Mystery, Intrigue, Wine, Plants and Storytelling

Hello, if you enjoy mystery, intrigue, wine, plants and storytelling, I am appearing next Tuesday
evening, 22nd November,  (along with fellow writers Anna Westbrook, Alexandra Joel and Sulari Gentill) at the incredibly atmospheric Stoneleigh 50 (Chippendale, near Central Station, Sydney).
The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

The Pinot Noir Study Room at Stoneleigh 50

Presented by Better Read Than Dead bookshop, this special event combines wine-tasting with authors reading from their own works – I’ll be doing an excerpt from Currawong Manor.
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Really looking forward to being part of such a special evening. Places are limited – so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, please come along. Tickets can be booked here:
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Swans, Secrets and Shadows

It is the school holidays. I’m the first awake as my family were all up late last night. My eleven-year-old girl read The Cursed Child in bed with a torch till past midnight. She has re-read this book over ten times since we bought it for her. J.K Rowling’s world has meant to much to her over the years, just as Enid Blyton formed my childhood joy and provided solace in tough times.

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Outside, the weather is bleak and a wind blows hard, making the trees shake around the house. We are hoping for snow to fall in the Blue Mountains, despite the fact we are now in October. Snowfalls are still possible in early Spring when you live above the clouds.

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It was vastly different weather conditions in January, 2014, when I sat by the river in Richmond, Tasmania, on a family holiday watching the golden sunlight and the shadows dapple and form patterns on the water.

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As with several of my books, an image came to me as swans glided past. I was luxuriating in the peace of the convict-built bridge and village – a place so seemingly tranquil, but which contained shadows.

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The scene that came to me was of a young man sitting by the river writing a note, confessing to a crime he believes he is guilty of. Two girls rowing a boat on the water sing ‘Buttons and Bows’ and suddenly the serenity of the sleepy Tasmanian hamlet is shattered when one of the girl’s oars snags on a floating body.

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This was the beginning of The Secret Echoes, which I just finished this week. From the very start, I knew it would contain certain elements: the golden Tasmanian sunshine and mellow light, a bridge that harboured secrets, a supposed ghost that haunted the bridge, letters, a poison-pen writer, the death of the town’s most popular golden girl. Swans, secrets and shadows. I couldn’t wait to start writing to discover who the body was in the river and whether the boy confessing to the crimes was as guilty as he believed. The working title of the book was Sweetwater.

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As the book progressed those elements remained but it took an unexpected journey. I always knew I wanted to set it in the 1950s, but a 1920s thread also felt strong and a few months into writing, a fairly minor character in the 1880s became increasingly insistent to be featured more. This put the book back about six months, as I had to put it aside to research 1800s Australia before I felt confident about being able to portray this headstrong character and her life and times.

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My journal entry for August, 2014 records I had just begun the first draft.

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I could not have conceived at that time how dramatically different my life would be from that day I began the opening scene. My family faced several major challenges: we moved house from the city to the country. In our city life we had to deal with bullying developers, bullying children (and their even worse bullying mothers) and a health diagnosis for one member of our family that was shattering.

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But throughout the chaos, I kept returning to the book and although it took me a few months longer than planned, I was delighted to finish the final segment, Wattle Dreaming, this week of The Secret Echoes.

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I hope it makes it way with confident strong legs out into the world and finds a readership. With the New Moon (the Black Moon) just having passed us, I made wishes and blessings for its journey. And I’m excited to begin the next book, which has been calling impatiently to me for years.

Love and Light,

From above the clouds,

Josephine

 

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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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?

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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.

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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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Fog

An early morning walk through our local park. My partner, David has gone diving with platypuses in Queensland – a most magical sounding pursuit.

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I walk down the early morning city streets where fog has gifted an enchanted hush to the area.

My daughter has been taken by a friend to her netball game for the day. I have an entire day to write. But first, I have to see the fog.

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In our local park, familiar paths fork into mysterious avenues.

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Other walkers, cameras ready, are awed into silence as we encounter each other on the bush tracks. Sydney Park holds us in a spell.

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The simple moments often bring the most joy.

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I have time to contemplate the new book I am beginning.

 

It’s always a disconcerting feeling when starting a new project and you’re stepping into the unknown.

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Characters have already formed; the book hovers, as haunting as as the early-morning city fog. An idea that has simmered for years, now beginning to evolve.

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Life – a matter of focus: on my right side, swans and ducks glide with knowing beauty through the serene atmosphere.

 

And on my left side, the rubbish bins amongst the mud.

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On Sunday, my daughter goes to her NIDA class and I write in my notebook. Yes, the old-school way of pen to paper and photographs for visual inspiration.

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I am now in the 1950s in Tasmania and a doorway to a new world has opened for me. Characters are introducing themselves. The book has the working title of Sweetwater.

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One step in front of the other. You never where the path will take you, but it is the act itself, the process that is the enchantment. One step towards the book and more is revealed. Another step and it’s waiting for me, calling me through the fog. One more step.

 

Spring is coming to Sydney. I can smell the jasmine on the city streets.

 

Modernists and Muses

Hello,

Currawong Manor has been receiving some very positive early reviews:

Academic, columnist and author, Karen Brooks’s review you can read in full HERE:

The settings are richly and beautifully drawn. You can smell the flowers, feel the cold press of the snow or the dewy warmth of a humid summer. Likewise, as the mystery unravels, you can feel the whispers of the past and the weight of guilt that hangs upon those who carry their secrets, determined to protect themselves and others. Like the birds that occasionally darken the eaves of the house, doom walks through the pages and reading Currawong Manor becomes a visceral experience – at once exciting and dramatic. A Gothic treat for lovers of mystery, family dramas, history and suspense.

Shelleyrae at Book’d Out says:

An impressively crafted literary story, Currawong Manor is an absorbing and dramatic tale. Full review HERE

Kathleen Easson at Aussie Mum Network:

There is more than one mystery to be solved within these pages. The book contains hints of Agatha Christie, the kitchen and garden of Sunday Reed and subtle references to various famous artists including Norman Lindsay. I could not put this book down, it was an enjoyable and easy read. I look forward to further works by this author. Full review HERE

A  reminder that on Tuesday 24th June, I’m talking at Newtown Library with Gayle Donaldson and so hope to see you there if you live locally. You can book tickets for this event. HERE.

And I made a video where I’m talking about some of the inspirations behind Currawong Manor including my brief meeting with Pearl Goldman, Norman Lindsay’s life model and muse. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to share with any people you think might be interested in the book.

 

Keep yourself creative.

In Love and Light

Josephine xx

Currawong Manor Clip – Part One

Hello,

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to post a couple of Youtube clips I made for Currawong Manor. This first one is a peek at the palette of the book that I was working with. Next week,  I’ll post a video where I’ll talk about some of the different inspirations for the book. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the world of my gothic mystery. If you feel like sharing it with kindred spirits in your online life, I’ll be most grateful.

Love and Light,

Josephine xx

High Tea in Newtown

Hello,

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Thanks to everyone who has booked for my High Tea at Better Read Than Dead in June.There’s only a few places left, so if you live locally please book promptly. If you can’t make the High Tea, I’ll be talking at the Newtown Library a couple of nights afterwards. Booking information can be found here.
http://www.betterread.com.au/discount-books/news-and-events.do

High Tea, Mystery and Murder

Hello,

Just a reminder that on the 21st of June at 3pm I’ll be the guest of a High Tea at Better Read than Dead bookstore in Newtown to discuss murder, mystery, creativity and other engrossing topics.

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And on the 24th of June, at 6.30 pm, I’m at Newtown Library to take you behind the scenes of my world of Currawong Manor. Would love to see your friendly face at either or both these events – so please ensure tickets by booking.Details of both and booking information can be found HERE.