Anna Romer and The Eye of the Rhino

Hello, Happy New Year Greetings. With all the traumatic events happening globally I’ve felt in need of creative and soul inspiration, and so I’ve begun a new series on Tale Peddler called The Eye of the Rhino. It’s from Stella Adler, who said success in the arts requires ‘the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose’. IMG_1671   One observation I’ve made with my creative friends is they are tenacious. Creative success seems to involve a synthesis of Talent, Timing, Tenacity and Luck and it’s the tenacity aspect that interests me. What inspires some individuals to pursue their dreams despite inevitable disappointments along their path? I say inevitable as I’ve observed that even among my more successful creative friends, they have still had to overcome obstacles that you would never hear about on their social media accounts. I hope you enjoy this series and get as much inspiration from it as I do. First up is Anna Romer. ANNA ROMER   I’ve known Anna for many years. I thought she’d be an interesting artist to begin with as she had a long apprenticeship until her success with her book Thornwood House, an Australian Gothic mystery published by Simon and Shuster in September 2013. Thornwood House broke though Anna’s years of writing in oblivion and was a bestseller. Anna was a graphic artist and has travelled widely. In an alternative career path she’d have made a powerful energetic healer as she does unforgettable massages (personally experienced). Anna’s a highly individual person and one of the more interesting authors I’ve met. Shunning a lot of technology, she prefers the rhythm of her own imagination and the pulse of the bush that permeates her writing. Lyrebird Hill (her second novel, also an Australian Gothic mystery) was released in September 2014.  Anna and I share a love of communicating by letters, Spirituality, Joseph Campbell. I’m delighted Anna accepted my invitation to discuss her creative inspirations for Eye of the Rhino.

J – I know your writing path wasn’t a smooth trajectory. You spent many years working on another project which hasn’t yet been published. Can you talk about how it felt to work on that project and what it was like to cross over to the new genre you are working in with Thornwood House and Lyrebird Hill?

You’re quite right, my writing path was long and winding – and there were times I was convinced it was leading nowhere. Luckily for me, I’m utterly addicted to the writing process, and that’s what kept me going.   One of my great passions along the way was a historical novel I worked on for many years. It was an adventure story set in a time when people were restrained by archaic traditions and strict social laws. My favourite thing about writing this story was developing characters who were feisty and strong-willed, who flouted those laws and went their own way.   The research for this project was intensive. I spent years losing myself in books and pictures and movies, drawing maps and diagrams and timelines and, even dreaming about my characters until they felt like dear old friends. I was totally obsessed!   Sadly, the plot was very flawed. In my mind’s eye I could see a beautiful, richly-layered adventure story, but I didn’t have the skills back then to pull it into shape. My agent suggested I set the story aside for a while and work on something with less demanding research. So I dumped my beloved project in the bottom drawer with all my other rejects, and went back to the drawing board.   I decided my next novel would be set in Australia – a simple mystery story about a woman who inherits an abandoned house. I would throw in all the elements I loved: forgotten old letters, a buried diary, an overgrown garden, and a star-crossed love story. Most importantly, I’d keep my research minimal.   Famous last words. Before I knew it, my story had grown convoluted roots that reached back to the 1940s. Suddenly I had a mountain of memoirs and war diaries and biographies to read!   I wasn’t really fazed about tackling a completely new genre. Early on I’d attempted to write a horror-thriller (while I was under the thrall of Stephen King), and when that bombed I tried my hand at romance, crime, fantasy. Each of the seven novels in my reject drawer is a different genre!   But thanks to the lessons I learned from all my failed projects, I developed a much better grasp on how to structure a novel. I learned that each genre has its own specific requirements; romance focuses on the relationship, while a thriller constantly threatens the hero’s life.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

  And yet the core of any story is the same. I’m a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” which explores the idea that all stories – myths, fairytales, and legends – share the same basic components. A troubled character embarks on a quest to solve her problem; she undergoes a series of tests that ultimately transform her; by sacrificing what she wants, she achieves what it is she most needs – and in the process, she becomes whole. THE HERO'S JOURNEY   This theory sounds formulaic, but I found it wonderfully freeing. Once I started working with it, all other elements specific to genre fell into place. Suddenly my plot was holding together. The characters were making sense. The story had purpose, and because I now knew where I was going, the process became much more fun. JOSEPH CAMPBELL BOOK J – What has kept you going throughout all the years you have worked away in solitude on your books? What helped to foster your own self-belief in your talent and enabled you to have a rhinoceros skin?

I’d always loved romantic adventure stories that changed the way I thought or felt – and that’s what I wanted to write. But my early attempts made it clear how much I needed to learn! The thing that kept me going all those years, was the challenge of somehow achieving my vision. It was like a carrot dangling just ahead of me, always out of reach – but soooo delicious-looking. I wanted to do justice to the stories I could see in my head, and the only way to do that was to develop my storytelling skills.   I embarked on a mission, reading every how-to book I could lay my hands on, trying every technique. More importantly, I wrote and wrote. And whenever I looked back over my work and found even the tiniest improvement, a fresh rush of excitement would spur me on.   I was never under the illusion that I was a particularly good writer. My self-belief fought a constant battle with my self-doubt. But I really loved learning about plot and structure and character development … I still do! Concepts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey were endlessly fascinating to me. I was like a drug addict, continually seeking my next fix of story know-how. Even if I’d wanted to stop, I couldn’t have.  

J – Love of the Australian bush permeates Thornwood House. To me, the book really  throbs with nature cycles. How important is it to you as an artist to live in the bush in the solitude you obviously enjoy? Could you have written Thornwood House in a city? 465       I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon who wrote the immensely popular Outlander series. Her first book is set in Scotland in the 1600s, and it grippingly evokes the life and culture of that time.

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon

  I was fascinated to learn that Diana wrote her first book in the series without ever having visited Scotland. I read about how she listened to folk song recordings to hone her ear to Scottish accents. She quizzed experts, and no doubt used her own formidable researching skills to make her story world so believable.   This taught me that it’s possible to write convincingly about any location or historical period or life experience – if you do enough research.   But for me, as with most writers, immersing myself in a location brings additional insight and depth to that research. I love to sit and observe. I love to drink in the smell of wildflowers, or walk through the bush at night without a torch, or fire off a few rounds from a double-action revolver, or pick up an eastern brown snake so I can confidently describe the fine velvety nap of its skin. EASTERN BROWN SNAKE   Besides all that, I’m the sort of person who thrives in a natural environment. If I spend a lot of time in town I get frazzled; there’s too much sensory input. My brain likes wide open spaces, and the sound of wind in the trees, and the pebbly smell of the river. I need to be among those nature cycles to understand them and allow them to permeate me. I know I sometimes get carried away with my descriptions, waffling on about leaves and flowers – but that’s how I write. Without the energy of the natural world flowing through my stories, I would quickly lose my excitement for them. IMG_3192   J – Do you have any advice or insight for anybody who is contemplating changing their career and embracing a more creative path? Go for it! For me, the best advice regarding creativity comes from Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.” FOLLOW YOUR BLISS     If you hanker to paint, then paint; if you yearn to tell stories, then do that. If you want to knit, or cook, or lose yourself in the garden – then embrace your creative yearnings with a full heart. Invest a lot of love into what you do, and don’t worry if you have to spend years working other jobs to support it. Walking a creative path is not always easy, but it’s a worthy challenge. Your life will be all the richer for it. And if it makes your soul sing, what is there to lose?

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna's sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

Anna Romer, Josephine Pennicott and Anna’s sister Sarah who looks after her social media presence. Lucky Anna!

  J – I know you don’t have a very active online presence; although you’re blessed with a sister who maintains your Facebook page. What is your take on social media for artists?     I’m certainly blessed with a wonderful sister! In fact I have two wonderful sisters who rave about my books to everyone they meet – lucky me! Sarah saves my poor old brain cells by managing our social media page, which allows me to focus more on my writing. I find the energy of the Internet disrupts my creative flow. I get jittery when I’m online, and afterwards my thoughts feel quite scattered. For inspiration to flow, I need to be relaxed and centred.   As an artist, you have to weigh up the benefits of spending time promoting your work on social media, against the advantages of using that time to develop and layer your work. For me, my stories are simply more important. I don’t consider myself a natural-born talent at writing. I have to work ridiculously long hours, drafting and re-drafting and editing my stories into shape before I’m satisfied that they’re ready to present to my readers.   I’m always acutely aware that for a reader, a book is an investment. Not just of money, but of many hours of their time. I want to give my readers my very best, and this requires that I sacrifice nonessentials such as social media. I’m also a strong believer in word-of-mouth – if you hone your craft and put your heart and soul into creating an entertaining story, then there’ll be readers who will utterly love your books … and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? THORNWOOD HOUSE   J – Thornwood House has a dark mystery at its foundations. How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book? How did writing Lyrebird Hill differ from the first book? I start any project with an enormous amount of brainstorming, researching, and planning where I want the story to go. By the time I’m ready to begin, I have a tightly plotted outline. But when I’m writing I tend to lose myself in the story. I forget all my well laid plans and get carried off by the adventure. Sooner or later I hit a brick wall, which sends me scurrying back to my outline. I replot, work out how to tie up the new loose ends I’ve created, and then freefall back into my characters’ lives. LYREBIRD HILL   Lyrebird Hill was a very different writing experience to my first book; with Thornwood House I had the luxury of time. Years, in fact. The tight deadlines on Lyrebird Hill gave me no choice but to knuckle down and get the story written as quickly as possible. I didn’t have time to stop and agonise over the plot, or waffle off on tangents. I wrote only what I believed was necessary, and as a result went through a huge learning curve. It was crazy, daunting, obsessive … and bucket-loads of fun! And I think the story is better because of it. ANNA SIGNING BOOKS     J – Are you a notebook person, or a writing online type of person? Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer?

I’m very much a notebook person. I usually have several notebooks per novel, which I refer to constantly. I love the tactile feeling of writing on paper – scribbling over words and rewriting, cutting out bits and moving them somewhere else, gluing in photos, drawing maps and diagrams and charts… bliss! Being a visual person, I love the chaos and colours of my notebooks and find working in them a very relaxing way to let the ideas flow.   I seem to be sensitive to electronic equipment, and because I spend so much time staring at a computer screen – drafting or transcribing my handwritten notes or editing – by the end of the day I end up feeling very drained. Breaking up my computer time with other activities such as drawing maps or filling out charts in my notebook helps to keep my mind fresh. GHOST MUSE J – How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like? I know we share an interest in spiritual matters and so do you use that element of yourself in your writing process?  I imagine my muse to be a sort of wild ghost-like creature in photo-negative form. I feed her on a varied diet of books: biographies, history, how-to manuals, as well as  fiction – classic, popular, and sometimes downright trashy. She regularly feasts on films and a smorgasbord of music. She responds well to a hot bath, a walk in the bush, a river swim, or some therapeutic opp-shopping! She’s also fond of conflicting emotions, arguments, love gone wrong, betrayal and disappointment – so occasionally I let her binge on one of these as well.   I believe that our creative selves are very much grounded in the spirit. For me, writing a book is a magical sort of experience. It requires a lot of trust in yourself to embark upon such a huge task and commit to finishing. And it also requires that you set aside your fears and expectations, and surrender to the process.  I spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve the craft of writing, how to strengthen my weaknesses and hone my skills. But I think the success of any creative project really relies on less tangible elements. Instinct, impulse, intuition. It’s exhilarating to connect with your spiritual self and allow it to guide you; to follow those improbable threads of thought that you know will eventually weave something special into the story.   I find that when I let go of all the writerly rules that I’ve learned in my how-to books, and instead focus on the pleasure my writing brings me, I can relax and enjoy the process. I trust my muse to guide me, and that’s when the magic really begins to happen. 

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also ? how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities? THE HERMIT   I’m probably the opposite – with the hide of a rose, and the heart of a rhino! I seem to absorb everything around me, as if there’s no filter between me and the outside world. Sights, sounds, smells … are all vibrant and mesmerising, and all too often overwhelming. I pick up other people’s moods, and I’m sensitive to vibes between others. That’s why I’m such a hermit – I need to remove myself from the fast pace of the world so I can reflect and channel my energies into my work. If I don’t, I burn out very quickly.  I suppose my rhino hide is really a cloak of determination. It’s the one quality that’s kept me going. Whenever the cold winds of doubt or disappointment begin to blow, I draw my cloak more tightly around me and march on. Determination is a quality I’ve learned from the women in my family – my granny, my grandma, my mum. Incredibly resilient women, who forged on no matter what. I’m blessed to have been close to all three, and the qualities they passed along to me are among my most treasured possessions. STRINGYBARK BLOSSOMHAKEA FLOWER   Jo, I love your image of an artist’s soul resembling a rose … but mine doesn’t feel very rose-like. I’d say it’s closer to a stringybark blossom or hakea flower – thrives in the bush, is quietly productive, and mostly drought-hardy!

Thank you, Anna Romer for sharing your inspiration with us.   Thank you Jo, it was my pleasure.

And so I hope you enjoyed the inspiration from this post. Thanks again Anna for your generous sharing and if you did enjoy, please share with your social media friends who may also benefit. Look out for my next Eye of the Rhino post with another special guest. Anna Romer’s  website is HERE Love, Light and Peace, Josephine xx

This interview with Anna is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for  2015.2015 AWW badge

quote joseph campbell

Can you Hold Caller? I have Murder on the Line.

June Wright’s debut novel Murder In The Telephone Exchange was a bestseller in 1948. Sales in Australia outstripped even those of the Duchess of Death, Agatha Christie. She bought a fur coat with the royalties and remodelled her kitchen. I love the combination of practical and glamour in her spending.   June Wright one   June wrote six more murder mysteries between 1948 and 1966, introducing a Catholic nun detective for her fourth novel, but when she died in 2012, her name was forgotten to most modern mystery and crime readers. Her slide in obscurity seems a shame, considering that in her heyday, along with her well-reviewed novels, she was treated to promotional lunches comprising of oysters, lobster and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Raymond Connelly thanking June for publicising Melbourne. June enjoyed lots of favourable publicity throughout her career along the lines of “wrote thriller with baby on her knees.” June had six children, one disabled. Her son described her as a bit of a ‘media tart’ and she was ahead of her time in knowing how to hook the media with an angle to promote her work. She would most likely have thrived in this modern culture of author platforms and branding.

June Wright at work

June Wright at work

In one rather amusing incident, she entitled one of her books Who Would Murder a Baby? When challenged on the title, June replied: ‘Obviously you know nothing of the homicidal instincts sometimes aroused in a mother by her children. After a particularly exasperating day, it is a relief to murder a few characters in your book instead.’ June was happy to play up to her domestic house Queen of Crime label, describing to reporters her daily routine which involved caring for her six children and rising at 5.30 am to light the copper and write at night for two to three hours. She aimed to write 1000 words a day. Quite an inspiration for modern day writers, who don’t have to worry about lighting coppers at the crack of dawn.

1940s bar Melbourne

1940s bar Melbourne

A religious woman, she contributed several articles to Catholic Magazine Lay and despite the hardships of her life, she maintained her faith. When she was forced to give up her writing after six novels and return to work to help the family finances after her husband lost his job, she appeared to have done so with little regret.

Swanston and Collins Street Melbourne

Swanston and Collins Street Melbourne

I really enjoyed this bouncy and quirky mystery novel. A telephone exchange is a perfect setting for the novel and the building itself, where the murder takes place,  takes on a slightly ominous atmosphere in the Melbourne heatwave. There were some wry and classic lines:   “There was definitely something wrong in the Trunk exchange, for no-one is as sensitive to atmosphere as a crowd of females; especially when those females are telephonists.   switchboard-21   Knowing June is drawing on her personal experience in her experience as a telephonist,  also makes it an absorbing read. I’d never considered before how frantic and overwhelming it could be for switchboard operators working through bushfire seasons, and international crises. The pressure seeing the girls collapsing from exhaustion, the stress on the late roster girls when the evening shifts are cut right back, the strained concentration you need when you have half-a-dozen lines under your fingers… Not to mention of course, the girls who love to listen in on socialites’ private calls. And little details like the possessive emotions the Hello Girls foster towards their telephone sets. And Maggie, the hero of the story, laughing over that wherever she goes, she runs into somebody from the telephone exchange, including when she went to New Guinea on a trip. You can really touch the author herself through those little flourishes, and they make for authentic insights into a particular era and career. And it is through her knowledge of the telephone exchange that Maggie Brynes, the book’s hero is able to help solve the crime.

Melbourne trams

Melbourne trams

Maggie is bouncy and a real character. When she discovers the body of her colleague , her head bashed in quite viciously, with an exotic sounding Buttinski (I’d never heard of such an object, so if you’re curious, buy the book) she first faints and then recovering swiftly, finds the situation both intriguing and exciting. She is forthright in her opinion to all and sundry that the victim was an abominable character. This is a world of milk-carts, and boarding-houses for girls from the country under the supervision – and prying eyes – of landladies like Maggie’s, Mrs Bates. Women are mocked for being spinsters and cold cream is applied at night to keep wrinkles at bay. Gloves are worn in the street for all occasions, and a favourable blessing reflecting the fashions of the time was, ‘may all your children have curly hair.’

Telephone Exchange Melbourne

Telephone Exchange Melbourne

Inspector Coleman, the shabby-looking Inspector in charge of the case is a well-sketched character. The most untidy man Maggie had ever seen, she came to realise that the more haphazard he appeared to be, the closer he had his nose to the scent. Although I still can’t quite fathom out why the investigating police needed Maggie (who was obviously a suspect in the case) and took her along on their investigation to the victims room to help them out with identifying notes. Modern readers used to short chapters and plots that crack along faster than their Twitter feed may find themselves sighing over longer chapters and a complex plot that is content to unwind leisurely. Although I picked the murderer before the denouement, I still enjoyed the puzzle. I found the book unexpectedly  intense and gripping in places and although Maggie’s unflappable perkiness could be irritating, I  enjoyed slipping into an authentic mystery novel of this era. She was a great forerunner for Melbourne female crime writers such as Kerry Greenwood. Hats off to Verse Chorus Press for resurrecting and reintroducing Ms June Wright to a new audience. See the link to Janet Walker’s article below for an interview with Steve Connell from the publishers to discover why an American Publishing press is publishing Australians.

Melbourne 1946 by the Yarra

Melbourne 1946 by the Yarra

And the link below also to Lucy Sussex’s analysis of June’s work. Lucy was fortunate enough to meet June and interview her before her death and I enjoyed reading her impressions on this writer: ‘A charming, elegant, eloquent old lady, as sharp as tacks. We got on well – I knew her type well–that generation of women born in the shadow of WW1, growing up in the Depression, marrying during WW2. They were tough and resourceful. She told me she had a good life, and seemed very contented. Indeed, she said the writing had not been getting any easier, rather harder, as she continued in her career.’  It’s heartening to think that June Wright’s contribution to the field of crime and mystery writing in Australia will not be lost thanks to the vision of this American publishing team – a sweetly ironic twist they are American as June was never picked up by the US in her career – which may well have made a difference to her being able to continue her work. I look forward to reading all of June Wright’s books, if they continue to publish her list. And I leave you with June’s typical astute and wry comment that housewives were well suited to writing, because: ”they are naturally practical, disciplined and used to monotony – three excellent attributes for budding writers”.   Murder in the Telephone Exchange

Some links you may enjoy to explore more on June Wright:

The Lady Vanishes from the Sydney Morning Herald HERE

Juggled Crime Fiction with Motherhood from the Age HERE

– Janet Walker’s article on The Culture Concept Circle on June and an interview with Steve Connell of Verse Chorus Press HERE

An interview with Melbourne Sister in Crime, Mandy Wrangles with author, editor and historian, Lucy Sussex on June, her importance and why she has been overlooked. HERE

Damned to Literary Obscurity by Andrew Nette who examines the cultural cringe towards Australian writers at home and the bias against Catholics that may have prevented June Wright from continuing her writing. HERE

This review is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

 Thank you for visiting me. Please share this post with your social media friends if you feel they would enjoy it.

Love and Light,

Josephine xx

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.

 

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

Pins

Hello,

Being a visual person, I love
Pinterest for collecting images to help me when I’m working on a book. The
Scorpionic side of me also relishes the fact you can have secret boards as well.

Used for Shalimar character inspiration

Used for Shalimar character inspiration


With Currawong Manor nearly due to hit the shelves, I thought I’d share a few of
my inspiration images for Currawong Manor. They’re not meant to be literal, but
they help me with the palette of the work.

 

The Memory Birds

The Memory Birds

 

Image used for Elizabeth inspiration

Image used for Elizabeth inspiration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost on a swing

Ghost on a swing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll unlock my Currawong
Manor board on Pinterest when the book has been out for awhile, but for now
here’s a bit of a sneak preview. I also use my own personal photographs a lot
from the location I’m working with and I’ll share some of those very
soon.

 

Albert Tucker with son Sweeney

Albert Tucker with son Sweeney

 

 

 

 

 

'Psycho' Albert Tucker illustration

‘Psycho’ Albert Tucker illustration

Bird Man

Bird Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still from Don't Look Now

Still from Don’t Look Now

From Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

From Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for an updated website and a giveaway to celebrate Currawong Manor’s publication.  Love and Light,
Josephine

High Tea in Newtown

Hello,

bigcurrawong

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.

9781743519073

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.       

Tasmania My Muse.

Author Neil Gaiman called Hobart one of ‘the fine secret places of the earth’.
gaimanindy

Back in the 1920’s Agatha Christie on her world tour similarly declared Hobart to be incredibly beautiful with its deep blue sea and harbour and expressed her hopes she would return to live there one day.

grandtour-hc-c

It always takes me ages to recover from my trips home to Tasmania as predictably, I always want to stay. This January I visited to research material for my next mystery novel which is once again set in Tasmania.

It’s early days. But I have a title, opening and closing scenes, an idea that has been brewing away for a few years, and a palette of colours I want to work with. A few characters are stirring and introducing themselves. Once again, I find myself scribbling notes furiously in a notebook in a charming Tasmanian cottage. Here I am at the front of the aptly named Bridge Cottage at Richmond, where we spent a few days recently as I soaked up the atmosphere of this pretty, historic village. The light and shadows in Richmond were perfect for my book.

Josephine Pennicott at Bridge Cottage Richmond

Josephine Pennicott at Bridge Cottage Richmond

When I wasn’t at Bridge Cottage, I was lying in the shade of a tree by the river, sharing the shade with the river geese, ducks and Tasmanian native hens. (Tasmania was in a heatwave which was fortunate as this book is set in a sizzling Tasmanian summer). I spent pleasurable hours staring up at this perfect blue and canopy of greenery as scenes unravelled themselves.

And the characters appear

And the characters appear

Another photo of Bridge Cottage

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I was reminded of our last visit to Richmond, when we were thrilled to spot author Christopher Koch in a local cafe. Koch, as you are probably aware, died September 2013.

233889-120922-rev-koch

Richmond is perfect for a writer with its peaceful atmosphere and plethora of Georgian buildings. It reminds me a lot of Oatlands, the midlands village where I spent a lot of my childhood. Oatlands has more Georgian buildings, but Richmond is nearer to Hobart, only a 20 minute drive from the city centre. You can read more on Richmond Village HERE.

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We toured Richmond Gaol, always a poignant experience. You have to spend some time alone in a darkened cell to imagine the hellish conditions the prisoners were subject to.

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Some of the inmate’s stories are most Dickensian. Isaac (Ikey) Solomon, a Javelin Man in Richmond Gaol 1831-1834, was believed to have inspired the character of Fagin in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. Ikey came from Bell Lane, Spitafields, where along with his wife Ann, he set up a jewellers’ shop, receiving stolen goods. He was known as The Prince of Thieves. Ann was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 14 years and became the mistress of ex-convict George Madden. Ann was never reconciled with Ikey. You can read more about Ikey’s flamboyant life HERE.

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There is also the amusing story of gaoler Randal Young who was once locked up in his own gaol as a debtor!
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Convict-built beautiful sandstone Richmond Bridge built between 1823-1825 also has a wonderfully Gothic tale. George Grover was an extremely cruel overseer and flagellator of the convict road crew working on the bridge. He was known for his harsh punishments and numerous floggings. Grover met his destiny in March 1832 when he had been drinking hard and passed out on the bridge. When some prisoners came upon him, they took the opportunity to heave him over. His ghost is said to walk the bridge and on dark nights if you glimpse only a shadow behind you, you would be well-pressed to leave the bridge quickly. Sometimes it’s only the cruel Flagellator’s footsteps that are heard in the silent village as you cross the bridge.

Ghost Child

Ghost Child

Grover’s dog is also said to haunt the bridge, although why the dog has been linked with Grover remains unclear. But several witnesses have claimed to see the spirit dog described as a big black dog, also prowling the bridge. Interestingly enough, mainly women and children see the spirit dog. Richmond Bridge was originally called Bigge’s Bridge and is Australia’s oldest bridge.
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I am slightly saddened to admit I did not see any ghosts apart from one Daisy photo ghost, but I did fill a notebook with loads of ideas, I took close to 400 photos for inspiration to refer to when I’m spending the next few years working on the book. Of course there’s always plenty of charming historic houses to fall in love with in the village streets.

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And I could see myself quite happily retiring to live in Grannie Rhode’s exquisite cottage where I could have my chickens, grow herbs and make friends with the garden fairies.

Granny Rhodes's Cottage

Grannie Rhodes’s Cottage

But it’s not all about the historic houses, Gothic ghost stories, and convict tales in the state. Culturally the State is really smoking with MONA which is always worth a mind-expanding trip. The Red Queen was the current show, but I’m always happy to simply wander around MONA and take in the stimulation of this amazing eclectic surreal wonderland. Here are a few photos from MONA of pieces I particularly liked on this visit.
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I really love the way David Walsh has installed his temple in the suburbs and his car parking space made me smile. His car was parked in the space allocated to God and there is another space for God’s Mistress (as David pointed out the God’s Mistress space was empty).

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Aside from MONA, you can be visually stimulated by the fabulous Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery near the picturesque wharf. I loved several of the displays here.

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The Wild Colonial Boy

The Wild Colonial Boy

We also had time to take in the Cygnet Folk Festival which is a wonderful day out.
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And enjoy a punnet of my favourite Tasmanian snack (with the exception of the Tasmanian pink-eye potato)

The scenery wherever you go is spectacular. Hobart seemed to shimmer and sparkle more than ever on this trip.

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Thank you for visiting me. There are more photographs on my personal and Author Facebook pages. Also on Instagram.

May 2014 bring to you all the creative joy and blessings you could wish for. It’s going to be a big year for me. My mystery novel Currawong Manor will be released here in June and earlier in Germany.

I am currently doing another draft on a historical crime manuscript I’ve been working on for years. Then I shall begin some more intensive character development for my Tasmanian mystery.

One final glimpse of the wild Tasmanian sea.

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Tasmania my Muse. Home. And if 2014 hasn’t got off to the start you, take heart and strength from the wonderful Gregory Peck. ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.’

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BIG DREAMS, BRUSHES WITH FAME AND MIRACLES FOR CHRISTMAS

‘Though a great deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.’

– Thomas Hardy

As I write this on a sunny day in Sydney with dappled light showering our inner-city street, cicadas competing with the traffic noise and overhead planes, gum trees a wash of green against a brilliant blue sky, Angelina Jolie has just finished directing a scene near our house for her new movie Unbroken.
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Regular readers will know my fascination with comparative religions. The reason I’m so excited that Hollywood has come to our area is that Angelina is directing a scene in my local church. This church is a big part of our family and has formed the fabric of our lives here for the last decade. My daughter was baptised there and before my father died, he flew over to give me away in my Alice in Wonderland meets Carnaby Street wedding.

Unbroken being filmed at our local church

Unbroken being filmed at our local church

In an area bursting with the politically correct/hipster crowd, the church has been a sanctuary to me for years. I’ve seen it go through many changes and several priests, but the current priest has been my favourite for many reasons. The reason I mention Angelina is that it’s proof of how life can bring unexpected twists and miracles in ways you can’t imagine. And how ‘real life’ can be stranger than fiction and any movie. For years we’ve battled with church costs (the roof fell in a few years ago) and in one swoop – thanks to Angelina – those costs have been considerably bumped down. But I could never have expected that’s who would have fixed our church roof. Not even my imagination would have dreamt that scenario.

Extras in period costume cross the street for Unbroken

Extras in period costume cross the street for Unbroken

My daughter went to school yesterday morning with a little piece of paper in her pocket, for an autograph in the unlikely event she bumped into Angelina. She walked past crowds of extras dressed in period costume and the big movie lights trying to spot one person. (She loves her because she has tattoos.) We are relieved that this small brush of celebrity is with a person as inspiring as Angelina. It is heartening to point out photographs of Angelina and Brad dressed up for movie premieres, but then also be able to talk about her humanitarian work and how she has used celebrity and her beauty and talent as a force of good in the world. Everyone that had contact with her raved about how unpretentious, down-to-earth and friendly she was. I was also very delighted to see on the weekend in Sydney she went shopping with her children and bought books from local bookshops – a reminder to all to buy BOOKS this Christmas. As Christopher Marley said: ‘When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink and glue. You give him the possibility of a whole new life.’

And so Angelina Jolie is our little Christmas miracle and if you see Unbroken, know that the church in it has been my oasis of quiet contemplation for the last decade of my inner-city life.

The beautiful and inspiring Angelina Jolie

The beautiful and inspiring Angelina Jolie

I have finished my edit of Currawong Manor.
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On Monday, 2nd December at 12.30 am I pressed the send button and Currawong Manor went across the city back to Pan Macmillan. I felt enormously depleted, emotional and empty. I’ve loved working with my artists for so long and it’ s always hard to let go of my characters. I’ve spent years in their company. I feel so empty without them all and wonder if anyone will care for them. Where do these characters come from? They come. Sometimes quickly, but sometimes they are furtive and hide themselves behind other characters. Or they are too coy to appear at once, and you know they will come another time and book.

You spend years with the ones that do appear. You grow to know them more intimately than you do most of your neighbours, and friends.

And then they are gone. Released with the SEND button to a waiting editor and publisher in an office across the city and you are left alone, crying with exhaustion and wondering why you push yourself through so much for so many years to meet a being who is as real as a dream.

Divine madness has descended for years – if you are lucky – and then it moves on and you are left feeling abandoned by your own creation.

You sit and wait and hope the muse will bring you another story. You wait and ache and start to spin the web.

I’ve now begun work on my new web. and loving feeling the new characters appear.

Poet’s Cottage continues its tour around Europe and here is the beautiful cover from Dutch publishers HERE Fingers crossed that the Dutch will enjoy my Tasmanian sea-fishing murder mystery. It never fails to excite me to think that our family holiday inspired a book that is now selling internationally.
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In November I appeared at the Newtown Festival for Better Read than Dead in the Writer’s Tent with the always inspiring and dynamic Kate Forsyth.

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

I also attended the New South Wales SWITCH Library Awards dinner at the Star Room in Darling Harbour, sponsored by Bolinda Audio alongside some of my agent’s authors. Here is a photo of writing friends Belinda Alexandra and Karen Davis.

Belinda Alexandra and Karen Davis

Belinda Alexandra and Karen Davis

I travelled to Melbourne for the Sisters in Crime annual Scarlet Stiletto Awards. I can’t enter anymore as I’ve won two shoes (the legal limit!) so this was my first year as a judge. Congratulations to all shortlisted entries and to the winners. You can find a full list of winners HERE.

This evening was the 20th Anniversary of Sisters in Crime at the boho glam Thornbury Theatre and so I was delighted to be a part of the celebrations. Angela Savage wrote a lovely article on the history of the red shoe, A Dagger With A Difference, which you can read HERE.

image via Sisters in Crime

image via Sisters in Crime

The beautiful and talented Essie Davis was the host and guest speaker. You may know her as Phryne Fisher in Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, or from many other wonderful parts she has played. I remember Essie from our Hobart days at Rosny College together and so it was a joy to be able to connect with her again. In the photo below you can see her hugging me.

Sisters in Crime with Essie Davis on far right

Sisters in Crime with Essie Davis on far right

When Tasmanian girls reunite

When Tasmanian girls reunite

Essie was always a person you knew would be Someone. She claims she was a dag at Rosny but I can vouch she was always super-cool and super-talented. I was also pleased to have the chance to hand her a copy of Poet’s Cottage as when Pearl Tatlow came to me, I often daydreamed over the years if Poet’s Cottage was ever made into a movie, Essie would be perfect to play Pearl. Yes, I know that seems like big dreams, but if Angelina Jolie can pay for our church roof, I can believe in big dreams and miracles. And on that note – I wish for you all the big dreams, miracles and surprising twists in your life that you could NEVER have imagined in the season of light ahead.
And it wouldn’t be a Christmas blog post on Tale Peddler without a gratuitous Johnny Depp photograph.
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Thank you for visiting me. Here is the divine Mediaeval Baebes with the glorious We Three Kings.

Love, Light and Peace. May you find the best of the Holy Season within your own heart.

Josephine xx

Deadline

I am on deadline for Currawong Manor and so this October post written on All Hallows will be brief.

Life has been frenetic, frantic – days and weeks a blur of my daughter’s activities, her dramatic and colourful life entwined with the darker mysterious world of my characters in their Blue Mountains home in the 1940s. I juggle the two worlds, attempting to keep my attention equally on both, a task which seems impossible at times.

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I have to mention this anthology, Award Winning Australian Writing 2012, which my short story, Shadows, which won last year’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards appears in. I’m proud to be included with so many skilled writers. You can read more about it HERE
And also this beautiful cover of Currawong Manor (called Daughters of the Storm) in Germany published by Ullstein. On Twitter I posted I saw a beautiful butterfly nearly as large as my hand fluttering outside my garden writing shed , enjoying the bougainvillea and yellow roses. I wondered what he was a sign of and a couple of days later, he turned up on my book.

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A highlight of the month was:

We saw A Murder is Announced at Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay. I really enjoyed all the cast and Judi Farr made a perfect Miss Marple.

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A reminder that on Sunday the 10th of November, I’m appearing with Kate Forsyth in the Writers’ Tent at the Newtown Festival. Details here.

I am trying to focus, to turn inwards. The deadline like the witching hour draws nearer.

Thank you for visiting me. xx