Bluebells, Stone Circles and Haunted Woods
We have spent Easter taking our twelve-year-old daughter to England for the first time. I’ve returned with bluebell fields, stone circles, wishing trees, blue skies, gorse and spring flowers bursting within me. And, an idea for another book, which hopefully I’ll be able to start soon.
England always feels as if I’m returning home. My ancestor Adam Pennicott was sent to Tasmania as a convict (after time served at dreaded Bermuda penal colony). I always feel emotional returning to England. Apart from the fact that the country is part of my DNA, I grew up on a steady diet of English culture from Thames TV shows and many English books and magazines, in particular, Enid Blyton books, and so England always does feel (as a fellow writer, also on holidays in England, said) like the ‘Mother Country’. I had to to drag my daughter (a product of a more American-influenced childhood) home. She was just as emotional about having to leave as her Anglophile mother.
This trip was especially magical. Daisy is a huge Harry Potter fan, and we toured the Warner Bros studio, spending seven hours marvelling over the talent behind the scenes of the HP movies.
I also managed to procure tickets to The Cursed Child parts One and Two, which is booked out until 2018. I just rocked up to the box office and asked the magical-looking ticket-seller if there was any chance of tickets (I feel forever grateful to this man; in my mind, he will be forever magical). By some synchronistic timing – read MIRACLE – someone had returned three tickets (for both parts, and on the only day we could attend) MOMENTS beforehand. Normally people queue in anticipation of any returned tickets on the day or vie for them online. The expression on my daughter’ s face when I walked out saying I had tickets for both shows was unforgettable.
I’d been working on manifesting that one from Australia for awhile. It was one of those Charlie wins the ticket to the Chocolate Factory moments.
I’ve vowed to #keepthesecrets but the show itself is incredible.
The audience were all on their feet, cheering at the end to give a well-deserved standing ovation to the cast. My friend at the box-office said the show will be around for a very long time, so if you’re planning a trip to the UK, try to see it!
Equally as magical was The Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’ve always longed to tiptoe past the Sleeping Giants and see the walled gardens of this secret garden. Seeing it in Spring was beautiful but I suspect Winter or any of the seasons would be perfect.
We returned to Boscastle in Cornwall and I spent many happy hours in The Witchcraft Museum. I love this unique Museum for its vast, informative collection of British Esoteric objects and Folklore.
Boscastle is my spiritual home in England. I feel a deep affinity to the Cornish sea and landscape and there is something enchanted about that village! We’ve had mystical experiences with toads and people in its twisted, narrow laneways. It’s the sort of village where celebrities like Johnny Depp visit the Witchcraft Museum, without fuss and everybody is treated equally. It was in Boscastle that I heard the strong siren-call of another book. This one is a mythical fantasy which should please the readers who still ask if I ever intend to do another fantasy book. I’ve always believed that fantastical books call you when the time is right, and an idea has been nagging at me since Cornwall, although an early idea had come to me in London as well.
But I also love the moors and I really enjoyed visiting Dartmoor for the first time, to make a pilgrimage to mysterious Wistman’s Wood, a prehistoric woodland, one of Britain’s oldest oak groves, where Druids hold sacred rituals and there are legends about hounds haunting the moors and other eerie tales. Despite its reputation of being one of Dartmoor’s most haunted places, I found Wistman’s Woods a peaceful place and I even did my Transcendental Meditation on a large rock in the middle of the grove. Being amongst the gnarled, dwarf oak trees and large stones was atmospheric. I loved our long walk across the moors with the bright gorse. It reminded me of my childhood in the midlands of Tasmania with the spectacular views. I could hear Emily Bronte in my mind.
No Coward Soul Is Mine
BY EMILY BRONTË
No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.
Two weeks felt like two months as we experienced so much. I shall upload a few albums on my personal page on Facebook of some the places we visited and I hope to write here about some of the highlights relating to my work, including a special day at Agatha Christie’s holiday home in Greenway. I’ve posted a handful of photos on my Instagram and I shall also be uploading albums to my personal Facebook page. So please connect with me, or friend me there, if you’re interested.
There’s only one cure for my sadness about such a special holiday being over and that’s to throw myself back into my writing. And begin manifesting the next.
Boscastle, and ancient Wishing Tree in Avebury, I hope it won’t be too long before the path reunites us.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter if you are interested in my New Moon musings. I haven’t been sending a lot lately as with this Taurus New Moon, I’ve been recovering from all the excitement of my trip. And so I won’t be flooding your inbox, but I do plan to send out my New Moon musings once I settle back in.
Love from Above the Clouds,
Happy New Year 2016
Hello, I’ve just finished a yearly tarot reading on my deck on New Year’s Eve and the Magician card made a welcome reappearance and also the Hermit card is the year’s overall theme card. I’m feeling good about 2017 after the Beast of 2016.
Wishing you and your loved ones, a Happy New Year. If you’ve been doing it tough in 2016, I raise a glass to you tonight. Thank you for your support of my writing this year. May a thousand Bluebirds of Joy bring you happiness in 2017.
Love, Light and Moonshine
Magicians and Hermits
Mystery, Intrigue, Wine, Plants and Storytelling
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My journal entry for August, 2014 records I had just begun the first draft.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An Escape to Somewhere at the Winter Solstice
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”