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.

The Quality of Silence

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

image via Rosamund Lupton

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

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

map of Alaska via author’s website

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

Black Rabbit Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Escape to Somewhere at the Winter Solstice

I love Winter when the sky turns to grey and a chill laces the air. We’ve been house-hunting, which has been a disruption to my writing. I’m a quarter of the way through my new book. It’s slightly behind, but the 1800s thread involves a lot of research, not being a period I’m familiar with.
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Life is challenging with several major transitions and changes still waiting to occur. I feel as if I’m in a frustrating holding pattern. But three things have remained constant: my love of reading, writing and nature. I greatly enjoy seeing the book emerge like a photograph developing. I just need to be patient and appreciate the fact that every book has its own timing and rhythm.
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So many beautiful things to notice when I slow down to appreciate their quiet blessings. Rain falling in my winter garden and its mesmerising lullaby on our tin roof. Bare branches in dark spiderwebs against the sky. Manuka honey and tea brewed in a gypsy yellow tea-pot while perusing glorious new book friends like The Cottage Under the big Pines by Susan Southam and Sally Mann’s photographic memoir Hold Still. Sourdough rolls dunked into homemade winter soups.
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Art deco buildings against a brilliant blue sky at the Winter Magic Festival in Katoomba.
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The Blue Mountains whose pulsating, shimmering energy never fail to remind me of the perfect pattern of all things when I gaze upon their mysterious vistas in challenging times.
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My beautiful daughter and the winter ocean in Sydney for reflective walks.
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Stories from other writers and my own words. Nights snuggled in bed with a variety of books.
Thank you for visiting and may the Solstice award you strength and vision for any transitions and challenges in your life and creative projects.
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Finally, this extract from Neil Gaiman’s talk for the Long-Term Thinking Project via the extraordinary Brain Pickings website. So profoundly eloquent and I really needed to hear his words as I’m sure many other artists do.  All Solstice blessings to you.
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Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor:

“A few years ago, she started telling me this story of how, in the ghetto, they were not allowed books. If you had a book … the Nazis could put a gun to your head and pull the trigger – books were forbidden. And she used to teach under the pretense of having a sewing class… a class of about twenty little girls, and they would come in for about an hour a day, and she would teach them maths, she’d teach them Polish, she’d teach them grammar…

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One day, somebody slipped her a Polish translation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. And Helen stayed up – she blacked out her window so she could stay up an extra hour, she read a chapter of Gone with the Wind. And when the girls came in the next day, instead of teaching them, she told them what happened in the book. And each night, she’d stay up; and each day, she’d tell them the story.

And I said, “Why? Why would you risk death – for a story?”

And she said, “Because for an hour every day, those girls weren’t in the ghetto – they were in the American South; they were having adventures; they got away.

I think four out of those twenty girls survived the war. And she told me how, when she was an old woman, she found one of them, who was also an old woman. And they got together and called each other by names from Gone with the Wind…

We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial – the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction … is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape – and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.

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Helen’s story is a true story, and this is what we learn from it – that stories are worth risking your life for; they’re worth dying for. Written stories and oral stories both offer escape – escape from somewhere, escape to somewhere.

Kate Forsyth and the Eye of the Rhino

Hello, IMG_1670 I’m delighted to present my next author for my Ride the Rhino Inspiration posts – the beautiful Kate Forsyth. 2 (2)   I feel as if I’ve known Kate forever. We we were both briefly involved with The Drinklings many years ago, when we enjoyed wine and book chats in Sydney with a group of writers and we’ve spoken on a couple of panels together. group   She always inspires me with her intelligence, talent and her generous nature towards other authors. When I began this series of inspirational interviews I knew I had to have Kate aboard. When we last spoke at the Newtown Writers Tent for Better Read than Dead bookshop, we ended up in rain-soaked Newtown talking for hours in a cafe about writing, publishing, our children and the juggling act we have to go through. It’s a true testimony to how highly I regard her that when I suffered a major heartbreak with my publishing career, it was Kate I trusted, sending off a frantic email asking for her advice. In the very competitive world of publishing, Kate has always sought to encourage other authors to fulfil their dreams and destiny. Bitter Greens high resolution   Kate is an international bestselling author of 36 novels spanning a range of genres. She writes for both children and adults and has won many awards, including Five Aurealis Awards in a single year and a CYBIL award in the United States. Her bestselling novel Bitter Greens won the American Library Association Award for Best Historical Novel of 2015 and the library journal US Best Historical Novel. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies from the University of Technology in Sydney and a BA in literature and a MA in creative writing. Writing talent is obviously in her blood: she is a descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children published in Australia, “A Mother’s Offering to her Children” (1841).
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Her Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather James Atkinson (Charlotte’s husband) wrote a book about Australia in 1826. Their daughter Louisa was also the first Australian-born journalist and novelist.
Louisa Atkinson

Louisa Atkinson

Kate’s sister Belinda Murrell is also a talented bestselling, internationally published writer as is their brother, Nick Humphrey.

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

Kate updates her very inspiring website regularly with loads of generous writing tips and fascinating interviews, and also runs writing retreats in the Cotswolds through the Australian Writers’ Centre. I hope you find as much inspiration as I did from Kate’s Ride on the Rhino.

J – Kate, you studied at Macquarie University where you did your Bachelor of Arts in Literature and after graduating, you worked as a journalist across a wide range of publications before you quit to work freelance. Throughout your years of study, you wrote the first book in your much lauded fantasy series, The Witches of Eileanan, but you’ve also written poetry under your maiden name Kate Humphrey. You wrote Full Fathom Five republished as Dancing on Knives as part of your Master ‘s thesis and you’re now finished your doctorate in fairy-tale retelling at the University of Technology. Academia is obviously hugely important to you. Do you feel continuing your education is necessary for writers in this competitive climate? On Twitter recently I retweeted Ann Patchett’s quote, ‘No-one should go into debt to study creative writing. It’s simply not worth it. This is not medical school.’ What advice do you have for those of us who would have to go into debt to study writing?
K – I  do not think you need to undertake a degree to be an author. I think you need to read a lot, and read widely, and a degree in Literature like my first degree can obviously help you do that. I think you need to learn your craft, and learn discipline, and a degree in Creative Writing like my second degree can help you in that task. And I think an intense period of research and reflection into an area of personal interest to you – like my doctorate in fairy tales – can only help you acquire the kind of depth of knowledge that can be of use to you as an author. But I certainly don’t think a set course of academic study is the only way to go! I think I learned more by my own reading and my own dedication to learning the craft by studying the work of other writers, and reading books on writing, than by going to university. I did all of my degrees for my own pleasure, and to learn as much as I could, and to become aware of other ways of thinking and doing … but anyone can challenge themselves and learn and grow, simply by living and reading and wondering and learning at their own pace and rhythm.
J  – Will we see more poetry from you? Do you still write poetry?
K- I was actually only thinking about writing a new poem yesterday … I never know when an idea for a poem will strike me. Usually I write poems in the small spaces between novels … or essays or picture books or short tales … and then I get all consumed with the next novel and have no room left over for short-form writing. The last poem I wrote was after I had finished BITTER GREENS – its a Rapunzel poem, showing the story still had not been fully exorcised. Here it is:
Kate Forsyth at seven

Kate Forsyth at seven

J – At two years of age you were badly savaged by a dog and your injuries were so severe that a man fainted when he first saw them and your mother was warned to expect you would die. You spent your formative years up to the age of eleven in and out of hospitals enduring many painful operations – during this time you lost yourself in the world of fiction and creating stories. Rapunzel was one of your favourite stories which formed the basis for your book Bitter Greens. Where did your strength come from to survive and transcend this extremely traumatic time?
K –  I don’t remember the accident. So I think it was my poor mother who suffered the most trauma at that time. Most of my memories of hospital come from around the ages of seven to eleven … and also I remember always having to be careful, especially if it was windy, about playing outside or playing with animals in case I got sick again. I still don’t like hospitals – the smell of them and the sound of them can make me feel anxious and even panicky – and so I do my best to avoid them. And I’m always interested in hearing about other authors who had childhood illnesses – I think we all coped in similar ways, by turning to books and stories, by reading voraciously, by imagining ourselves into other places, by having a rich interior life. I was lucky – an operation I had when I was 11 meant that I could have a relatively normal life from that time on, though I still do need to go back and have another procedure every few years (which I hate!)
Kate and her sister Belinda

Kate and her sister Belinda

J – When you first began writing for publication, I read in online interviews that early books you were trying to write to ‘fit into the market’ were knocked back. It was only when you began writing for yourself that The Witches of Eileanan was picked up in an international bidding war. What inspired you at this time to keep going? How important do you feel it is to write the book you love as opposed to writing for the commercial market?
K – In my 20s, when I was first trying to get published, I heard all the time that the only books publishers wanted were dark and gritty post-modernist contemporary novels – my least favourite type of book! I loved historical fiction and fantasy and old murder mysteries and romances, and books that had a story to tell. I was working on a novel at the time – it was set in contemporary times but it was certainly not gritty realism – but I was not able to find a publisher for it then (the book was eventually published as Full Fathom Five, and was recently re-released under the title Dancing on Knives). I was not trying to fit into a market by writing that book, the story was one that I had laboured over for many years and which was very close to my heart. I think it was just that I was still only a young author (I started it when I was 16) and it simply was not yet good enough to be published. It is true that while I was doing my Masters of Arts in Creative Writing, and used that novel as my major piece of work, I received a lot of encouragement to make it darker, grittier, more violent and less magical. But I did not know how to write it that way (many tears were shed as a consequence). It is also true that once I began to write Dragonclaw, my first published novel, I felt as if I had shed the shackles of expectation and I just ran wild, putting in everything I love about books and nothing I didn’t. I was lucky to write Dragonclaw at a time when publishers realised that there was a huge market for that type of books – a book filled with magic and mystery and romance .. and my life was transformed as a result.
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J  – You’ve achieved so much already – but I know that even the most successful people have their setbacks and disappointments. What do you do when you do hit those moments? Is there any advice or words of wisdom you can share with us that may help creatives reading to deal with the discouraging times?
K – Of course! Being a writer is a constant rollercoaster of emotion – flying high one day and crashing down the next. It’s because we invest so much emotion in what we do. I have a couple of things that help me when I’ve been hurt or disappointed by something that happens. I print out any lovely fan mail I get, or any exciting emails from my publishers and agents, or amazing reviews, and then I stick them in my journal. So on a bad day I can go back and read them and remind myself that there are people who love what I do. I also write it out. My daily journal writing is a great source of comfort to me – I pour out all my feelings, all my unspoken hopes and fears, and then work through what is upsetting or bothering me. I’m also very lucky to have a very loving and supportive family and circle of friends, and so I talk to them about it, and they tell me not to worry about it – and that really helps!
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J  –You have a very active online presence; with blogging where you provide massive inspiration through your writing tips and interviews with other authors. You’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads. What is your take on social media for artists? Why is it important for you to publicise yourself in this way? And how do you balance your time so that you’re not constantly distracting yourself from the work you’re doing with beating your own drum on social media? Which one is your personal favourite social-media platform?
K -I really enjoy blogging and all the rest, and so I do it for my own pleasure and to connect with kindred spirits. It helps me to easily stay in contact with writer friends all over the world, which I really love, and it means people can know what I’m up to at well. Although its a great quick way to let people know what I’m doing, I don’t like to think of it purely as a promotional tool. I think that kind of thinking leads to the kind of relentless self-publicizing that can be so off-putting. I tweet or post about what I’m reading and what I’m writing, and share links to articles I think are interesting or informative, I share poems that I love or pictures that I find inspiring, and support all my friends and colleagues as well. If I’m teaching a course or have some other event coming up, I’ll let people know – and if I’m doing some kind of giveaway or competition – and of course if I have a new book out, I’ll blog and post about that. In general, though, my social media is simply about connecting with other people who love what I love – and isn’t that we all write in the first place?
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J –  You’ve written across genres and for all ages, Historical Fiction, Children’s Books, literary mystery, poetry. In this publishing climate do you feel that it’s important for writers to be this diverse? You’ve never had to use a pseudonym for your books as many other writers have had to do. Was this something your publishing houses and agents decided or did you want all your work under your name?
K – I’m not at all sure that its a good idea to be as diverse as I am. The accepted wisdom is find your niche and stick to it.
I’m not very good at doing that, though. I love to read so many different genres of writing and I don’t see why I can’t write in all different genres too. I hate to be confined in any way. I also love new adventures. I like to stretch myself, and challenge myself. And mastering a new genre is one way to do that. Also, I need to say that I don’t choose what I’m going to write next with an eye on what the market is doing, or what publishers want. I get a new idea for a story that utterly electrifies me, and then the story tells me what it wants to be. The story determines its own shape.
In fact, I have risked a lot to write the stories I wanted to write.
For example, I had a big early success with writing epic fantasy novels for adults and it was a big risk for me (and my agents & publishers) for me to then choose to write for children and then to move to historical fiction. In fact, my US publishers told me that they would gladly continue to publish me if I kept on writing fantasy fiction for adults, but they would not publish me if I changed. So when I wrote the books I wanted to write, it was with the full knowledge that I was losing my US publishers and may not be able to find another (happily, I did!) It was not a marketing decision at all! I always have to write the book that is burning a hole in my imagination. I don’t choose the story, the story chooses me – and then I just try to do the very best I can. I’ve just been very lucky that the big gambles I’ve made have paid off.
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And in regards to pseudonyms, my novel Full Fathom Five, the contemporary family drama/murder mystery that I wrote in my 20s, was originally published under my maiden name Kate Humphrey, at the suggestion of my publisher who was worried that my fantasy fans would find it too different. However, it has since been re-published under my married name Kate Forsyth (and a new title Dancing on Knives) because what we have discovered is that readers will follow an author they really love and trust. However, if I was to do something really different, I may well decide to use a pseudonym in the future, if I thought it would give me greater creative freedom.
US cover of The Wild Girl

US cover of The Wild Girl

J – How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book?
I like to have a vivid sense of the shape of my story and of my characters and setting before I start writing a single word. I like to see it, hear, it, smell it. I take a long time to daydream about my story, and research it, and plot it, and then I write quite swiftly and strongly. I always leave space for new ideas and new flashes of inspiration, while still being in control of how the story develops. This is one reason why I can be so productive. I never get myself in a tangle (or rarely anyway!)
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J – Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer? Do you like to read on kindles or paper books?
K – I write all my ideas and questions and flashes of inspiration and research notes and early plans in my notebook … and continue to use my notebook as the story grows and changes. However, I generally write straight into the computer. (There are a couple of exceptions to this. I write poetry longhand and any sentence which is giving me trouble, I’ll write and rewrite longhand until I get it right).
I prefer to read paper books for a multitude of reasons, but I travel so much that I do a lot of reading on my ipad. Before I go away, I load up a dozen books so I have a choice of what to read. If I really love a book I’ve read in e-book format, I often buy it in p-book format when I get home.
One of Kate's notebooks from The Wild Girl

One of Kate’s notebooks from The Wild Girl

J – There’s so many things I admire about you Kate, and one in particular is how hard you work at publicising yourself. You seem to be at every Writers’ Festival, every library event, book club meeting and anything literary related. Is it
important for writers to be entrepreneurs, market themself and what tips and advice can you share in this area? You’re a Gemini who loves communication and so what advice do you have for more introverted types?
K – I do think its very important for writers to be the engine of their own success. I often hear writers moaning about their editors or their publicists or whatever, and it makes me a little uncomfortable. You need to be very aware of how the industry works, and how you can best work with it to maximise your success. You need to think: what do I know, what can I do, to help give my book wings?
It is true that I am a Gemini and I love to connect and communicate … but one half of me is very much an introvert, and I often find it hard to leave my peaceful green study and go out and face the world. So I try and think, what can I give today? Who can I help today? What amazing connection might I make today? What I have discovered is that every small effort I make often creates ripples beyond what I could ever have imagined. And so I’m encouraged to keep on working, keep on trying, keep on reaching out … and then wait to see the astonishing rewards I reap.
Wild Girl notebook

Wild Girl notebook

J – I know how uplifting your public-speaking is and I’m longing for the day you start your marketing courses for writers. Your public speaking never fails to elevate and inspire me no matter how many times I hear you speak. Your public speaking skills are even more impressive as you’ve been afflicted with stuttering since you were very young. How did you find the confidence and strength to keep going to become the acclaimed public speaker you are?
K -That is such a lovely thing for you to say! Thank you.
It is true I was afflicted with a stutter for most of my childhood – and it still can trip me over today. It was a very hard battle that I fought. My mother was incredible. She invested a lot of money into speech therapy for me when she was a struggling single mother … and she invested a lot of time into encouraging me to read aloud – poetry and Shakespeare, mainly, because I seemed to stutter less when I read them. Mainly I overcome my stutter by avoidance – I won’t utter a sound that I know is likely to trip me – I find other words, other ways to say what I mean. I also learnt to control my breathing better, and slow down, which I think has really helped me in my public speaking. Sometimes I get a faint sing-song quality to my voice, particularly when I’m telling a story, which comes from the speech therapy. We were taught to sing what we could not say.
The other thing I have come to realise is that most people are very forgiving of my stutters and stumbles – they lean forward, urging me to recover, wanting me to go on. My vulnerability makes me easier to connect with. At least, that is the feeling I get.
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J –  How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like?
I daydream a lot. I love the shadowy space between sleep and wakening, as I get so many ideas then. I love to walk and think in silence, taking in the beauty of the world. I read poetry, and listen to music, and watch ballet and theatre and films. I love to travel, to imagine lives unlike my own. I love to listen to people tell their life stories – and people do! Often complete strangers will confide the strangest things to me. I write in my journal most days, as you know, and that is a wellspring of constant inspiration and refreshment to me. I read a lot, across all genres, including non-fiction. I never know when an idea will be sparked for me.
What does my muse look like? Like me, I suppose, only a shadowy green-dark version like an image in a deep well or an old silver mirror …
Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also – how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities?
K – I don’t think I have the hide of a rhino. In fact, I think its very important that creative artists remain sensitive and open to the world and alive to possibility. To encase ourselves in a hard carapace is to lose what makes us so gifted as creative artists – the ability to feel intensely.
What I do have is utter determination. No matter how many times I’m knocked over, I pick myself up and keep on going. To allow myself to be broken would be to deny my true destiny (I know, I know, but that’s how I feel, truly). All I want to do is write. And so I have to somehow find the strength of will to never give up, and to never admit defeat.
 
Thank you, Kate. xx

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

You can find Kate at her glorious website HERE
If you have enjoyed this post, please share with kindred spirits. Love and Light Josephine xx

Vale Ruth Rendell. Keeper of Secrets.

After she suffered a serious stroke in January, the news wasn’t unexpected, but I still felt upset reading about the death of one of my favourite writers late Saturday night. Ruth’s many books have not only provided inspiration, but also comfort in my life at different stages. Whether enjoying holidays accompanied by one of her novels, or nervously awaiting diagnoses in doctor’s waiting rooms, attempting to blank out the outside world, I’ve always been able to lose myself in Ruth Rendell’s dark, twisted and haunting novels.
YOUNG RUTH RENDELL
I came to her Wexford series late, believing I preferred her standalone Rendell crimes, or her darker psychological novels published under her pseudonym, Barbara Vine, which explored the shadows cast by the past. But like so many, I grew to love Wexford books and began hunting them down. Wexford, she said, was a reflection of her and embodied everything she wanted the police to be. The Wexfords, the Rendell gritty stand-alone crimes, the Vines – I love them all.
FROM DOON WITH DEATH
She didn’t do a lot of research for her police procedural novels, claiming in interviews that Freud and Proust gave her all the insights into human nature she needed. In an interview with Anthony Clare in 1994, for Radio 4’s In the Psychiatrist’s Chair, she spoke of her love of secrets and curious nature and how she would have thought she was the last person people should ever confide their secrets to, but often they did. She said she was an outsider and she had an ability to get inside the heads of other loners – especially psychopaths.
The old detective story that’s got a really complicated tortuous motive doesn’t apply to mine. It’s that people do these things almost by accident, or because of anger, their rage, their madness – and then probably regret it. Ruth Rendell
A JUDGEMENT IN STONE
She was never one to shy away from social issues and could make you understand exactly how somebody could end up committing the most heinous crime.  One of my favourite novels was A Judgement in Stone (1977), where she cleverly gave out the identity of the killer, motive and the victims in the opening sentence and then somehow made you walk in the murder’s shoes with her keen insight into human nature so you felt sympathy for all in equal measure. This novel – the French film adaptation, La Ceremonie (1995) – has really lingered with me over the years.
LA CEREMONIE MOVIE
It’s amazing technical skill and confidence to give away so much in your opening sentence and still create a pageturner of such depth.
“Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”  
A DARK ADAPTED EYE
One of my favourite Vines is her debut, A Dark Adapted Eye, which relates the story of snobbish Vera Hillyard, hanged for killing her sister. It’s set in a small English village where it is suspected that a child had been deliberately killed in the past, with flashback scenes set in World War II when Faith Severn relates her memories of her aunt, Vera to a true-crime writer. The novel is deftly structured with its complex unravelling of the past and the secrets the characters have held onto.     
“Murder reaches out through a family, stamping transfers of the Mark of Cain on a dozen foreheads,” Ruth Rendell
RUTH RENDELL IN LONDON
Ruth was also a public campaigner against domestic violence, racial prejudice, female genital mutilation. She was a Labour peer in the House of Lords, her official title being Baroness Rendell of Babergh and she cared about humanitarian issues, donating generously to charities. She enjoyed her wealth, aided no doubt by her memories of her own experience of struggle-street in her younger days, and was determined to give back to society. In her early writing career she lived with her husband Don in small, grim houses – when they weren’t having to live with Ruth’s parents. This period helped her writing later as she knew first-hand how difficult it was to live in hard circumstances. One of her hobbies she could afford to indulge in her later years was moving: she moved house frequently: eighteen times, into one London home after another, investigating different neighbourhoods. She loved walking around London for exercise, and to gain research ideas from the streets, indulging her curious nature and aiding her creative process.
Up to her death, Ruth remained in person as elegant as her prose. She was an avid exerciser and interviewers often commented on her slim body and attractive appearance. She was a vegetarian. Her days were spent in an idyllic sounding routine of writing, exercise and several times a week attending The House of Lords and the Opera.
“Murder itself is not interesting. It is the impetus to murder, the passions and terrors which bring it to pass and the varieties of feeling surrounding the act that make of a sordid or revolting event compulsive fascination.” Ruth Rendell
ruth rendell signed book
Prolific in her output, her books met worldwide sales of over 60 million and with many books adapted for the screen. She was a multi-award winning author and was often hailed by her writer peers for her talent and skill.
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“Nobody can equal Ruth Rendell’s range or accomplishment; no one has earned more respect from her fellow practitioners” Val McDermid
“Consistently better work than most Booker writers put together. ”  Ian Rankin
BARBARA VINE WITH BOOKS
Originally Ruth trained as a journalist but resigned hastily (to avoid being sacked) after she wrote about a tennis club meeting, pretending she had been there but failing to mention the slightly important fact that the speaker dropped dead halfway through his talk. Becoming a mother of her only child, Simon, (Ruth was also an only child) she wrote six novels – all of which were rejected. There wasn’t a lot of interest when her first published novel, From Doon with Death (1964), introduced the likeable Inspector Wexford. Her following two novels were also very low key, until the US market showed interest.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
In today’s publishing climate, she may well never have been able to continue after her first Wexford, and we would have been the poorer for not benefitting from her more mature work of her later books, such as as The Girl Next Door (2014 ), which shows the effects on a group of elderly people when the remains of severed hands are found in a biscuit tin in an old tunnel where they used to play as children in the 1940s. I found this work by a writer in her eighties both melancholy and darkly beautiful.
RUTH RENDELL IN LONDON 2005
My condolences to all who knew her personally.  I hope they find it of some consolation that Ruth may have left us physically, but her books will always be there for future generations to discover. Her 66th novel, Dark Corners, is to be published in November. I feel terribly sad that there will be no more new Ruth Rendell’s for me to devour.  Vale, Ruth Rendell.
I think about death every day – what it would be like, why it would happen to me.  It would be humiliating to be afraid. Ruth Rendell 

Coral Dreaming

We are now back in Sydney,  still reflecting over Heron Island’s turquoise sea and sky, and the ever-gliding shadows in the ocean of sharks, sting-rays and turtles.

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Heron Island, one of the great natural wonders of the world,  is a coral cay which began forming around 6000 years ago. Situated off the Queensland coast, Heron has been described by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places to see marine wildlife up close. The island is small; it takes about 20 minutes to walk it (double that time when we were with our ten-year-old daughter at night on our turtle hatchling expeditions). We chose Heron  to retreat and recharge because there’s no technology there and we were all longing for a break from Wi-Fi and computer screens. Plus, it was turtle hatching time and who can resist baby turtles born in the wild?

Dawn

Dawn

 

I miss circumnavigating the island’s white sands. I loved being in that world of primary-coloured crayon blue sky and sea. If I close my eyes now and attempt to block out the traffic and the workmen’s constant drilling from the factories surrounding me, I can hear a faint lapping of water, and feel within me the elegant unexpected beauty of a turtle swimming past and the graceful otherworldly shapes of the stingrays in their exquisite ocean glide.

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I have emerged like the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale from an enchanted underwater world of coral forests, exotic fish and – onshore – luxuriant green foliage that parasolled us overhead in a magnificent jungle. Heron Island is home to up to 100,000 birds. At night the shearwaters return from the sea and the calls to their waiting children sound like the eerie screech of restless, uneasy ghosts.

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We wandered for five days in a tourist postcard of Australia, marvelling over this parallel tropical world as we swam with reef sharks and stingrays. We even saw a manta ray on the semi-submersible boat tour of the reef.

reef sharks

reef sharks

 

As Daisy and David snorkelled out trying to find sharks, I was paddling around knee deep trying to avoid them (the sharks). Then I realised I was surrounded by what looked like twenty fins. For years I’ve had a severe shark phobia, but once you’ve experienced them around you and realise these reef sharks are not interested in you as dinner, then you form a new respect towards these elegant and fascinating beings.

with David Levell

with David Levell

 

We cheered on baby turtles as they hatched, making their plucky and courageous dash to the ocean. Some sadly were snatched instantly by the waiting sharks, but others were taken by the current to hopefully travel the world before they miraculously return to their original hatching place.

 

Daisy loved the Junior Rangers programme and made good friends amongst the children there. They called themselves The Clan and bonded immediately over turtles hatching and snorkelling with sharks. Daisy is still thrilled she managed to snorkel with her new friends out to the shipwreck that serves as a breakwater.

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Walking on the beach one night, my daughter cried out as a baby turtle fell from the sky at her feet, obviously dropped by a bird. We watched in awe as it managed to upend itself the correct way and continue its journey to the sea. My daughter christened that turtle Lucky and we vowed to return at the same time in 30 years to see if Lucky would return to her original hatching place.

 

 

It’s hard to believe that in the 1920s Heron Island was a turtle cannery and in the 1950s tourists rode  the turtles for sport. Thankfully, turtle riding was outlawed circa 1960.

turtle riding in the 50s

Turtle riding in the 50s

And so we are back in Sydney. The jackhammers are jarring as the workmen dismantle the shoe factory next door to make yet more flats and shops. The city seems a grotesque heavy charcoal drawing next to the primary-coloured island with its pristine air and breathtaking scenery.

David going diving with dive masters Jo and Jimmy

David going diving with dive masters Jo and Jimmy

 

I hope it is not too long before we make that journey over the sea to Heron Island and enjoy the island’s “Welcome” cocktail. I watched Heron disappear from the boat as we left,  farewelling sadly that magical coral cay with its turquoise waters and sea life until it became a distant faint smudge on the horizon.

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I could have sat on the sand forever watching the marine life circle the island, listening to the call of birds and staring into the shimmering dramatic blue that stretched forever. But I should feel lucky to have seen it at all.

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It’s been sobering learning from the guides on Heron Island about how the impact of global warming and mankind’s impact has had a noticeably detrimental effect on the reef. We are all part of the same web and, as legendary marine biologist and oceanographer Sylvia Earle warned in the papers this week: “If you like to breathe, listen up, the message is to protect the ocean as if your life depends upon it, because it really does. No ocean, no life. We’re so concerned about the green movement, but without the ocean, there’s nothing there. No blue, no green.”

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La Casa del Poeta and the Summer Blue

Normally never a summer lover, I hanker for misty mornings, gloomy rainy days and snow. But this year I cast aside my Scorpionic affinities for winter and embraced Summer. Throughout the holiday break we didn’t leave Sydney and although I sighed wistfully when viewing friends’ social media accounts of their holidays abroad, I enjoyed the hush in the streets surrounding our inner-city home – a break from the constant jackhammering on the building site next door. Instead we embraced more peaceful  streets that looked like they belonged in the 1950s, and a half-empty shopping mall. Throughout the lethargic summer days there was time to plan the year ahead and explore Sydney’s breathtaking beaches. A new favourite this year was Bundeena and also Cronulla. I loved this area where a vibrant mix of cultures gathered to escape the heat wave and enjoy the spectacular views of the popular surfing beaches.

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The school year is now well under way and my life is filled with notices, appointments, homework and in the midst of the whirl – writing my new book. I’m really enjoying crafting this mystery which once again examines the ripple effect of murder across three different time periods in a Tasmanian village. My agent is happy with the early chapters she has read.

 

Daisy writing at Cronulla

Daisy writing at Cronulla

 

Mercury Retrograde has ended and with its departure heralded welcome news from Spain. I adore Poet’s Cottage’s poetic and Cocteau sounding Spanish translation – La Casa del Poeta. The cover is one of my favourite interpretations –  so atmospheric and really conveys the story. I hope La Casa del Poeta is enjoyed in Spain. It’s always a joy to think of my Tasmanian murder mystery being read in different countries.

 

SMALLER SPANISH POETS COTTAGE

 

Tomorrow we will spend five days on the Great Barrier Reef. With no technology for distraction I’m taking only a notebook, books to embrace the endless blue sky and sea. I can’t wait to feel sand beneath my feet and see some baby turtles being born. I’m packing here a massive amount of flowers for my hair, tarot and Angel cards – all the essentials!

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Thank you for visiting and I wish you creative and magical days.

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Love and Light,

Josephine

Anna Romer and The Eye of the Rhino

Hello, Happy New Year Greetings. With all the traumatic events happening globally I’ve felt in need of creative and soul inspiration, and so I’ve begun a new series on Tale Peddler called The Eye of the Rhino. It’s from Stella Adler, who said success in the arts requires ‘the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose’. IMG_1671   One observation I’ve made with my creative friends is they are tenacious. Creative success seems to involve a synthesis of Talent, Timing, Tenacity and Luck and it’s the tenacity aspect that interests me. What inspires some individuals to pursue their dreams despite inevitable disappointments along their path? I say inevitable as I’ve observed that even among my more successful creative friends, they have still had to overcome obstacles that you would never hear about on their social media accounts. I hope you enjoy this series and get as much inspiration from it as I do. First up is Anna Romer. ANNA ROMER   I’ve known Anna for many years. I thought she’d be an interesting artist to begin with as she had a long apprenticeship until her success with her book Thornwood House, an Australian Gothic mystery published by Simon and Shuster in September 2013. Thornwood House broke though Anna’s years of writing in oblivion and was a bestseller. Anna was a graphic artist and has travelled widely. In an alternative career path she’d have made a powerful energetic healer as she does unforgettable massages (personally experienced). Anna’s a highly individual person and one of the more interesting authors I’ve met. Shunning a lot of technology, she prefers the rhythm of her own imagination and the pulse of the bush that permeates her writing. Lyrebird Hill (her second novel, also an Australian Gothic mystery) was released in September 2014.  Anna and I share a love of communicating by letters, Spirituality, Joseph Campbell. I’m delighted Anna accepted my invitation to discuss her creative inspirations for Eye of the Rhino.

J – I know your writing path wasn’t a smooth trajectory. You spent many years working on another project which hasn’t yet been published. Can you talk about how it felt to work on that project and what it was like to cross over to the new genre you are working in with Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill?

You’re quite right, my writing path was long and winding – and there were times I was convinced it was leading nowhere. Luckily for me, I’m utterly addicted to the writing process, and that’s what kept me going.   One of my great passions along the way was a historical novel I worked on for many years. It was an adventure story set in a time when people were restrained by archaic traditions and strict social laws. My favourite thing about writing this story was developing characters who were feisty and strong-willed, who flouted those laws and went their own way.   The research for this project was intensive. I spent years losing myself in books and pictures and movies, drawing maps and diagrams and timelines and, even dreaming about my characters until they felt like dear old friends. I was totally obsessed!   Sadly, the plot was very flawed. In my mind’s eye I could see a beautiful, richly-layered adventure story, but I didn’t have the skills back then to pull it into shape. My agent suggested I set the story aside for a while and work on something with less demanding research. So I dumped my beloved project in the bottom drawer with all my other rejects, and went back to the drawing board.   I decided my next novel would be set in Australia – a simple mystery story about a woman who inherits an abandoned house. I would throw in all the elements I loved: forgotten old letters, a buried diary, an overgrown garden, and a star-crossed love story. Most importantly, I’d keep my research minimal.   Famous last words. Before I knew it, my story had grown convoluted roots that reached back to the 1940s. Suddenly I had a mountain of memoirs and war diaries and biographies to read!   I wasn’t really fazed about tackling a completely new genre. Early on I’d attempted to write a horror-thriller (while I was under the thrall of Stephen King), and when that bombed I tried my hand at romance, crime, fantasy. Each of the seven novels in my reject drawer is a different genre!   But thanks to the lessons I learned from all my failed projects, I developed a much better grasp on how to structure a novel. I learned that each genre has its own specific requirements; romance focuses on the relationship, while a thriller constantly threatens the hero’s life.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

  And yet the core of any story is the same. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” which explores the idea that all stories – myths, fairytales, and legends – share the same basic components. A troubled character embarks on a quest to solve her problem; she undergoes a series of tests that ultimately transform her; by sacrificing what she wants, she achieves what it is she most needs – and in the process, she becomes whole. THE HERO'S JOURNEY   This theory sounds formulaic, but I found it wonderfully freeing. Once I started working with it, all other elements specific to genre fell into place. Suddenly my plot was holding together. The characters were making sense. The story had purpose, and because I now knew where I was going, the process became much more fun. JOSEPH CAMPBELL BOOK J – What has kept you going throughout all the years you have worked away in solitude on your books? What helped to foster your own self-belief in your talent and enabled you to have a rhinoceros skin?

I’d always loved romantic adventure stories that changed the way I thought or felt – and that’s what I wanted to write. But my early attempts made it clear how much I needed to learn! The thing that kept me going all those years, was the challenge of somehow achieving my vision. It was like a carrot dangling just ahead of me, always out of reach – but soooo delicious-looking. I wanted to do justice to the stories I could see in my head, and the only way to do that was to develop my storytelling skills.   I embarked on a mission, reading every how-to book I could lay my hands on, trying every technique. More importantly, I wrote and wrote. And whenever I looked back over my work and found even the tiniest improvement, a fresh rush of excitement would spur me on.   I was never under the illusion that I was a particularly good writer. My self-belief fought a constant battle with my self-doubt. But I really loved learning about plot and structure and character development … I still do! Concepts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey were endlessly fascinating to me. I was like a drug addict, continually seeking my next fix of story know-how. Even if I’d wanted to stop, I couldn’t have.  

J – Love of the Australian bush permeates Thornwood House. To me, the book really  throbs with nature cycles. How important is it to you as an artist to live in the bush in the solitude you obviously enjoy? Could you have written Thornwood House in a city? 465       I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon who wrote the immensely popular Outlander series. Her first book is set in Scotland in the 1600s, and it grippingly evokes the life and culture of that time.

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

  I was fascinated to learn that Diana wrote her first book in the series without ever having visited Scotland. I read about how she listened to folk song recordings to hone her ear to Scottish accents. She quizzed experts, and no doubt used her own formidable researching skills to make her story world so believable.   This taught me that it’s possible to write convincingly about any location or historical period or life experience – if you do enough research.   But for me, as with most writers, immersing myself in a location brings additional insight and depth to that research. I love to sit and observe. I love to drink in the smell of wildflowers, or walk through the bush at night without a torch, or fire off a few rounds from a double-action revolver, or pick up an eastern brown snake so I can confidently describe the fine velvety nap of its skin. EASTERN BROWN SNAKE   Besides all that, I’m the sort of person who thrives in a natural environment. If I spend a lot of time in town I get frazzled; there’s too much sensory input. My brain likes wide open spaces, and the sound of wind in the trees, and the pebbly smell of the river. I need to be among those nature cycles to understand them and allow them to permeate me. I know I sometimes get carried away with my descriptions, waffling on about leaves and flowers – but that’s how I write. Without the energy of the natural world flowing through my stories, I would quickly lose my excitement for them. IMG_3192   J – Do you have any advice or insight for anybody who is contemplating changing their career and embracing a more creative path? Go for it! For me, the best advice regarding creativity comes from Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.” FOLLOW YOUR BLISS     If you hanker to paint, then paint; if you yearn to tell stories, then do that. If you want to knit, or cook, or lose yourself in the garden – then embrace your creative yearnings with a full heart. Invest a lot of love into what you do, and don’t worry if you have to spend years working other jobs to support it. Walking a creative path is not always easy, but it’s a worthy challenge. Your life will be all the richer for it. And if it makes your soul sing, what is there to lose?

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna's sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna’s sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

  J – I know you don’t have a very active online presence; although you’re blessed with a sister who maintains your Facebook page. What is your take on social media for artists?     I’m certainly blessed with a wonderful sister! In fact I have two wonderful sisters who rave about my books to everyone they meet – lucky me! Sarah saves my poor old brain cells by managing our social media page, which allows me to focus more on my writing. I find the energy of the Internet disrupts my creative flow. I get jittery when I’m online, and afterwards my thoughts feel quite scattered. For inspiration to flow, I need to be relaxed and centred.   As an artist, you have to weigh up the benefits of spending time promoting your work on social media, against the advantages of using that time to develop and layer your work. For me, my stories are simply more important. I don’t consider myself a natural-born talent at writing. I have to work ridiculously long hours, drafting and re-drafting and editing my stories into shape before I’m satisfied that they’re ready to present to my readers.   I’m always acutely aware that for a reader, a book is an investment. Not just of money, but of many hours of their time. I want to give my readers my very best, and this requires that I sacrifice nonessentials such as social media. I’m also a strong believer in word-of-mouth – if you hone your craft and put your heart and soul into creating an entertaining story, then there’ll be readers who will utterly love your books … and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? THORNWOOD HOUSE   J – Thornwood House has a dark mystery at its foundations. How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book? How did writing Lyrebird Hill differ from the first book? I start any project with an enormous amount of brainstorming, researching, and planning where I want the story to go. By the time I’m ready to begin, I have a tightly plotted outline. But when I’m writing I tend to lose myself in the story. I forget all my well laid plans and get carried off by the adventure. Sooner or later I hit a brick wall, which sends me scurrying back to my outline. I replot, work out how to tie up the new loose ends I’ve created, and then freefall back into my characters’ lives. LYREBIRD HILL   Lyrebird Hill was a very different writing experience to my first book; with Thornwood House I had the luxury of time. Years, in fact. The tight deadlines on Lyrebird Hill gave me no choice but to knuckle down and get the story written as quickly as possible. I didn’t have time to stop and agonise over the plot, or waffle off on tangents. I wrote only what I believed was necessary, and as a result went through a huge learning curve. It was crazy, daunting, obsessive … and bucket-loads of fun! And I think the story is better because of it. ANNA SIGNING BOOKS     J – Are you a notebook person, or a writing online type of person? Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer?

I’m very much a notebook person. I usually have several notebooks per novel, which I refer to constantly. I love the tactile feeling of writing on paper – scribbling over words and rewriting, cutting out bits and moving them somewhere else, gluing in photos, drawing maps and diagrams and charts… bliss! Being a visual person, I love the chaos and colours of my notebooks and find working in them a very relaxing way to let the ideas flow.   I seem to be sensitive to electronic equipment, and because I spend so much time staring at a computer screen – drafting or transcribing my handwritten notes or editing – by the end of the day I end up feeling very drained. Breaking up my computer time with other activities such as drawing maps or filling out charts in my notebook helps to keep my mind fresh. GHOST MUSE J – How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like? I know we share an interest in spiritual matters and so do you use that element of yourself in your writing process?  I imagine my muse to be a sort of wild ghost-like creature in photo-negative form. I feed her on a varied diet of books: biographies, history, how-to manuals, as well as  fiction – classic, popular, and sometimes downright trashy. She regularly feasts on films and a smorgasbord of music. She responds well to a hot bath, a walk in the bush, a river swim, or some therapeutic opp-shopping! She’s also fond of conflicting emotions, arguments, love gone wrong, betrayal and disappointment – so occasionally I let her binge on one of these as well.   I believe that our creative selves are very much grounded in the spirit. For me, writing a book is a magical sort of experience. It requires a lot of trust in yourself to embark upon such a huge task and commit to finishing. And it also requires that you set aside your fears and expectations, and surrender to the process.  I spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve the craft of writing, how to strengthen my weaknesses and hone my skills. But I think the success of any creative project really relies on less tangible elements. Instinct, impulse, intuition. It’s exhilarating to connect with your spiritual self and allow it to guide you; to follow those improbable threads of thought that you know will eventually weave something special into the story.   I find that when I let go of all the writerly rules that I’ve learned in my how-to books, and instead focus on the pleasure my writing brings me, I can relax and enjoy the process. I trust my muse to guide me, and that’s when the magic really begins to happen. 

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also ? how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities? THE HERMIT   I’m probably the opposite – with the hide of a rose, and the heart of a rhino! I seem to absorb everything around me, as if there’s no filter between me and the outside world. Sights, sounds, smells … are all vibrant and mesmerising, and all too often overwhelming. I pick up other people’s moods, and I’m sensitive to vibes between others. That’s why I’m such a hermit – I need to remove myself from the fast pace of the world so I can reflect and channel my energies into my work. If I don’t, I burn out very quickly.  I suppose my rhino hide is really a cloak of determination. It’s the one quality that’s kept me going. Whenever the cold winds of doubt or disappointment begin to blow, I draw my cloak more tightly around me and march on. Determination is a quality I’ve learned from the women in my family – my granny, my grandma, my mum. Incredibly resilient women, who forged on no matter what. I’m blessed to have been close to all three, and the qualities they passed along to me are among my most treasured possessions. STRINGYBARK BLOSSOMHAKEA FLOWER   Jo, I love your image of an artist’s soul resembling a rose … but mine doesn’t feel very rose-like. I’d say it’s closer to a stringybark blossom or hakea flower – thrives in the bush, is quietly productive, and mostly drought-hardy!

Thank you, Anna Romer for sharing your inspiration with us.   Thank you Jo, it was my pleasure.

And so I hope you enjoyed the inspiration from this post. Thanks again Anna for your generous sharing and if you did enjoy, please share with your social media friends who may also benefit. Look out for my next Eye of the Rhino post with another special guest. Anna Romer’s  website is HERE Love, Light and Peace, Josephine xx

This interview with Anna is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for  2015.2015 AWW badge

quote joseph campbell

Dancing on Knives

I originally read Dancing On Knives in its earlier incarnation as Full Fathom Five, published by Harper Collins Australia under Kate’s maiden name Kate Humphrey in 2003.

KATE HUMPHREY USE

I loved it and so was curious to read the revamped Dancing on Knives, published 11 years later by Random House. DANCING ON KNIVES   Sara, the lead character, suffers from panic attacks and hasn’t left her family home in five years. From the opening paragraph we learn Sara is afraid of many things. She reads the Tarot and has psychic gifts inherited from her Spanish Grandmother Consuelo – who bequeathed Sara her cards with the message that the Tarot will help her to see more clearly. Sara’s father, the tempestuous and self-centered  Augusto Sanchez, a well-known artist, is discovered hanging upside down from a cliff in suspicious circumstances. On the night his body (half-alive, half-dead) is discovered, Sara draws three Tarot cards: the Emperor, the Tower and the Hanged Man. A clear signifier of Change, conflict and catastrophe. This is the set-up for a contemporary mystery set on the South Coast of New South Wales. THE HANGED MAN TAROTTOWER CARDTHE EMPEROR TAROT   I loved the evocative descriptions of Sara’s readings:   Gently she opened the box. A faint, evocative smell of cinnamon, saffron and bay leaves rose from within, a smell that conjured powerfully the ghost of Consuelo Sanchez. Sara inhaled, holding the sweet, dusty spiciness deep in her lungs as  if it was incense, her fingers resting on the silk-wrapped cards within. After a long moment she let her breath escape in a sigh, took the pack of cards out and unwrapped it from its shroud of silk. She turned the first card over.    Dancing On Knives is rich in poetic imagery. I enjoyed passages describing Sydney, and the Manly Aquarium, the giant sharks and stingrays which added a delicious otherworldly texture.  And this passage below where studying one of her father’s paintings, Sara mourns her mother’s death:   Memories crowded in on her. Flashes of her mother’s voice, a strand of red hair, smothering velvet, smoke against a blue sky. It seemed to Sara that memories sank to the depths of the sea and hardened there to strange shapes. What was once a coin became a worthless disc of rusted green. What was once an anchor became a corroded crucifix. Nothing stayed the same. aquarium vintage MANLY   Kate has previously written a book of poetry and one reason I enjoyed Dancing On Knives was the poetic feel to the story. It does have a sense of gripping tides and dark shadows in the writing. I also delighted in magical elements such as the description of Consuelo’s recipe book, which brims with remedies, love spells, shampoo, beauty aids and herbal lore. THYME   Consuelo still visits Sara after her death as a ghost, with tips such as advising her to make Thyme tea with honey for courage, or wear a sprig of Thyme in her hair. SPANISH WOMAN   I loved the character of Consuelo and the rich relationship between her and Sara. I could envisage a whole book on Consuelo’s back story alone. RECIPE BOOK   Augusto, with the face of a Spanish aristocrat, thin arrogant nose and cruel, sensuous mouth is an unlikeable character with his selfish treatment of his family. But you feel more sympathetic towards him when he has to mix with his conservative country in-laws, the Hallorans. Augusto loves to discuss God, Art and Death whereas the Halloans’s interests lie more in football and fishing. Augusto is intolerant of anybody who bores him and the Hallorans bore him intensely. Bridget, Sara’s mother, forces Augusto to move from Sydney to Narooma on the South Coast, where his in-laws live, to take up residence in the farmhouse left to Bridget by her father. The move proves disastrous. Augusto is a man who likes to not only paint women, but also to have sex with them first, believing the only way to know a woman is to bed her. When Augusto’s in a good mood he is passionate and King of Hearts, but he can swiftly transform when painting into the Demon-God. He mocks Sara’s attempts at art. His sons (the elder, Joe, and twins Dylan and Dominic) and Sara’s half-sister Teresa fear and despise him. NAROOMA   Sara’s panic attacks are also described when she is bullied at school. Throughout the novel we come to understand the source of Sara’s original trauma.  A character deftly drawn, Sara craves order and predictability.  She’s an avid bookworm – mainly romance novels that Augusto sneers at. She can read up to six in a day, ‘lighting one on the butt of the last until she feels sick and nauseated.’ She reminded me of other children with creative bohemian parents such as Arkie Whiteley. Her romantic reading serves as a kind of mind-opiate but then she discovers the world of literature via a found copy of DH Lawrence’s Women In Love.  This book is a revelation to Sara of the power of words and storytelling to resonate in the human soul: WOMEN IN LOVE At once she had felt an oddness in the writing. It was quite unlike anything she had ever read before. It was not just that the two sisters in the book did not talk like anyone Sara knew, nor look like anyone with their white dresses and their brightly-hued stockings, grass-green, rose-red, cornflower-blue. It was not just that the words on the page waltzed round and round, pirouetting on points, turning and returning ever again to the same grace notes, building to a mordent melody that thrummed chords in Sara’s own shadow-bound soul, strumming music from keys that had long lain silent and still, coated in dust. In their hearts they were frightened.   Enamoured of Women In Love, Sara comes to realise that she is not alone in her terror of the world – all the characters in Lawrence’s world are afraid. She wonders if Lawrence knew the pain she experiences of ‘the horror of other people, the world being too bright and sharp, as if every step brings pain. Like the character of the little mermaid who had her tongue cut out and had to dance on knives.’ vintage mermaid

By the book’s climax we come to discover the truth behind Augusto’s fall over the cliff.

 SOUTH COAST

The Tarot card drawn at the novel’s end is The World.

THE WORLD TAROT Dancing On Knives is a sad book in many ways, but also a hauntingly sensitive story of dysfunctional families, creativity, the shadow side of art and the longing we endure for self-actualisation and our soul’s true yearning. It is a book that will resonate with all who have experienced the pain of feeling frozen, and not being able to speak your own truth and feeling the outsider in a world that is too sharp and bright. A multi-layered, lyrical, gripping literary mystery from Kate Forsyth. I highly recommend it.

Kate Forsyth’s website can be found HERE

For an interesting interview Kate gave about Dancing on Knives see HERE

KATE FORSYTHAustralian Women Writers Challenge

This review was part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014

Thank you for visiting me.

Love and Light,

Josephine