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

The very British Kate Mosse and her amazing platform shoes

In 2013, I saw Kate Mosse speak at the Sydney Writers Festival.  I found her sparky and passionate and I loved her funky platform shoes. She reminded me of a pretty English mistress from an Enid Blyton boarding school book. The following is taken from my scribbled notes; as so much time has passed since I wrote them (due to me being busy with my own Currawong Manor), I may be paraphrasing her a little, but what she said really resonated with me. I know from comments from other audience members of the audience that she inspired them too.

Kate Mosse at Sydney Writers Festival signing my books 2013

Kate Mosse at Sydney Writers Festival signing my books 2013

She spoke about her love of the old-fashioned adventure story and how she  enjoys having women as the hero of her tales.

  kate mosse adventure

She is not very modern and is British to the core.

Kate at Buckingham Palace with her OBE

Kate at Buckingham Palace with her OBE

 

She sees the shadow of the past as being everywhere.

  KATE MOSSE GHOSTS

She spends about three quarters of her writing time on research and a quarter on writing the book.

When researching and writing, she reminds herself that real people died and that she’s telling their story. That we are part of a common bond and link of humanity.

  THE MISTELTOE BRIDE

To her the best fiction comes from lack of control rather than having a cast-iron control over the work. And she has to learn to let go.

For Citadel, she spent four years in research.

She described how her characters get her to follow them.

It’s love that matters in the end. Her father taught her this lesson from when he was away at war and his relationship with his family.

The lead character in her book is always the landscape.

KATE IN LANDSCAPE

She experienced an almost psychic experience once in a vision and eight years later, the character that appeared to her then came to her through a manuscript. But it took that length of time until the character was ready for Kate to write the story.

Fishbourne which inspired Kate's current literary gothic thriller The Taxidermist's Daughter via the Independent

Fishbourne which inspired Kate’s current literary gothic thriller The Taxidermist’s Daughter via the Independent

She does about three drafts of each of her books.  Because she writes parallel time-lines she does  one strand of the history line and then works on the other. With the second draft, she plaits them together.

Kate in her platform shoes

Kate in her platform shoes

 

I was so engrossed in her talk that I didn’t take as many notes as I would have liked. Which is always a good thing.

HERE is a link to an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that she did when she was here for the Writers Festival.

And a link HERE where she discusses how landscape influences her writing

And another link HERE where she discusses her writing process in a fascinating conversation with writer Denise Mina.

And a link HERE to an interview with my writer friend Kate Forsyth.

Thanks for visiting me. Please share this post with your social media friends if you think they might be interested.

The thing about The Taxidermist’s Daughter is people think it’s a big departure, but I quote the American writer Willa Cather at the beginning of the book ‘Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet’ Kate Mosse.

Love and Light,

Josephine

Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities and Kate Mosse

Hello, I’m a big Kate Mosse fan and love gothic literary thrillers, so I was thrilled to see her current book The Taxidermist’s Daughter was inspired by her childhood visits to The Walter Potter Museum.

In Death there can be Beauty

In Death there can be Beauty

On an overseas trip to the UK many years ago, David and I visited Jamaica Inn in Cornwall. Not only did we get lost on the moors (another blog post altogether) but we were fortunate to discover Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities before it was dismantled. I found the museum incredibly fascinating and longed for another chance to examine it, so I was saddened to hear in 2003 that such a fine collection of Victorian-Edwardian whimsy was lost forever when it was dismantled and sold at auction. IMG_8255   Some might find the taxidermy displays macabre, but I loved the surreal cuteness of the animals in dioramas such as The Death and Burial of Cock Robin (which took Mr Potter seven years to complete and included 98 species of British birds along with a weeping robin widow and a grave-digging owl); his rabbit school with rabbits writing on slates; and kitten tea parties. Who Killed Cock Robin   Intricate details featured on all of his work – including frilly knickers on kittens. There were also many other interesting and strange curios, enough to spend hours browsing. kittens getting married kittens   Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities began life in Bramber, Sussex, England. mr-potters-museum   As a teenager, Walter Potter’s fascination with taxidermy started when he attempted to preserve the life of his pet canary. The Death and Burial of Cock Robin was a massive success. Walter Walter and book   So many people were keen to witness his tableaus that a special platform had to be built at Bramber train station to accommodate the hordes of tourists arriving to view it. Squirrels in room   After Mr Potter’s death at 82, his daughter and grandson took over the business. Public taste in taxidermy had now waned and the displays were considered in poor taste.

Kitten with two faces

Kitten with two faces

 

Rabbit School

Rabbit School

The collection, numbering 10, 000 specimens, was moved around to Brighton, Ardundel and then to the owners of the famous Jamaica Inn in Cornwall where visitors come from around the world to experience Daphne du Maurier territory first hand. Jamaica Inn   Sadly, when the museum finally went to auction, a one-million pound bid by Damien Hirst to keep the collection intact was rejected, which meant various pieces were sold separately. Hirst wrote a piece for the Guardian HERE called, Mr Potter, Stuffed Rats and Me.

Kate Mosse and Crow

Kate Mosse and Crow

There is also another interesting link HERE to a Taxidermy article about Walter Potter. The Taxidermist's Daughter Kate   And a link HERE with Kate Mosse talking about her fascination with Walter Potter and his museum.

Another link HERE is a website to a book about Walter Potter which contains lots of fascinating articles.

And a recent interview with Kate Mosse from the Independent where she discusses the Landscape of her Imagination HERE

Kate at Booth Museum of Natural History

Kate at Booth Museum of Natural History

With all the excitement of a new Kate Mosse book, I thought it was a good chance to publish the notes I took when she spoke at Sydney Writers Festival in 2013. I’d had the best of intentions to put them on my blog at the time, but became so busy with writing Currawong Manor that I never got a chance. I shall post that blog later in the week so I do hope you return. Please share this post with your social online friends if you feel they would be interested. Thank you for popping in. Love and Light, Josephine xx

A short film on Potter’s collection that may be of interest.

The Light Between Oceans – Review

I nearly didn’t read this book. It received so much acclaim and hoopla that I didn’t think I’d find it interesting. If a book or film is very hyped, I have a bad habit of losing interest. I’m an inverted snob in such matters.

light between oceans

 

I sent it to my mother-in-law and after reading it, she returned it saying she thought I should reconsider as she knew I’d love it.

Thankfully, I obeyed her instructions. I found this a terrific read, which left me longing for as many people as possible I knew to read it, so we could discuss it. Luckily it was one of my Magic Hat Book Club choices this year.

The cover tag line is: ‘This is a story of right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same.’

light between oceans two

 

We enter the world of a young lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne and his wife, Isabel, on a remote island off the Western Australian coast. They decide to keep a baby found alive on ‘The Day of the Miracle’ with its dead father in a boat. Isabel has suffered three miscarriages and the baby appears to be a gift from God: there can be no harm in keeping her…

vintage lighthouse 2

 

This is the clever and intriguing set-up of an engrossing story which weaves between the ‘The Day of the Miracle’ (27 April, 1926) to the emotional final scene in 1950. The book describes the consequences of the decisions of keeping the ‘miracle’ baby.

couple vintage light between oceans

 

Throughout the narrative we are introduced to some vivid characters:

Tom Sherbourne the lighthouse keeper, with his measured outlook on life and his beautiful handwriting. His sense of decency and his moral code. An ex-army man with experience in Egypt and working in Morse and international code. Tom is suffering the trauma of his war experiences from one of the most grisliest of wars: a lighthouse posting seems the perfect change to escape his  memories. By steamer boat on his way to the lighthouse from Sydney to Perth, he rescues a young woman from a lecherous ex-soldier, a chance meeting pivotal later in the book:

 

Being over there changes a man. Right and wrong don’t look so different anymore to some.” – Tom Sherbourne.

 

In Port Partageuse, a small coastal community where a fresh granite obelisk lists the men and boys who will not be returning to the community. The town’s scars are raw. In this community, Tom meets and falls in love with defiant, sparkling Isabel Graysmark, the only daughter of the headmaster Bill, and his wife, Violet, who lost both sons to the war.

lighthouse australia

 

The nature cycles of the island and Port Partageuse, are hauntingly portrayed. And the real life ghosts of the living, still mourning so many lost, are also wonderfully captured. The Australian phrases, increasingly also lost to American slang, are resurrected in bold splashes which contrast well against the more lyrical descriptions. You ache for all the characters. Even very minor characters who barely appear such as Frank, the baby’s father, become important. Septimus, the grandfather, is also beautifully sketched and an entire book could be devoted on his story.

The character’s roles are superimposed against the lighthouse itself, the great light illuminating to protect the sailors, but also revealing the deeper shadows that are lurking within every member of Port Partageuse. People are getting on with life – but the war has taken so much.

M.L. Stedman

 

The Light Between Oceans is a book that should give inspiration to all writers who think they may have left their run to late to start. It is Stedman’s debut full-length novel, written in her mid-sixties. I was most fascinated by her writing process which is very similar to my own using visual imagery and a method of ‘free falling’ into the story, allowing the visual images to guide you. She worked a lot from original material in the British Library, reading war-time diaries and journals which she said ‘brought her to sobbing many times’. This first-person research shines through. The two images of the ocean used above were both taken by Stedman when she was working on the book.

I feel that with a different cover design, it might have reached more of a male audience. My partner began reading the book after hearing my enthusiastic appraisal of it and is really enjoying it. He would never have picked it up on its cover normally.

book

 

Thankfully, many people did. Nine international publishing houses bid on the rights for the book. In Australia The Light Between Oceans was:

Winner of three ABIA awards for Best Newcomer, Best Literary Novel and Book of the Year Winner of two Indie Awards for Best Debut and Book of the Year Winner of the Nielsen BookData Bookseller’s Choice Award for 2013 Recently voted Historical Novel of 2012 by GoodReads’ reading community

Stedman

 

The names of the miracle child in the story, Lucy, means Light and she represents the Hope of the story. I also took the Light Between Oceans to represent the break between the two World Wars. Ultimately, I saw this as a book about the ripple effects of war. A story of right and wrong and the different shades of grey in between – a tale of forgiveness and redemption. Janus Rock, where Lucy washes up, represents the Ancient God of Doorways – transitions and beginnings. Janus presided over beginnings and endings of peace and conflict. As a transitional god, he had a role in birth and exchange as well. Janus also represents a middle ground between barbarism and civilisation.

Janus

If you are interested to read more about M.L Stedman’s writing process, there is an interview HERE

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

Australian Women Writers Challenge

 

Facing Fears – Into the desert with Robyn Davidson

You are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.’ Robyn Davidson

rick41

Sometimes I play that game where I’m asked the five books that changed my life. Although my choices might change (and really every book has left a small thumbprint on my soul) one work did have an influence on my life when I first read it as a young girl in Tasmania – Robyn Davidson’s Tracks. The descriptions of the Australian outback were so powerful and beautiful. I’d never thought of my own country in quite the same way.

tracks

I felt fearful of so many things and it was perfectly obvious that here was some sort of Athena warrior goddess who feared very little, a young woman who in 1977 trekked 1700 miles across the desert from Alice Springs to Western Australia. Of course there are all sorts of symbolic meanings attached to entering a vast, seemingly empty wilderness. The old prophets entered them for clarification and transcendence. Jesus went to fast in a desert. A desert cuts out all the sensory overload. The vastness of the landscape encourages meditation.

imagesS2GY0ILK

But it wasn’t just Robyn’s ballsy guts/madness in choosing to enter the desert with only her camels, her dog, the intermittent visits of National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan and the indigenous Australians she met along her way. It was the authentic raw power of her writing that inspired me.

untitled

I was fortunate to see Robyn Davidson speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year on a panel interviewed by Michaela Kalowski with Emile Sherman, the producer of the movie Tracks. Actress Mia Wasikowska, who plays Robyn in the movie, was also in the audience. I intended to write this post shortly after the festival I was so inspired and fired up by the three speakers I saw that year, but I was editing my own book at the time and the deadline was forever looming.

from the movie Tracks

from the movie Tracks

I’ve been thinking again about Robyn Davidson as the movie Tracks is shortly to hit the big screen. Robyn in person, decades after I read her book is every bit as striking as her younger self in the flesh. Elegant, warm and charming,she described herself as an ‘odd-ball’. And I sensed a kindred spirit when she spoke about how she hated being too connected and never carries her mobile phone and hates answering it. It’s always a relief to find someone as odd-ball as yourself. She talked about how she had offers before for Tracks to be made into a move, but she wanted it to be an Australian film. Could I love this woman any more? She spoke about how the journey she took would be impossible these days as social media would be covering every step. She also expressed her concerns for young people these days as the pressure from social media is so intense. And related a very touching story to do with a reunion with her camels in Western Australia many years later. I had no idea that camels were so intelligent, emotional and had memories like elephants.

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Robyn Davidson’s early life is gothic involving her mother’s suicide at 46. Robyn is currently writing a memoir about this period of her life. In a recent interview in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend magazine with journalist Amanda Hooton, she spoke about her mother’s death and her struggles over writing the period of her life to avoid the ‘poor pitiful me’ tone.

I now think of her as something incorporated into me. I’m very interested in neuroscience: the idea that we have these maps in the brain. I think she’s sort of mapped into me.’

Tracks is a book I would urge every mother to buy their young daughters (or sons) to read as it will hopefully give them a warrior shield in navigating their own desert. It is certainly one I will be encouraging my daughter to read. One aspect of Robyn’s desert trek I loved was that she didn’t do it for fame, or to become some sort of feminist symbol, she did it for the journey itself.

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In this fifteen minute interview below with Caroline Baum, Robyn expresses her concern about how the desert has been taken over by the buffel grass introduced from Africa has been drastically altering the herbage for native animals and changing the rich palette of the desert itself.

I never did have the courage to go into the desert alone. But Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks gave me the courage to travel to India on my own.

Travelling with an Australian girl I met in India. Here we are on the Holy Ganges.

Travelling with an Australian girl I met in India. Here we are on the Holy Ganges.

Prior to reading her book, I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Melbourne solo. My life became richer as a result of her own journey and her ability to express her desert walk with such eloquence. I became a writer – a different type of writer to Robyn Davidson, but one just as inspired by the tone and palette of my own country. It takes courage to embrace a creative life with all of its dips and heights.

with a Sadhu in India.

with a Sadhu in India.

I was most grateful I had the chance to say this personally to Robyn Davidson at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. In the next couple of months, I shall post my panels that I experienced with UK writer Kate Mosse and Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Both of these panels were excellent and filled with inspiration so I hope to share them with you.

With another friend I met in India. We are still in touch.

With another friend I met in India. We are still in touch.

Here is a link to Robyn’s panel from Sydney Writers’ Festival. My interaction with her comes towards the end.

http://www.swf.org.au/2013-video-podcasts/making-tracks.html

Having my karma washed away in the Holy Ganges

Having my karma washed away in the Holy Ganges

Yes, Robyn Davidson, you made me feel that I could do anything.

robyn quote

‘Camel trips do not begin or end, they merely change form.’ Robyn Davidson

If you enjoyed this article and found some inspiration, please share with your online friends. Or leave me a comment to know if you’ve read Tracks. Is there a particular book that sparked some courage within you? I would love to hear from you.

Some links to articles on Robyn Davidson of interest:

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2012/october/1349327288/robyn-davidson/leaving-tracks-behind

http://www.sbs.com.au/films/movie-news/911113/tracks-mia-wasikowska-and-robyn-davidson-interview

http://www.smh.com.au/national/one-hell-of-a-life-born-of-claypan-and-coolabah-20120928-26qng.html

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/talkingheads/txt/s2345772.htm

The Only Footprints On The Beach – Bay Of Fires Review

Hello,

It was my pleasure recently to be on a ‘Something Rotten in the Apple Isle’ panel for Sisters in Crime where I met Poppy Gee and Livia Day aka Tansy Roberts. We were all raised in Tasmania and chose to set our mystery/crime books there. I loved this panel because not only did I get to meet both writers, but it was fascinating to hear how Tasmania shaped all our work. Livia said how impressed she was that when Poppy was talking about the murder of Victoria Cafasso that semi-inspired her book, I brandished an original folder of newspaper clippings on exactly that subject. More on my clippings later.

I recently finished Poppy Gee’s debut crime novel Bay of Fires which Poppy wrote as part of a thesis for her Masters in Creative Writing programme (for which she received the Dean’s Award for Excellence) and I am making it part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge (which I am woefully behind despite all good intentions).
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I still remember my father’s distress over the slaying of young Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso on a deserted beach in Tasmania’s East Coast in 1995. I’d long had the habit of heading off to similar desolate beaches to enjoy time alone and so this murder was my parents’ worst imaginings. The case horrified a lot of Tasmanians and the images of Victoria’s distraught parents on those chilly, blue/grey Tasmanian beaches remain with me. Shortly after Victoria’s death, her father also died, allegedly of a broken heart. This particular case has haunted me for years and I kept all the clippings in my ‘crime-file’ – a rather grandiose name for a voluminous collection of clippings which I rifle through when seeking inspiration. Writing the word inspiration next to such a tragic murder feels most cold-blooded, but I am also totally intrigued/horrified by how something so terrible could occur.

Adding to the public interest was that the case was never solved. Victoria was a very attractive young woman which, alas, always ensures more media coverage, but her killer remains at large.

Victoria Cafasso

Victoria Cafasso

Before Victoria’s death, a young, vibrant German tourist, Nancy Grunwaldt, disappeared while cycling around Tasmania in 1993 – again on the East Coast. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nancy’s vanishing and her family returned to Tasmania for a journey no parent would ever want to make. It’s horrendous to know that her grieving family have never had closure and have been left to speculate for so long.

image from Hobart Mercury

image from Hobart Mercury

And so two young women who met met some sinister fate in Tasmania are forever linked in many people’s minds, but why you may be wondering has this anything to do with Bay of Fires? I mention these two haunting cases because Poppy herself mentions the two women and concedes she was inspired by the two cases for her book.

In Bay of Fires a small community is divided when a young girl’s body washes up on a Tasmanian beach where previously another young attractive female tourist had vanished. Poppy points out that Bay of Fires is not the story of Victoria Cafasso or Nancy Grunwaldt, but she simply wishes to acknowledge the two women. I would describe Bay of Fires as a literary mystery observing the ripple effect of murder – a theme that also fascinates me and with which I have worked repeatedly over the years both in short stories and novels.

WHAT KEPT ME TURNING THE PAGES IN THIS BOOK:

I found Bay of Fires a tense and absorbing read with characters skilfully depicted. I was very impressed by Hal and think Poppy did a wonderful job of bringing a male character to life. Poppy obviously knows this area of Tasmania well – her parents owned a holiday shack at the East Coast and she evokes the ‘shack holiday’ texture and the atmosphere of her fictional sleepy fishing village beautifully. I was very drawn into the story of what happens in a small community when a woman’s body is washed up amongst them. Bay of Fires skilfully shows the disruptive force that suspicion can bring to a community. I’m also a lover of secrets and the ‘microcosm of the macrocosm’ of small communities and Poppy obviously shares my love of the secret heart and the shadows that lie within us all.

The descriptions of the girl’s dead body are quite graphic but extremely well done. Poppy has quite a stern eye and is not one to romanticise her characters or death.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE AS MUCH ABOUT THIS BOOK:

Admittedly, the cover initially didn’t grab me, but it grew on me as I read the book and I appreciated the cover for its retro quality a lot more and could see that it would not only stand out on a shelf but also appeal to both male and female readers. A minor point, but I wasn’t a fan of the character of Sarah. She’s well-depicted but I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books with ‘kick-arse’ women out there. I’m not saying I crave passive female characters, but I do get weary of women characters who can do everything so much better, whether it’s drinking, wrestling, belching or sex better than any man. I also pondered about the denouement wondering whether I would have preferred Poppy’s original idea (but I’m not giving away the ending!)

CONCLUSION

Bay of Fires is a sinister, gripping debut novel of strength, intelligence and literary appeal for both male and female readers. The book really made me think about using ‘real-life crime’ stories as inspiration for novels. I have folders and folders of press clippings of cases over the years which I have often dipped into. Although I blend and work off different true-life cases, I did wonder about the ethics of using real-life murders in a story when so many people in Tasmania know somebody connected to the cases. With such graphic descriptions of the young tourist’s dead body, it can’t help but bring back memories of the real cases. And I know how publishers need to use anything they can to attract media interest in a book. Around the same time another murder mystery came out which also used elements of the Victoria Cafasso murder.

However, I came to the conclusion that it is vital for these stories to be told. The landscape reveals its tales to those who chose to listen, and when blood has been spilt on the earth, the cries are louder. If Bay of Fires gets people talking again about Victoria Cafasso and Nancy Grunwaldt, then their stories – and the girls themselves – will never be forgotten. And of course – their individual mysteries may be solved. Somebody out there obviously knows the killer’s/abductor’s identity. It would be a great solace to both families to have some closure. I gave Bay of Fires five out of five on my Good Reads profile.

Poppy Gee in Tasmania

Poppy Gee in Tasmania

You can read another review of Bay of Fires in The Australian HERE
Poppy’s website can be found HERE
A link HERE that may be of interest regarding the mystery behind Nancy Grunwaldt

A link to an interesting article on Victoria Cafasso. HERE

And to inspire anyone who may be looking for an agent to represent their work, there is an interview HERE with Poppy where she talks about how she found her American agent online.

I do hope to find time to have an online chat with Poppy so I can find out more about her creative process and inspirations. If we manage to co-ordinate our times, (Poppy, like myself is a mother with young children) I shall post my interview with her here as well.

Thank you for reading this review. I hope it encourages you to buy Bay of Fires or seek out other Australian writers. We have such talent in this country and I’m always thrilled to discover a new Australian author who set their books in this stunningly amazing country we’re fortunate to live in.

And do be wary when wandering into ‘peaceful’ isolated places alone.

Keep Creative. Lock your doors.

Josephine xx

The crisp sand, littered with marine debris, gleamed in the day’s freshness. Beneath a shapeless mountain of green eucalypts, the lagoon shimmered in purple darkness. It was full. Soon the Chain of Lagoons would overflow, pouring through the grassy dune and getting the beach to meet the ocean. A sharp undertow sucked on a steep wall of wet quicksand, making it dangerous for swimming. This part of the seashore was visited only by fishermen, surfers, and the occasional shell collector.

The fisherman’s were the only footprints on the beach.

from Bay of Fires.

The Misty Blue

Hello,
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I’ve returned from the mountains after a blissful week with my family. I roughed out some early drafts for my current mystery novel, which is an idea I’ve nursed for a couple of years. I have a title for this one and some early images, so feel very optimistic. My agent was also keen on the idea, so that’s coming together nicely. The mountains was a haven of winter sunlight, air spiked with goodness and the beauty of peace. It’s shocking to experience how differently you feel when your senses aren’t bombarded by constant traffic and aircraft. We bushwalked, slept a lot, read in front of the stove fire, explored the antique shops and it was all heaven. I also caught up with a couple of friends in the mountains including Kim Wilkins aka Kimberley Freeman who was on a research trip for a forthcoming book. It was very difficult to return to the city and the abruptness of a new school term.
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I’m currently working on a coming-of-age novel that I’ve been tinkering around with for several years. I am very much in love with this project.
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I’ve been reading a lot and catching up on books I’ve had on my ‘to-read’ list. The Somnambulist, a truly wonderful Gothic Victorian mystery by Essie Fox. The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, Citadel by Kate Mosse and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I do plan to do some proper reviews when I get a chance. I’m getting very behind with my reviews for Australian Women Writers.

I’m pleased to see Poet’s Cottage is on the long list for the Davitt Awards for mystery and crime writing. Even more thrilled to see the list had a record number of entries. 63 books have been nominated this year which is a statement that mystery and crime writing is booming in Australian publishing.
And I’m also thrilled to know that book clubs are enjoying Poet’s Cottage. When I get a chance I’m planning on creating a website with a book club section. I was contacted on my Author Facebook page this week by a lovely lady who is taking a walking tour to Stanley this weekend as her book club is reading the book in the nearby town of Wynyard. I couldn’t think of a more spectacular back drop for a book club meeting.
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I love this recent Vogue cover featuring Sofia Coppola. Sofia was one of the inspirations behind my character Elizabeth, a photographer in the present-day thread of Currawong Manor. I needed somebody who was powerful, but in a gentle, soothing type of way. I’m a big fan of all of Sofia Coppola’s movies.
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I finally caught up with The Great Gatsby (probably the last person in Sydney to see it). I saw it with Artschool Annie and we both relished the painterly interpretation that Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin brought to the book. It made me feel like re-reading The Great Gatsby.
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And thank you to all who entered my Giveaway both here and on Facebook. It is now past the full moon and so as promised I have drawn a winner. Congratulations ROBYN JONES. Please PM me your address and I shall post your books to you.

Johnny Depp meeting Dr Gayle Dine’ Chacon from the Navajo nation while filming The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp meeting Dr Gayle Dine’ Chacon from the Navajo nation while filming The Lone Ranger

Thank you for visiting me. Keep creative. I hope you enjoyed the full moon period. It’s a favourable time to rid yourself of everything holding you back from achieving your dreams.
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xx

Something Rotten in the Apple Isle Giveaway!

Women's Crime isn't always cozy - a fab Amanda Wrangles card

Women’s Crime isn’t always cozy – a fab Amanda Wrangles card


Hello,

I have been quiet on the blog as I’m on deadline for my latest edit of Currawong Manor but wanted to pop in quickly and announce a giveaway on Tale Peddler.

As I’m so busy at the moment this giveaway will run for a month but I will remind folks weekly and it also gives you more chances to win.

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I’ve just returned from Melbourne where I was a guest for Sisters in Crime along with fellow Tasmanian writers Poppy Gee and Livia Day for a panel called Something Rotten in the Apple Isle. Lindy Cameron chaired the panel.

This was a fun night and it was so great to finally meet Poppy and Livia and to be reunited with the Sisters in Crime of Melbourne.

Sisters in Crime, Lindy Cameron, Carmel Shute and Josephine Pennicott

Sisters in Crime, Lindy Cameron, Carmel Shute and Josephine Pennicott

For the evening I read Poppy and Livia’s books and they are both excellent although different in style and setting. All three books are set in Tasmania which is what inspired our panel . Livia’s A Trifle Dead is set in urban and hip Hobart and is a really funny and gripping read. And Poppy’s book is set on the stunningly beautiful East Coast of Tasmania and describes the ripple effect amongst a small community when the body of a dead girl is washed ashore.

Josephine Pennicott with Amanda Wrangles and Leigh Redhead

Josephine Pennicott with Amanda Wrangles and Leigh Redhead

We discussed Tasmania as Muse, our own childhoods in Tasmania, some well-known murder cases in Tasmania and how our books were inspired by the landscape. We also touched on motherhood and writing and how difficult it can be to produce work when you also want to be there for your children. Thank you to the audience who braved a chill winter’s evening to hear us speak and also to Sisters in Crime for inviting me to be part of the event. I have shared a few photographs taken at the night on my Instagram. There are two Sisters in Crime in particular the beautiful Leigh Redhead and Amanda Wrangles who always seem to bring out my inner trout pout. Amanda Wrangles is the talented artist behind the beautiful cards in the photo. They are not included in the giveaway but I couldn’t resist showing them off.

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But – back to the giveaway. I’m sure you have guessed it by now…

One person will win a signed copy of our three books and so a complete set of Something Rotten in the Apple Isle books. This competition is open world wide and so if you’re overseas and have been longing for a print version of one of our books you now have a chance to win ALL THREE. It makes a unique and lovely gift for the crime and mystery reader in your life.

And it’s super easy to enter! To be eligible to win – either do one of the following:

leave a comment below this post to let me know you would like to be placed in my Magic Sorting Hat

or

leave a comment on my personal or Author Facebook page

or

leave a comment on my Twitter message regarding the giveaway

or

leave a comment on my Good Reads giveaway. (As soon as I figure out how to work a Good Reads giveaway.)

AND if you SHARE the competition on your social networking sites and let me know you have shared, you get an extra chance!

AND every week when I remind if you SHARE AGAIN you get an extra chance in my Magic Sorting Hat.

I have loads of things I want to blog about including my impressions of the Sydney Writers’ Festival but for now back to the edit.

Thank you for visiting me,

Love Josephine xx
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Autumn

The Autumn sunshine in Sydney has been glorious but I was in the writing shed watching the dappled mellow light in my backyard. I’m happy to say Currawong Manor has now been cut from a massive 170 000 to a much trimmer word length. The process wasn’t as horrendous as I had feared; I could feel sparks begin to fly in the manuscript as I worked. I lost several characters but I already know they will re-appear in later books. Two of them were most insistent they had to go together, which was creepy because of who those characters are – but I can’t say too much about them without creating spoilers.

The hardest part was only having a month for the edit with my daughter home on school holidays for half that time. Thankfully, I had wonderful friends who took my daughter to the cinema, on excursions, and – being a Unique Enfant (only child) – she enjoys holiday care at her school.

Somehow it all came together and I’m very happy with the end result. Fingers crossed my agent and publishers will be too.
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On completion I felt as if a brass band should be playing and an auditorium of people screaming their praises to a soundtrack of Gladiator. In reality I had the school-run, lunches and everyday life to contend with. I did steal one precious day from the edit to take Daisy to the mountains so we could enjoy the Autumn light together.

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I’ve been reading some fab books lately. Katherine Howell’s Silent Fear, Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, Thea Astley’s An Item on the Late News, Jo Wood’s autobiography of her life with the Rolling Stones and the terrifying Poppet by Mo Hayder. When I get a chance, I shall write some reviews for them and post here. I am longing to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and UK’s Louise Millar’s psychological suspense books. I’ve also just started Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell which I’m loving. A great read for cosy Autumn afternoons.

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My book club, The Magic Hat read Thea Astley’s An Item from the Late News in our last meeting. I have to admit I had never read any of Thea Astley’s books before and I was surprised by what a page-turner and how darkly powerful this literary novel is. My full review is on Good Reads if you are a member.

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This is a photo from my friend Mary’s wonderful Facebook page, My Love Affair With Newtown. It’s a new coffee shop opening down the south end of King Street near the Union Hotel. It looks like a little dolls’ house and with the small space, chandelier and books, it reminds me of my own lounge-room in Little Brick. I feel tempted to paint my lounge hot pink. I think that’s going to be my winter project. Our lounge room is very small like this, crammed with books and a chandelier. Hot pink might make it more cosy than the Antique White it is now.

We were fortunate to see John Bell’s wonderful Henry 4 at the Opera House recently. I just loved it as the words are brought to beautifully to life by the excellent actors. It was such a fab interpretation with more hip to it than a boxed set of Mad Men. From the moment it began with electric guitars being thrashed as the stage set was trashed, it was a wild, eloquent ride though age-old issues regarding power, self-responsibility and family. Issues as relevant today as when Shakespeare wrote it. Here’s a brief promo clip from YouTube where you can get a sense of the majestic power of the words. A most inspiring night of theatre. If you feel blocked with your writing; this two-minute clip will help you get your groove back.

If you are on my Facebook you will have seen I was deeply saddened by the news story that broke in Sydney this week when Madeleine Milne, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who loved drawing dragons, being creative and helping others became the youngest ever recorded suicide in NSW due to a bullying incident at her school. Her grieving father went public with the story in an appeal to everyone – parents and schools – to communicate more and take the time to listen to your children. The pressures on our young people are enormous these days. When I was growing up there was always bullying but somehow we had the resilience to endure it. This was however before the media began to promote the mean-girl attitudes that are so prominent today. We live in a society that cushions children so much from all hardships (and even not-so-hardships – I was shocked to discover everyone now gets a prize in pass-the-parcel!) We leave young children on technology that contains messages and images their undeveloped brains may not be able to compute. I don’t have any answers as I’m only on my L-plates with parenting, but I feel we are letting our young people down terribly when children this young are taking their own lives unable to see any light in winter’s dark embrace. And Madeleine is far from the only child who has suicided over bullying. A quick Google search will show you other horror stories.

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If you do have children – please take on board this plea from Madeleine’s father:

“We all let our busy lives get in the way. The school was busy and didn’t get back to us, we were busy. I’d just say make the time.”

Fight back against the sexualisation of children and the mean culture in the media. Ensure your school has a zero tolerance to bullying and cliques. Help your child develop resilience rather than cushioning them against the inevitable crap and hard times of life. This little girl’s story touched so many people as it could have been any one of us with children. As one of my Facebook friends, Dianne eloquently said:

‘13 is such a violable age. They are full of promise and act tough, but they are fragile like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon. Handle them with care.’

Enjoy your week. As I wait for the next stage of the edit to return, I’m planning and researching my next book and also writing my Young Adult book that I’ve been having fun with for years in-between my bigger books.

And a gentle reminder that I shall be appearing in Melbourne in June 14 along with Livia Day and Poppy Gee for Sisters in Crime on a panel called Something Rotten in the Apple Isle. You can find more details of the event HERE.

And a lovely photo of Johnny to end with. This one is via the Johnny C. Depp Facebook page
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Thank you for visiting me.

Love Josephine xx