Carried away by the Current

The trees in the village are ablaze with Autumn colours. It’s like you’re in fairyland when the leaves fall around you. I walk everywhere on a scrunchy carpet of leaves.

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Carloads of tourists arrive to photograph our streets.   I relish feeling the dip in the seasons. We have farewelled daylight savings. The nights draw in faster and the days have a chilly bite.

Our neighbour informs us that there’s a local saying that winter arrives with Anzac Day. It appears to be true.    I love Autumn – the transition season but it can also bring a melancholy with the change in light.

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I’ve been living a hermit life (as much as possible with an eleven-year-old daughter) to complete my current book.   My agent is really enthusiastic about the chapters she’s read. My husband, David thinks it’s the ‘best one yet’ – which is what every writer wants to hear. Technically, it’s been a challenge as I’m working with three time periods (the 1800s, 1920s and 1950).   Thank you to readers who have written to me, or commented on my social media, saying how much they are looking forward to this book. The feedback means everything.

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I would like to share this photograph I took in Sydney recently on an outing with my daughter to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This beautiful mer-child with the body of a child and the head of an ancient fish is called “To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved in the other.” The artist is Sangetta Sandrasegar.

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The work is a comment on our changing relationship to the sea brought about by technology. Also, the disappearance of our marine-life and our move away from mythology and old sea-tales. I love her brooding power as she watches a bustling Sydney harbour and the passing clouds, unnoticed by the crowds below her.  You can read more on this piece HERE.    I share the artist’s thoughts on our increasing detachment from myths and nature.

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I find it essential to my own balance to acknowledge seasons and moon cycles. When friends have commented on my passion for comparative religions and ritual, I think of Joseph Campbell’s quote that if you want to know what a society is like without its rituals – read the New York Times.

Here is a photo of a simple ritual my daughter and I did for the New Moon.

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We attended our first Lithgow Ironfest which was a colour and enjoyable day with artisans, jousting, knights, battle re-enactments, steampunks and 1940s army nurses – an enjoyable contrast to the crowds and materialism of the annual Sydney Easter Show.

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We’ve also been attending quite a few sessions at our favourite mountains cinema. Mount Vic Flicks is a traditional cinema experience plus the best hot soup in mugs. Once the manager even delayed putting the movie on to give patrons down the highway a chance to make the movie in time as the traffic was heavy. It’s these olde world courtesies that make our new mountain life such a pleasure.

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I’ve also been reading a lot. I keep wanting to have time to write a post featuring the books I’ve read this year but with trying to finish my own book at the moment it’s been impossible. But it’s a long list with thrillers and mysteries comprising the bulk.    I love staring up at the stars which blaze in a way unimagined in the city. It’s so easy to let go of the trivia and dust of everyday life when you view Saturn through the telescope.

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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.

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.

Meet my Character

Thank you to Sandi Wallace for inviting me to play Meet my Character for a blog hop. MEET THE CHARACTER Answer these questions about your main character from a finished work or work in progress:   1.) What is the name of your character?   Ginger Lawson. In the 1940s thread of the book, she’s a sixteen-year-old feisty and naive redhead who goes to the Blue Mountains to pose for a notorious artist, Rupert Partridge. In the year Ginger is at his home, Currawong Manor, Rupert’s family suffers a triple tragedy: his wife, Doris is killed by a train, his daughter, Shalimar drowns and Rupert vanishes. Ginger knows the real truth of what happened to the family. In the present day thread when she’s in her seventies, she’s finally ready to reveal her secrets.

Inspiration shot from my Pinterest board I used for the young Ginger

Inspiration shot from my Pinterest board I used for the young Ginger

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person?   Fictional, but I was inspired by Pearl Goldman, who was one of painter Norman Lindsay’s favourite muses and models between 1938-1945. I was fortunate to hear Pearl  speak at the Norman Lindsay House in Springwood just after starting the book and was really impressed by Pearl’s vivacity, glamorous flamboyance and being so active in her 90s. She added a lot of spark to Ginger.

Josephine Pennicott with Pearl Goldman at Springwood Blue Mountains

Josephine Pennicott with Pearl Goldman at Springwood Blue Mountains

3.) When and where is the story set?  In the Blue Mountains in the fictional upper mountain village of Mt Bellwood between the 1940s and present day and the surrounding bushland of Owlbone Woods. The Blue Mountains is an area I’ve lived in and I’m constantly drawn back to. I love its mysterious valleys, misty landscapes, creative people, gothic atmosphere and changing seasons. 425   4.) What should we know about him/her?  Beneath the seeming confident and self-obsessed facade of Ginger is a young girl willing to do anything to escape her mother’s fate of being one of the ‘Surry Hills rats’ of the 1940s. And not to believe Ginger’s version of events too closely…

Rose and Norman Lindsay inspiration shot for Ginger

Rose and Norman Lindsay inspiration shot for Ginger

5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?  By not revealing what really happened to the Partridge family in the Blue Mountains. Ginger’s had to live with a lot of guilt and anguish over the years. She made two choices back in 1945 that affected many people and she has the burden of the consequences of her silence. swingagain     6.) What is the personal goal of the character?  The goal of Ginger in the 1940s thread is to escape the drudgery of Molly (her mother’s life) and to become an independent earner. She represents women in Australia in the forties who entered the workforce with the male population away in World War II – and the impact of that transition upon the women of Ginger’s generation. In the present day thread, her goal is to reveal to Rupert’s surviving relatives the truth of what happened to Rupert and his family on the 9th November 1945.

Ginger inspiration from Pinterest board for Currawong Manor

Ginger inspiration from Pinterest board for Currawong Manor

7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? The working title and the title are one and the same – Currawong Manor.

Albert Tucker photo used as inspiration for Currawong Manor

Albert Tucker photo used as inspiration for Currawong Manor

8.) When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published? Currawong Manor was published by Pan Macmillan Australia in June 2014. efffe4bf441a146a40bc48da3f1a06e2 I hope you enjoyed this brief instruction to my character and now it is my turn to tag two writers. I have tagged: Kim Wilkins who also writes commercial women’s fiction novels under the pseudonym of Kimberley Freeman. Kim’s an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction. She has an Honours degree, a Masters degree and a PhD from The University of Queensland where she is also a senior lecturer. You can read more about Kim HERE KIMBERLEY FREEMAN And I’ve also tagged Karen Brooks who is the author of nine books, an academic of more than twenty-years experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years and prior to that, dabbled in acting. You can read more about Karen on her website HERE KAREN BROOKS If these writers choose to accept their tags, you’ll be able to read about their chosen charcters on their websites the following Thursday 27th November. Love and Light, Josephine

When the Ghosts Dance

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Lately I feel like Toad from Wind In The Willows. I’ve recently moved over  from WordPress.com to WordPress.org and being a total Toot, Toot  Technophobic, I’m finding it a challenge. I feel as if I’ve swapped my  comfortable cruisy car that I’ve tooted along in over the years for a  spaceship where I can barely fathom the controls. Hopefully I’m going to  be able to work out how to even post this journal. Despite all the  stimulation to be discovered online, I must confess I do yearn for the  time when writers could just write and not have to fathom the mysterious  intricacies of our  technological age. I know WordPress.org claim Code is  Poetry, but give me Mary Oliver or Keats any day.
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I’ve had my daughter home for a fortnight’s holidays and we’ve enjoyed a  few jaunts around Sydney and into the mountains to see the Autumn leaves  fall. Staying home on holidays is always a good chance to rediscover  Sydney. I feel very fortunate to live in an urban inner-city area  surrounded by so much bush land. We’ve enjoyed exploring islands around  the harbour where we’ve escaped the crowds and enjoyed panoramic views of  the cityscape amongst pine and oak trees surrounding silver-grey Sydney  Harbour. Such bliss to read a good book with million dollar views to  reflect upon. You can hear the echo of long-ago and lost-to-time picnics  and imagine the cries of children as they explored the leafy island. I  could sense the deep sigh of relief as dusk falls and the ferry arrives to  collect the few tourists and the ghosts begin to dance.

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Life is filled with change and I feel that Autumn, a transitional time, is  heralding a new season for me as well.  
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Watch this space for future changes.  The Autumn light has been golden and mellow. I love this season as we bid  farewell to Sydney’s humidity. I am busy planning my new mystery novel which I am very excited about as it’s been coming together wonderfully well. I also have ideas for a crime series I am very, very excited about. I’ve been mulling this one over for a few years.
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The date for my High Tea at Better Read than Dead in Newtown has been brought forward to the 21st June 3pm.
If you live locally I’d love to see you come along to discuss murder, mystery and creativity over cup  cakes.
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Counting down the days now until Currawong Manor is released in Australia.  Soon I’ll be releasing here and on my Facebook Author page some inspiration images from my Pinterest board for  Currawong Manor (which in true Scorpio style is locked at the moment). I will also be organising a giveaway and so please pop back before publication which is officially June 1st. Currawong Manor is available for pre-order through the Award Winning Online bookstore Booktopia HERE. Or please support your local bookstore and request they order a copy.
I hope to spend more time on Tale Peddler reviewing books I’ve read and  interviewing inspirational people I know, so please keep returning and  remember you can find me also on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.
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In Autumn Love and Light,  Josephine “Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and  you are out of your old life and into the new!”  ― Kenneth Grahame