives and  The Official Agatha Christie Instagram 

#amreading 2017

2017 was a challenging year. It had some shining moments: our January trip to Heron Island and our Easter break in England, but overall it was a frustrating year on several levels for my family. And politically and environmentally everything was bleak.
But even in the bleakest of years, books always provide solace and soul medicine.
Below are the books I read in 2017. They are mainly crime and psychological thrillers – not surprising as I’ve always found crime and mystery to be the ultimate comfort reading. Tana French’s books came in for some re-reading.
I tried to review books as I read them but it wasn’t always possible due to my own writing schedule.

This is not a complete list; I’ve omitted some that I forgot to record at the time.
I really enjoyed all the books below with the exception of one twisty psychological thriller that had the world’s most ridiculous ending – WTFthatending indeed.
I wish you a prosperous and joyous 2018 with books that keep you turning pages way past the witching hour.
Books read in 2017:
1/ The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn
2/ The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart
3/ Re-read The Secret Place by Tana French
4/ The Locksmiths Daughter by Karen Brooks
5/  The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel
6/ The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
7/ Re-read In the Woods by Tana French
8/ Behind Her Eyes by Sara Pinborough
9/ The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman
10/ Hourglass by Dani Shapiro
11/ Re-read The Likeness by Tana French
12/  Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
13/ Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary
14/ Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
15/ After by Nikki Gemmell
16/ The Good People by Hannah Kent
17/ The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
18/ Wimmera by Mark Brandi
19/ The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
20/ The Golden Child by Wendy James
21/ The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer
22/ You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
23/ Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
24/ Arrowood by Laura McHugh
25/ The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
26/ The Cunning Man by Celia Rees
27/ Re-read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
28/ Hunted by Amanda Holohan
29/ Goodwood by Holly Throsby
30/ Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
31/ Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
32/ The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase
33/ Re-read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
34/ Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
35/ No Picnic at Hanging Rock by Helen Golic
36/ Beyond the Rock: The Life of Joan Lindsay and the Mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock by Janelle McCulloch
37/ The Secrets she Keeps by Michael Robotham
38/ Crooked House by Agatha Christie
39/ A Spot of Folly: Ten and a Quarter New Tales of Murder and Mayhem by Ruth Rendell
40/ Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales by P.D James
41/ Re-read The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
42/ Re-read 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
43/ Re-read Endless Night by Agatha Christie
44/ he said she said by Erin Kelly
45/ Re-read  My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
46/ The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox
47/ Dart by Alice Oswald
48/  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

DEVOTION

PATTI SMITH

‘There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a wilful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.’ – from DEVOTION ✨ Happy Birthday Patti Smith. 🌿

PATTI SMITH QUOTE
#pattismith #devotion #whyiwrite#goddess #muse #creativity #inspiration#amreading 

A Spot of Folly

A Spot of Folly (Profile Books, 2017) by Ruth Rendell – Ten and a Quarter New Tales of Murder and Mayhem.
I loved this posthumously published collection. Ruth Rendell (Baroness Rendell of Babergh since her life peerage in 1977) is one of my favourite writers. The stories are mostly psychological domestic crime but a couple have supernatural themes (the chilling Haunting of Shawley Rectory equals M.R.James) and there is even a dystopian story describing the bleak effects of a nuclear war. The ‘Quarter’ story of the title (Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror) has only three sentences, but every word is a sinister whisper in your brain.
Ruth Rendell in 1978. Image credit: Kenneth Saunders

Ruth Rendell in 1978. Image credit: Kenneth Saunders

Sophie Hannah provides an entertaining and interesting introduction, detailing how her appreciation of Ruth Rendell began.
Ruth Rendell vintage cover
As Sophie Hannah says in her intro: Ruth always knew how imperative it is to hook your reader with a strong opening line. Ruth is famous for her opening line of her 1977 novel, A Judgement in Stone: ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’ It takes a confident writer to begin a crime novel with all their cards exposed. A Judgment in Stone remains gripping throughout and is ultimately poignant and believable.
Ruth Rendell quote
Considers these hooks from opening lines of stories in  A Spot of Folly:
‘You won’t believe this, but last week I tried to murder my wife.’   – A Drop Too Much
‘I don’t believe in the supernatural, but just the same, I wouldn’t live in Shawley Rectory.’  – The Haunting of Shawley Rectory
‘I murdered Brenda Goring for what I suppose is the most unusual of motives. She came between me and my wife.’ – The Irony of Hate
Not a word is wasted in A Spot of Folly. For any writer wanting a master class in crafting suspense and crime short stories, this is a perfect book to study. The characters are chilling, or heartbreakingly vulnerable to their fates, but Rendell always creates believable flawed characters. Ruth began writing short stories in the 1950s and admitted a lot of her early attempts were pretty bad but she soon found her power lay in suspense writing.
The stories were published previously in various formats over a long period of time. I hadn’t read any of them before, so it was a treat to connect with Ruth’s work again. I only wish another manuscript of hers would turn up in some attic. Meanwhile I shall continue to hunt down out-of-print copies of her books to re-read and marvel over her skill.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Baroness Rendell of Babergh

This is a ‘must’ book for the library of any lover of this talented crime writer. As with a lot of Rendell’s work, the stories seem to bury themselves like a deadly creeper vine into your brain, making you reflect upon them for a long time afterwards.
ACCNE9216
Her skill in creating broken, dysfunctional people capable of the most cruel acts is unparalleled. You won’t find shock twists here, as the current publishing trend dictates, but rather more elegant haunting stories that bring some cohesion to the darkness within humanity.