Poet’s Cottage by Josephine Pennicott
Poets had always lived there, the locals claimed. It was as if the house called to its own…
Poet’s Cottage – a haunting mystery of families, bohemia, fairy-tales, truth, creativity, lies, murder and memory, set in 1930s Australia and the present day.
link to a radio interview with Penny Terry for ABC radio on Poet’s Cottage 2012
Praise for Poet’s Cottage
This is a wonderful, haunting piece of work that starts in the present day when newly divorced Sadie, along with her teenage daughter, Betty, moves to the sea-village of Pencubitt in Tasmania to claim an inheritance, the benignly and yet appropriately named, Poet’s Cottage. On arrival, Sadie finds herself welcomed by both the rather closed and somewhat eccentric community and the gorgeous house that, according to locals, needs a writer and, particularly a Tatlow, to bring it to life. Once the home of Sadie’s grandmother, the infamous children’s author, Pearl Tatlow, Sadie knows little about her relative except that her mother adored her and what she can glean from the children’s books her grandmother wrote and the snippets of delicious scandal that followed in Pearl’s wake. The other certainty that rightly unnerves Sadie and Betty is that Pearl was brutally murdered in the cellar of Poet’s Cottage – a death that seems to have leached into the very foundations and walls of the house itself. As the killer was never found and Pearl’s presence lingers, not only in the house, but in the memories (written and otherwise) of many of the villagers, Sadie determines to unravel the mystery of her grandmother’s death and try and resolve the conflicting stories she’s told about Pearl Tatlow: which was she? Adored mother and talented writer, whimsical, imaginative and warm? Or a selfish seductress and abusive mother and wife who cared for little but herself? Sadie must delve deeply to find the truth, crack open the shell of lies and fabrications to reveal the real woman behind the shiny, beauteous facade. Pearl is, in this regard, aptly named: she is either a precious thing buried beneath layers of grimy history and skewed familial and local stories or she is merely a broken promise, an empty shell devoid of depth. There are risks to this kind of search for the truth as Sadie is about to find out…
Segueing between past and present, from first person narrative (being an unedited version of a published book about Pearl called Webweaver, written by a local, the interesting Birdie) to third person, as a reader you’re drawn into both Pearl and Sadie’s stories that centre on family, relationships, female desire, social standards, gossip, assumptions and the power of words. This book is, in so many ways, a tale about the way words shape, inspire, create and destroy. How they can both build and harm. The Tatlows and others in the novel are either professional users of words or people who deploy them with a specific purpose such as in letters or wills. Within these forms, they construct versions of events, history and themselves… But for what purpose and what, if anything, are they hiding or revealing? What is fact? What is fiction? Just as writers construct imaginative worlds and tales for others to escape into, it seems other characters are not above doing this for themselves, whether it be a children’s book, a work of non-fiction, letters, retellings of occasions or conversations or even Betty’s wistful blogs. In all these modes, the subjective nature of ‘truth’ is exposed and questioned as is the transformative ability of words. Through words, of the novel and those given to the characters, imagination and memory are shown to be powerful tools that are wielded freely and in ways that mirror how we utilise both to protect, preserve, alter events to privilege a specific version and hasten forgetting of another. But this is not the time for fiction… Sadie wants and needs facts, but they’re proving harder to uncover than she ever realised.
The story is also about survival – surviving loss, the abnegation of longing, abuse, thwarted desires, and shattered or even fulfilled dreams and the role memory can play in these as well. It’s about female bonds and the capacity women have for great unity and destruction – mostly of each other. As we follow the many threads that weave both Pearl’s tale and thus Sadie’s, we’re seduced into a particular kind of thinking and believing. It’s testimony to Pennicott’s exquisite prose that just as you think you understand where the characters and stories are heading, your expectations are overturned. I loved this about the novel. What I also loved is that I could see these characters; what they wore, ate, how they walked. I could feel the wind on my face, walk through the misty streets of Pencubitt, and feel the cold embrace of Poet’s Cottage. Pennicott evokes time and place with a light and meaningful touch: a word, a mood, a gesture all bring the past and present lives of those dwelling in the village into acute focus.
This is a gorgeous, sometimes harrowing but always moving and deep story that remains with you long after the last page. Simply lovely. A triumph.
Thank you, Karen Brooks, Australian Author, columnist, journalist, corporate and educational speaker, academic and social commentator.
Synopsis- Poets had always lived there, the locals claimed. It was as if the house called to its own… When Sadie inherits Poet’s Cottage in the Tasmanian fishing town of Pencubitt, she sets out to discover all she can about her notorious grandmother, Pearl Tatlow. Pearl was a children’s writer who scandalised 1930s Tasmania with her behaviour. She was also violently murdered in the cellar of Poet’s Cottage and her murderer never found. Sadie grew up with a loving version of Pearl through her mother, but her aunt Thomasina tells a different story, one of a self-obsessed, abusive and licentious woman. And Pearl’s biographer, Birdie Pinkerton, has more than enough reason to discredit her. As Sadie and her daughter Betty work to uncover the truth, strange events begin to occur in the cottage. And as the terrible secret in the cellar threads its way into the present day, it reveals a truth more shocking than the decades-long rumours. ‘Poet’s Cottage’ is a beautiful and haunting mystery of families, bohemia, truth, creativity, lies, memory and murder.
Review- Poet’s Cottage is an absorbing novel entwined with mystery, inter-generational secrets and intrigue, set in a ghostly town in Tasmania.
When her mother dies, Sadie inherits the Tatlow family home, Poet’s Cottage in the coastal fishing town of Pencubbit, Tasmania. Pearl Tatlow was the eccentric grandmother whose legacy of outlandish behaviour and uninhibited ways is still the talk of the town, even two generations after Pearl was brutally murdered in the cellar and her murder never found. Pearl was a children’s writer and bore two daughters, Marguerite (Sadie’s mother) and Thomasina.
Sadie, also a writer returns to her mother’s childhood home to uncover the truth of her grandmother’s death and to write her story. But she uncovers that Pearl, who was always portrayed as a lively, wonderful mother had many enemies in Pencubbit, including her daughter Thomasina who claimed her mother was abusive and mentally unstable.
Sadie is separated from her husband who left her for a young new age woman and moves into Poet’s Cottage with her teenage daughter, Betty who is recovering from an eating disorder.
There are many quirky characters in the story including close to one hundred year old Birdie Pinkerton who had a long-term relationship with Maxwell (Pearl’s husband) following the murder. Sadie makes friends with outspoken Maria and Canadian Gracie who owns most of the heritage estates in the town.
The author alternates the POV of Sadie and Betty in the present day deciphering the puzzle of their grandmother’s past as well as excerpts from Birdie’s memoir which tells her perspective of events in the 1930′s that lead to the eventual death of Pearl Tatlow.
Poet’s Cottage was inspired by the life of children’s author, Enid Blyton, whose daughters to this day have conflicting opinions on her role as a good mother. During a family holiday to a coastal town in Tasmania, the author was mesmerised by a big white Georgian style cottage by the sea that became known as Poet’s Cottage.
Poet’s Cottage is a ghostly mystery which spans three generations and covers themes of mental illness, infidelity, childhood abuse and the dramas of a small town in the 1930’s.
In the author’s note, Josephine says she set out to create an English-style mystery but with an Australian setting and I think she captured this perfectly. When I read this, I felt as captivated as I did when I read Sara Foster’s ghostly mystery Beneath the Shadows- which I also loved.
The cover of this glorious new book from Pan Macmillan has a quote from Belinda Alexandria on it. Now I must admit I don’t read Belinda Alexandria but I know one thing – she got it ‘spot on’ when she said “A wonderful, atmospheric tale. I was hooked from start to finish.” Yes, Belinda, I was too!
Poet’s Cottage is written by Josephine Pennicott. I haven’t been exposed to her work before and after reading this one, I feel like I’ve missed out! The book is set in a fictional town in Tasmania called Pencubitt. When we are first introduced to Pencubitt, I immediately recalled a trip to Stanley in the north west of the state. She evoked a place I felt I knew. It was always easy for me to imagine the town, the houses, the people. And so it was no surprise to read in the Author’s Note that Stanley was the inspiration behind Pencubitt. I must say she captured the picturesque fishing village beautifully.
Location aside, this book tells the story of Sadie who has inherited Poet’s Cottage. Her grandmother Pearl was a children’s writer who lived a rather scandalous lifestyle back in the 1930s. Pearl was violently murdered in the cellar of the cottage but the murderer was never found. Sadie starts unravelling the story of Pearl, through her aunt Thomasina and Birdie Pinkerton, Pearl’s biographer and later lover of Maxwell, Pearl’s husband. Birdie and Maxwell were naturally suspects in the murder investigation – but no charges were ever laid. And Aunt Thomasina? Well, let’s just say she’s a little strange…
The book starts with the events of Sunday 12th July 1936 when Thomasina witnesses her mother’s murder without truly understanding what was happening. We are then taken to the present day and introduced to Sadie and her daughter Betty coming to the home “where Sadie’s bohemian grandmother, Pearl, had scandalised the locals in the 1930s with her jazz and murder parties”. Sadie is grieving after the death of her mother and has inherited the cottage. There they meet all sorts of local characters. Being a small town, everyone knows everyone in Pencubitt. There are no secrets, yet everyone has something to hide, or some hidden agenda. particularly when it comes to what happened to Pearl and Poet’s Cottage itself all those years ago. Who is telling the truth? Can Sadie uncover it?
And of course, it doesn’t help matters that Pearl’s presence is still there in Poet’s Cottage – photos, sculptures, furniture. Is the house haunted by Pearl? What secrets does it keep? We spend most of the story in the world of Pearl and Maxwell: Pearl’s outrageous behaviour, her love affairs, the people in her life and a little about her work as a children’s writer. Every now and again we come back to the present day where Sadie is dealing with her anorexic daughter, her ex-husband and his new partner, and getting her life – and her love-life – back on track.
But it’s the past that is the mystery. Working with Birdie and Thomasina, Sadie will learn more about her grandmother and eventually unlock the mystery of her death. As the blurb says “Poet’s Cottage is a beautiful and haunting mystery of families, bohemia, truth, creativity, lies, memory and murder.” How true.
To me the book was beautifully written and a really good read. It reminded me very much of the style of Kate Morton, a writer I enjoy immensely. I would thoroughly recommend it. Block out an afternoon, put your feet up on a comfy lounge, and loose yourself in the Poet’s Cottage.
Thank you to Rachael McDiarmid of James Bennett – Publisher Relations & Marketing Communications Manager. She usually reads historical fiction from the Plantagenet and Tudor periods – as well as anything set in Renaissance Italy – and insisted on reviewing this Read it Love it book purely on the beautiful cover!
This is our book of the month for April. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, great characters and wonderful setting. I didn’t want this book to end but at the same time couldn’t wait to find out what happened. This is a bit of a departure from Josephine Pennicott‘s earlier writing but I think she is really on to something. I ♥ this book.
Thank you to LOVETHATBOOK Queensland for their praise and for making Poet’s Cottage book of the month for April, 2012.
Poet’s Cottage is not what I expected, to say the least. When I heard that I had this coming up to read I wasn’t excited, I can’t tell you now what I was expecting because I don’t remember – what I can tell you is that it certainly wasn’t what I got. Having said that, all I heard was the title so this was a feeling I got before I even read the blurb on the back of the book. I was more expecting a romantic, soul searching journey I think.
I started reading the very same day I received the book and was quickly sucked into the threads of this story that centres around an atmospheric old house in a small fishing town in Tasmania. The house is Poet’s Cottage, inherited by Sadie from her mother who spent her early years in the house with her family.
Poet’s Cottage is written in the present day when Sadie moves to Tasmania with her daughter after the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her mother, she decides on a change of scenery and moves into Poet’s Cottage. Pencubbitt is certainly a far cry from Sydney.
The story isn’t all set in the present day though, a lot of the story is set in 1936 when Sadie’s grandmother was living in Poet’s Cottage, we learn of events as Sadie does.
In 1936 Poet’s Cottage was inhabited by children’s author Pearl Tatlow, her husband and her two daughters. Now, close to a century later, Sadie moves in with her daughter and Sadie is also a writer. She is working freelance writing for magazines but hoping to write an expose revealing all of the previously unknown information about her infamous grandmother.
They say Poet’s Cottage has always been home to creative types and writers, it has an aura that calls to it’s own and Tatlow’s always return, which is why the whole town seems to know exactly who Sadie is from the moment she arrives in town.
Gorgeously written, this book is entirely a work of fiction inspired by the beautiful Tasmanian landscape, a picturesque cottage and the unique mentality of tiny towns where everyone knows everyone else. Pair that with an inexplicable mystery from much earlier in the century and you have an intriguing read that will keep you guessing.
This book has a little bit of everything and certainly kept my brain leafing through tidbits of info long after I should have been sleeping as I tried to fit the pieces together.
Pennicott’s storytelling is vivid and haunting as I watch the scenes playback in my mind, perfectly depicted with her descriptions. The characters jumped out of the page at me and forced me to to feel for them, a whole range of emotions for the situations they all had to live through.
There were times I kept sitting back thinking that it all sounded a little deja vu, a little of history repeating, which was encouraged by all the talk of Poet’s Cottage being haunted and Sadie’s physical resemblance to Pearl.
The atmosphere evoked within these pages definitely suits the period concerned and my only issue was that at times I found myself getting lost in which timezone i was supposed to be foucssing on.
Poet’s Cottage is a book that certainly exceeded my expectations and exercised my mind.
Thank you to Beauty and Lace online magazine for the above review and all the other lovely comments in their bookclub for Poet’s Cottage.
Poet’s Cottage, Josephine Pennicott
“Mother might have liked to believe Poets’ Cottage was part of her, but it wasn’t. She believed everything existed only for her, but the house belongs to no-one. It has its own soul. It chooses who it wants to enter its walls.”
On July 12, 1936, a disturbing crime is committed. Famous children’s novelist Pearl Tatlow is found in the cellar of her home Poet’s Cottage, brutally murdered. Some say she had it coming; others carried the burden of their grief for life, and 70 years later, the crime remains unsolved. When her granddaughter Sadie inherits Poet’s Cottage, she is determined to find out the truth behind Pearl Tatlow’s notorious reputation and why somebody wanted her dead.
Inspired by the deeply flawed relationship Enid Blyton had with her own daughters, Josephine Pennicott has created a tale rich with dark goings on worthy of comparison to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and vintage Agatha Christie.
Pennicott has built her reputation as a writer of dark fantasy and even nastier crime but this, her first foray into mainstream fiction, is a cracker read. I read this book in one weekend and I promise you this book deserves all the accolades heaped upon it.
To prove I am not exaggerating, I am thrilled to say we have an interview with Josephine Pennicott and how she came to write this novel. To read click here.
thank you, Meredith Jaffe, Editor of the Hoopla Bookshelf
What I Liked About This Book: I really loved this book, which I would describe as a Gothic murder mystery set in Tasmania. It’s a parallel story, moving between modern day and the 1930s. When Sadie inherits Poet’s Cottage, a house in a sleepy village of in Tasmania, she moves there with her teenage daughter in an attempt to start a fresh life after her marriage break-up. However, all is not well at Poets’ Cottage. Sadie’s grandmother, Pearl Tatlow, was murdered there years earlier, and many believe the cottage is haunted. Pearl was a popular children’s author, ambitious, strong-willed and selfish. The events leading up to her murder are told from the point of view of the woman who became her biographer, Birdie Pinkerton, but there are clues that she may not be a reliable narrator. Slowly, Sadie finds the events of her own life shadowed and haunted by the violence and tragedy of the past, as the reader comes ever closer to discovering the identity of Pearl’s murderer. Poets Cottage is a clever combination of historical murder mystery, family drama, and Gothic ghost tale – I’d really recommend it.
What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Poet’s Cottage has a complicated plot line, with lots of mysterious and macabre elements. By the end, when the murderer is finally revealed, the reader has become a little hardened to all the twists and turns and so the surprise does not perhaps have the same impact as it would have had if there had not been so many other strange and spooky happenings. However, this didn’t stop me from really enjoying the rollercoaster ride.
Other blogs on this book you may find interesting: AustCrimeFiction