ART SCHOOL PINING
I miss my art school days, my studio space at COFA in Paddington,Sydney. The smell of turps, going to art galleries and rooftop art parties. Sometimes I regret not doing more with my BA (a lot of my year became teachers or professional artists) but I have to remind myself I wrote my dark fantasy trilogy – Circle of Nine – based on symbols that evolved during my course. David was in television production. I was at art school, working part-time cleaning hotel rooms. I rented a room in Paddington the size of a cupboard and shopped the local op shop where designer clothes were donated by affluent locals.I’d just had a bad car accident a few months before these photos. Three operations and a pin and plate installed in my right arm. I’m left handed, fortunately. David is holding my sling in one of the photos.
We’re so baby faced. I’m so thin and blonde. I wanted to live in Paris or Byron Bay. Life changes in an instant. A red light. A speeding car.
GHOSTS, STORMS AND BLUE HYDRANGEAS
A third low-key Christmas, unable to have any guests. This year and 2020 it was thanks to Covid19. Christmas 2019 was a non-event because we evacuated in the monster fires. A subdued tense feeling simmers in the upper mountains village I live in as the Omicron figures rise daily. At the time of writing, we have 21,151 known new cases daily in New South Wales, which would have been unthinkable this time last year. It’s a stormy, un-seasonally cold summer which I’m not complaining about as the heat is normally intolerable in the mountains when my soul craves wild Tasmanian seas or the bright iridescent blue of Heron Island. At night we watch M.R. James’s 1970s box set of Ghost Stories for Christmas, a welcome reprieve from the daily horrors of the news.
I read one book after another like a drug addict desperate for a fix and to lose myself in other worlds and different times. I don’t know how I would have survived the last few years without books. I post a lot of my book recommendations and reviews on Good Reads, Twitter, my Facebook Author Page and Instagram, so please follow me there if you’re interested.
I’ve just finished writing my current book and hoping it finds a good home. It’s a mystery similar to Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor, set in the 70’s and 90’s. It took two years and four months to write, which was quite an achievement as it was sandwiched between the monster fires, floods, a world pandemic, three plays I was involved in with the local theatre company, the Certificate of Energetic Healing I studied at Nature Care College in Sydney, my Masters of Reiki course and starting a new business, The Mystic Rose Energetic Healing, which was doing splendidly until the lockdown hit. Then there are all the demands of life with a teenage girl in high school. Even before the novel is picked up, I’m proud I’ve completed it. I’m already itching to start the next book; I’m trying to decide between several ideas.
Sadly, this year we witnessed the deaths of three of my writing inspirations – Anne Rice, Joan Didion and my friend Clare (aka Mo Hayder) whom I wrote about HERE.
In the garden our hydrangeas are blooming in blue perfection. I’m trying to focus on the good things, no matter how small they might seem to be. Nature is always such a consolation with its rhythms and cycles. I now know when the wild daisies come, and the flannel flowers and waratahs, and when it’s storm and magpie season. It’s a gentle reminder to trust in timing and permit things to unfold in the perfect season.
My key words for 2022 are Alignment, Health, Strength and Power. It’s the year of the Tiger which represents attributes like strength, power, confidence, self-esteem. Tigers never back down from a challenge which I think we’re all going to have to foster a sense of in the time to come. Like many, I’ll be avoiding crowds this New Year (which I actually do every year) and staying home with my family to watch our annual reminder that despite everything – It’s A Wonderful Life.
Wishing you all the Blessings in 2022. Stay safe, keep creative.
VALE CLARE, MY ENGLISH ROSE
This week I lost my beautiful, brilliant friend, Clare, aka Mo Hayder/Theo Clare to motor neurone disease.
On December 2, 2020, as I was about to board a train to Sydney for my Diploma of Energetic Healing course, I received a message from Clare saying she believed she might have motor neurone disease and that she wouldn’t survive it. I was stunned. In the bleakest of years with the covid-19 pandemic putting the world on pause, this was the cruellest blow. ‘Pray for a miracle,’ I texted back, or something similarly optimistic. But even before the diagnosis came through of bulbar, one of the most savage versions of motor neurone, we both guessed the bleak ending. For the next seven months, I sent Clare daily distant Reiki energy and we kept in touch daily. I sent her an online rose a day.
I hadn’t heard from her for five days, which was unusual. I was about to contact her partner, when I woke up to his message that Clare had passed the day before. Although the news wasn’t unexpected, I experienced such deep sadness. There will never be another friend to replace Clare. Although we only met in person three times, living on opposite sides of the globe, we corresponded over the years through countless letters and emails. I counted her among my closest friends.
I was introduced to Clare over twenty years ago, when I was at art school and working for an aromatherapy company at Myer department store, Sydney. ‘You might like this book,’ Michael, one of the office staff said. ‘It’s a grisly crime and the author looks like she could be your sister.’ (I was very blonde and thinner back then). Intrigued, I took Birdman home to read and instantly became hooked on her debut novel, which had as its subject matter a killer who sews live birds into the chests of his victims. I wrote to Clare saying how much I enjoyed the book and about a year later received an apologetic letter back. We spasmodically exchanged a few emails. Clare was frantically busy with her writing career which was peaking with her best selling series of dark thrillers, featuring moody, troubled Jack Caffery.
In 2008, Clare appeared at the Sydney Writers Festival to promote Ritual, her third book. I instantly enrolled in a writing workshop she was conducting, although the thought of meeting one of my writing idols was daunting. I’d met other writers who didn’t live up to their books, and I was nervous Clare might be the same. However the reverse was true. I’ve copied and pasted an extract from my online journal (archived here) at the time.
‘I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival and did a workshop with Mo Hayder. What can I say about that woman except I love her to bits! She really is the most gracious, kind, intelligent, totally gorgeous woman and writer I’ve ever met. She gave me some killer advice and a much needed buck-up with my writing. I received so much from Mo and will be forever grateful.
After all these years of feeling slightly isolated by how my mind works, I feel I found a kindred spirit in Mo. I was more than a little nervous about meeting Mo as I’ve met so many writers over the years and sometimes they don’t always match their books. They can have inflated egos and be quite shabby, dysfunctional people. It’s always ruined their books for me if they don’t match their words. But Mo was one of those rare people who actually exceeded my expectations.’
Clare was travelling with her daughter Lotte, who was six at the time, and she was keen for Lotte to meet my three-year-old daughter, Daisy. My partner brought Daisy in her ballet class tutu to the hotel at the wharf where Clare was staying with her partner, Bob, who she had met while researching her books. Bob was a police sergeant and rescue diver – the character of police diver, Phoebe (Flea) Marley is inspired by him. Bob is twinkly, charming and we instantly felt we had known him forever. Daisy performed arabesques for Clare, and Clare and Lotte did a dance for us in return. My partner likes to dive and so he enjoyed his conversation with both Clare and Bob.
Over the years, Clare and I continued our correspondence. We shared our feelings on parenting, our creative successes and disappointments (in my case!) and she was always there for me. Whether it was offering to do a blurb for my books, giving me industry advice, or just sharing our very different lives on opposite sides of the planet. Clare was incredibly successful with her books, selling well over a million copies and I was a mid-list author. My Poet’s Cottage in particular had done extremely well overseas, nowhere near the sales Clare achieved, but Clare was interested in the person, rather than how many books sold. Clare even turned my daughter, Daisy into a character in her book, Skin.
In 2017, my family travelled to England and we reunited in Avebury with Clare and Bob. We often speak about this being a perfect day. I remember gazing at the stones, seeing the vivid crayon-blue spring sky, the golden yellow rapseed, sheep birthing lambs and the Avebury wishing trees. Clare laughed with Daisy as they strolled, and I thought, ‘This is the most amazingly perfect day.’ Daisy, now 12, thought Clare was the coolest mother ever as Clare and her attracted tutting disapproval in a cafe for snorting like pigs. Clare could be hysterically funny.
Clare was disappointed when I first told her I was doing my Diploma of Energetic Healing in 2020 . ‘What about your writing? You should be focusing on your book. You can’t give up. You’re too good,’ she protested. I felt however, driven to do the course. A lot of my family had developed severe health conditions. Several people were close to death around me. I’m grateful I did it now, as I also studied my Masters of Reiki, which helped Clare throughout the last seven months.
I love all of Clare’s books but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Tokyo (Devil of Nanking in the US) as it displayed what crime/thriller fiction was capable of. It was an incredibly courageous work. I also really enjoyed her standalones, such as Hanging Hill and Pig Island. The Treatment remains the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.
It was a privilege to be Clare’s friend. We had the chance to tell each other of how we loved each other many times before she died. Plenty of people don’t have that grace. I’m proud she wasn’t afraid to change direction and write the book that she really wanted to write. I’m very much looking forward to her speculative fiction novel The Book of Sand to be published in 2022 under her pseudonym, Theo Clare
I am grateful I got to share the joy of her marriage to her soulmate Bob in January and that she’s no longer suffering in her physical body. All my love to Lotte, Bob and anyone reading this who knew and loved her. Clare was courageous, idiosyncratic, intelligent, dazzling, light-filled. She was as beautiful, pure and giving as a rose.
I will always miss her.
photo credit via Whole Beauty by Shiva Rose
Fly High, Storm Constantine
For so long the world has seemed upside down and tilted sideways. I’m on the third draft of my current book but haven’t felt able to post here. But Storm Constantine’s death on 14 January has evoked memories of another life for me, a pre-pandemic time that seemed more dazzling and less constricted.
I was travelling in the UK with David in November 2002. I’d just had my first Dark Fantasy book, Circle of Nine, published. I was in correspondence with Storm, whose lyrical writing had inspired me for years. Our trip was filled with mysticism. We were given a tour of a private underground chamber by a Knights Templar at mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. This knight took us into the chamber to show us mason markings on the wall. He was dowsing for energy lines in the chamber, and talked about the society he belonged to, which held ritual meetings there.
In Edinburgh, we saw books made out of human skin in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. I fell in love with the Black Madonna when I came across her at Chartres Cathedral in France. And, of course, we went to many stone circles and the like: Boscawen-un, the Merry Maidens, the Men-an-Tol, Lanyon Quiot, the Hurlers, Castlerigg and Long Meg & Her Daughters. On this trip, I also travelled to Boscastle for the first time and formed my life-long obsession with the Cornish sea-fishing village and its Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
Meeting Storm was one of the magical moments of our trip. In appearance she was very much the Goth beauty. She was down-to-earth, hospitable, generous and shared information about publishing. We enjoyed our afternoon with Storm, her husband Jim, and friend/fellow author Eloise. Her home was filled with Pre-Raphaelite prints. I still remember the smell of the incense, and several cats. Publishing seemed a different world. The world was a different world.
Fly high, shine bright, mystic rose, Storm.
Condolences to Jim and who all love Storm.
As I write this, Australia is on fire. My family had to evacuate from our Blackheath, Blue Mountains home just before Christmas.
In a long string of unfortunate events, we were left without a working car and it was safer for us to leave with the great fire they call The Monster having entered the Grose Valley frighteningly close to our house.
The Fire Captain at the local station said at an information evening we attended that he’s never seen a fire like this in his decades of fighting fires. The size of two trees combined, it crowns in places and it doesn’t obey the ‘normal’ rules of any fire. A fire christened The Monster by locals.
Like countless others we were packed and prepared to go for days. When you live in bushfire country you prepare early with a suitcase by the door. My daughter’s clothes took up half the suitcase. My own packing (somewhat less glamorous than Joan Didion’s famed packing list):
A notebook, pens
Books – The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (review to come), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Initiated by Amanda Yates Garcia
Photographs of baby Daisy
My mother’s wedding ring
Family documents such as Daisy’s medical folders, passports
Daisy’s diabetic equipment and medication
Bach Flower Essences
Change of clothes for a couple of days
Hanako mist spray
Letters my father wrote to me before he died
The dog’s supplies and lead
The dog carrier
A lock of my father’s hair cut from his head when he died
Christmas plans had to be abandoned. We became addicted checkers of the Fires Near Me app and worried over elderly neighbours and our home.
We felt heartbroken for those who lost their homes. We wept over images of children whose heroic firefighting fathers had died.
We are enraged by a Prime Minister who chose to holiday in Hawaii with his family, and only returned because of public pressure. Then he partied on New Year’s Eve with fireworks in polluted Sydney skies and hosted a garden party with cricketers as people died and Australia was ablaze. The Emergency Minister, David Elliot, also shockingly chose his family holiday during this time of severe crisis. I’ve avoided ever posting anything political before but their actions went beyond political. This country will not forget easily the betrayal of the climate-change denying Liberal Party.
Heartbreakingly, our already fragile Koala population was decimated at the time of writing by thirty per cent. And a HORRENDOUS over a BILLION animals killed. 28 people have died. Over 2000 houses destroyed. An area four times the size of the Amazon Rainforest burnt.
The heavy plume of smoke choking Sydney for weeks caused record spikes in hospital admissions. When I travelled down to Sydney with my daughter, I was shocked by how polluted the air was. Sydneysiders in facemasks. An oppressive feeling in city streets. It felt as if I’d entered a science fiction novel, so terribly wrong and tilted.
Near where we were staying, the beach was packed with thankfully no smoke in the air. We walked the beach twice daily, feeling like aliens in this culture of bronzed people on jet-skis.
Women in hijabs ran on beaches with their small children. Palm trees waved their fronds against an unnatural salmon-coloured sky. We collected bag after bag of plastic and rubbish, hoping it would inspire others to do the same.
At night I listened to hoons in their cars. I constantly checked the Fires Near Me app before falling into a restless sleep. I would wake at 3am and check the app again to see if the flames had reached our street.
It was not the Christmas we had planned but we had a roof over our heads and a beach a short walk away.
I followed images of exhausted RFS service people. Blackened faces, their endurance stretched to the limit. Unforgettable images of wild koalas allowing Firies to give them water. A devastated farmer forced to shoot his scorched stock. A kangaroo found in a swimming pool, desperate for water. A Firie describing koalas screaming as their trees burned. Friends on social media begged for people not to share images of burnt koalas but I couldn’t let those last screams go unheard. I couldn’t look away.
The Firies, who sacrificed employment to fight fires unpaid. Several lost their own home while they fought to save a stranger’s. Some even had to take out loans to cover their mortgages. I marvelled over the goodness and the valiant nobility of these warriors who face fires bigger than two tall trees.
Australia feels tilted, shaking. White ash blazing us into a scorching and volatile dead world. It feels as if a doorway has closed.
2018 has been a year of transformation. Although it has had its
challenges, it has also been a year of stronger focus for me. One of the really
wonderful happenings is that I have just signed with agent/director Oli Munson
at A.M. Heath literary agency in London.I could not have envisaged a better agency to
represent me, with its prestigious pedigree and the fact it is celebrating its
centenary next year. A.M. Heath has been one of the UK’s top agencies since
1919. Its esteemed catalogue of authors include George Orwell, Shirley Jackson,
Joan Aiken and Noel Streatfeild, along with present-day luminaries such as
Hilary Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell. I feel really honoured to be a part of such
an impressive agency. For years UK friends have asked when my books will
be published there. Hopefully that day will be soon!The leaves are turning to golden autumn colours in the upper mountains in
Australia. Because of the delayed summer heat, the trees have been slower to
turn colour this year and aren’t as stunning in their display. The streets
aren’t as choked with the tourists who arrive annually to photograph the trees.
When I’m watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos cracking their seeds among the
golden russet leaves, London seems another world. It has been roughly a year
since we were in the UK and we all miss it. My daughter can’t wait to grow up
and move either to London or New York!Everything changes. Children grow up. Good news turns to bad and bad to
good. The merciless summer yields to transitional, mellow autumn. We make new
connections, but lose treasured friends. One thing that stays consistent in my
life is writing. I am roughly half-way through the first draft of my new crime
novel.In other good news my writer partner David
Levell has just completed his latest non-fiction book. It is gripping,
intelligent and with its original research, a fabulous read (totally unbiased
opinion). I’m always in awe of how David can take really dense historical
material and transform it into a page-turning read. It is his gift.Wishing you peace, resilience and dreams come true.