VALE CLARE, MY ENGLISH ROSE

This week I lost my beautiful, brilliant friend, Clare, aka Mo Hayder/Theo Clare to motor neurone disease.

photo credit: Robin Matthews

On December 2, 2020, as I was about to board a train to Sydney for my Diploma of Energetic Healing course, I received a message from Clare saying she believed she might have motor neurone disease and that she wouldn’t survive it. I was stunned. In the bleakest of years with the covid-19 pandemic putting the world on pause, this was the cruellest blow. ‘Pray for a miracle,’ I texted back, or something similarly optimistic. But even before the diagnosis came through of bulbar, one of the most savage versions of motor neurone, we both guessed the bleak ending. For the next seven months, I sent Clare daily distant Reiki energy and we kept in touch daily. I sent her an online rose a day.

I hadn’t heard from her for five days, which was unusual. I was about to contact her partner, when I woke up to his message that Clare had passed the day before. Although the news wasn’t unexpected, I experienced such deep sadness. There will never be another friend to replace Clare. Although we only met in person three times, living on opposite sides of the globe, we corresponded over the years through countless letters and emails. I counted her among my closest friends.

I was introduced to Clare over twenty years ago, when I was at art school and working for an aromatherapy company at Myer department store, Sydney. ‘You might like this book,’ Michael, one of the office staff said. ‘It’s a grisly crime and the author looks like she could be your sister.’ (I was very blonde and thinner back then). Intrigued, I took Birdman home to read and instantly became hooked on her debut novel, which had as its subject matter a killer who sews live birds into the chests of his victims. I wrote to Clare saying how much I enjoyed the book and about a year later received an apologetic letter back. We spasmodically exchanged a few emails. Clare was frantically busy with her writing career which was peaking with her best selling series of dark thrillers, featuring moody, troubled Jack Caffery.

In 2008, Clare appeared at the Sydney Writers Festival to promote Ritual, her third book. I instantly enrolled in a writing workshop she was conducting, although the thought of meeting one of my writing idols was daunting. I’d met other writers who didn’t live up to their books, and I was nervous Clare might be the same. However the reverse was true. I’ve copied and pasted an extract from my online journal (archived here) at the time.

I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival and did a workshop with Mo Hayder. What can I say about that woman except I love her to bits! She really is the most gracious, kind, intelligent, totally gorgeous woman and writer I’ve ever met. She gave me some killer advice and a much needed buck-up with my writing. I received so much from Mo and will be forever grateful.

After all these years of feeling slightly isolated by how my mind works, I feel I found a kindred spirit in Mo. I was more than a little nervous about meeting Mo as I’ve met so many writers over the years and sometimes they don’t always match their books. They can have inflated egos and be quite shabby, dysfunctional people. It’s always ruined their books for me if they don’t match their words. But Mo was one of those rare people who actually exceeded my expectations.’

Meeting Clare in person in 2008 at Sydney Writers Festival Workshop

Clare was travelling with her daughter Lotte, who was six at the time, and she was keen for Lotte to meet my three-year-old daughter, Daisy. My partner brought Daisy in her ballet class tutu to the  hotel at the wharf where Clare was staying with her partner, Bob, who she had met while researching her books. Bob was a police sergeant and rescue diver – the character of police diver, Phoebe (Flea) Marley is inspired by him. Bob is twinkly, charming and we instantly felt we had known him forever. Daisy performed arabesques for Clare, and Clare and Lotte did a dance for us in return. My partner likes to dive and so he enjoyed his conversation with both Clare and Bob.

My much loved, well-read collection.

Over the years, Clare and I continued our correspondence. We shared our feelings on parenting, our creative successes and disappointments (in my case!) and she was always there for me. Whether it was offering to do a blurb for my books, giving me industry advice, or just sharing our very different lives on opposite sides of the planet. Clare was incredibly successful with her books, selling well over a million copies and I was a mid-list author. My Poet’s Cottage in particular had done extremely well overseas, nowhere near the sales Clare achieved, but Clare was interested in the person, rather than how many books sold. Clare even turned my daughter, Daisy into a character in her book, Skin.

 

In 2017, my family travelled to England and we reunited in Avebury with Clare and Bob. We often speak about this being a perfect day. I remember gazing at the stones, seeing the vivid crayon-blue spring sky, the golden yellow rapseed, sheep birthing lambs and the Avebury wishing trees. Clare laughed with Daisy as they strolled, and I thought, ‘This is the most amazingly perfect day.’ Daisy, now 12, thought Clare was the coolest mother ever as Clare and her attracted tutting disapproval in a cafe for snorting like pigs. Clare could be hysterically funny.

With Clare and Bob at Avebury, 2017. A perfect day.

Clare was disappointed when I first told her I was doing my Diploma of Energetic Healing in 2020 . ‘What about your writing? You should be focusing on your book. You can’t give up.  You’re too good,’ she protested. I felt however, driven to do the course. A lot of my family had developed severe health conditions. Several people were close to death around me. I’m grateful I did it now, as I also studied my Masters of Reiki, which helped Clare throughout the last seven months.

I love all of Clare’s books but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Tokyo (Devil of Nanking in the US) as it displayed what crime/thriller fiction was capable of. It was an incredibly courageous work. I also really enjoyed her standalones, such as Hanging Hill and Pig Island. The Treatment remains the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.


It was a privilege to be Clare’s friend. We had the chance to tell each other of how we loved each other many times before she died. Plenty of people don’t have that grace. I’m proud she wasn’t afraid to change direction and write the book that she really wanted to write. I’m very much looking forward to her speculative fiction novel The Book of Sand to be published in 2022 under her pseudonym, Theo Clare

I am grateful I got to share the joy of her marriage to her soulmate Bob in January and that she’s no longer suffering in her physical body. All my love to Lotte, Bob and anyone reading this who knew and loved her. Clare was courageous, idiosyncratic, intelligent, dazzling, light-filled. She was as beautiful, pure and giving as a rose.

I will always miss her.

photo credit via Whole Beauty by Shiva Rose 

ENID BLYTON, WORD MAGICIAN

She made my childhood magic.

 

She gave me a lifelong love of reading, writing, Cornwall, mysteries. Her books were loved over thirty years later by my own daughter who wanted stories (not to be lectured to on worthy topics). So bored with all the Cancel puritans judging artists from a previous time on current thinking and mores. My own Poet’s Cottage book was inspired by Enid Blyton’s two daughters having varying accounts of their childhood.

I recently began re-reading Five On A Treasure Island and was instantly transported back to Kirrin Island, shipwrecks, secret maps and castle ruins. Thrilling stuff!

 

Fly High, Storm Constantine

For so long the world has seemed upside down and tilted sideways. I’m on the third draft of my current book but haven’t felt able to post here. But Storm Constantine’s death on 14 January has evoked memories of another life for me, a pre-pandemic time that seemed more dazzling and less constricted. 

I was travelling in the UK with David in November 2002. I’d just had my first Dark Fantasy book, Circle of Nine, published. I was in correspondence with Storm, whose lyrical writing had inspired me for years. Our trip was filled with mysticism. We were given a tour of a private underground chamber by a Knights Templar at mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. This knight took us into the chamber to show us mason markings on the wall. He was dowsing for energy lines in the chamber, and talked about the society he belonged to, which held ritual meetings there. 

In Edinburgh, we saw books made out of human skin in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. I fell in love with the Black Madonna when I came across her at Chartres Cathedral in France. And, of course, we went to many stone circles and the like: Boscawen-un, the Merry Maidens, the Men-an-Tol, Lanyon Quiot, the Hurlers, Castlerigg and Long Meg & Her Daughters. On this trip, I also travelled to Boscastle for the first time and formed my life-long obsession with the Cornish sea-fishing village and its Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. 

Meeting Storm was one of the magical moments of our trip. In appearance she was very much the Goth beauty. She was down-to-earth, hospitable, generous and shared information about publishing. We enjoyed our afternoon with Storm, her husband Jim, and friend/fellow author Eloise. Her home was filled with Pre-Raphaelite prints. I still remember the smell of the incense, and several cats. Publishing seemed a different world. The world was a different world. 

 

Fly high, shine bright, mystic rose, Storm. 

Condolences to Jim and who all love Storm. 

 

RE-VISITING REBECCA

This weekend it snowed in the Blue Mountains, always a joyful event. I spent the time in bed with the fire glowing (no cosier sight), snowflakes drifting outside, wind gusting, dog snoozing beside me, lost in the gothic world of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

 

I’ve read Rebecca several times in my life, and just like my favourite of her books, My Cousin Rachel, my perception of it shifts as I’ve grown older.

Rebecca opens on an iconic cracker of a line: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

The scene is set for a strange, dreamlike world where everything seems so normal on the outside, but unsettling undercurrents are evident.

The narrator is an unnamed young woman. Daphne set herself the technical challenge of not awarding her a Christian name. We first meet the narrator in Monte Carlo where she is a paid companion to the snobby and wonderfully portrayed Mrs Van Hopper. The narrator meets Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, who is recovering from his first wife’s (Rebecca) death a year before in a boating accident.

After a rushed courtship, Max proposes to the narrator and despite grim predictions from Mrs Van Hopper, the woman travels to Cornwall, to Maxim’s grand home, Manderley.

Here the shy and socially awkward young woman, feeling hopelessly out of her class, battles inferiority and envy about Maxim’s first wife, beautiful accomplished Rebecca, whose presence haunts Manderley.

Mrs Danvers, the grim housekeeper, who was devoted to Rebecca, carries malice towards the new Mrs De Winter and goes out of her way to ensure the new bride can’t relax in her role. Everyone the narrator meets praises Rebecca extravagantly and the Narrator becomes more cowed and insecure.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock’s 1940 film release

Maxim becomes more distant and after a disastrous masked ball where Mrs Danvers spitefully excels herself by encouraging the Narrator to dress in the same costume Rebecca had worn at the previous ball just before her death, causing Maxim to retreat further.

After a shipwreck occurs, a second boat is uncovered – Rebecca’s sailing boat with Rebecca’s body in it. Suspicion is cast upon Maxim, as he previously identified a body found washed up on the coast as Rebecca.

The twists continue until the grim ending which contains lines just as potent and evocative as the opening.

 

There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.’ 

Daphne du Maurier began Rebecca in late summer 1937 when she was stationed with her husband Tommy ‘Boy’ Browning in Egypt. Tommy was the Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

 

Daphne made slow progress on the book in Egypt and on their return to England in December she spent Christmas away from her family to finish Rebecca. The book was published by Victor Gollancz in April 1938.

Daphne was toying with themes of jealousy. Tommy had been engaged to marry a beautiful, dark-haired woman, Jan Ricardo. Daphne found herself obsessively thinking about Jan, and comparing herself unfavourably.

Like the narrator in the book, Daphne was introverted, disliking social events and small talk, whereas Jan/Rebecca were extroverted, flamboyant glamorous women. Daphne had found and read old letters between Tommy and Jan and was struck by the self-assured tone of her predecessor and the florid way she signed the R in her correspondence compared to her own spidery writing. Rebecca has this trait in the novel. Tragically, Jan Ricardo committed suicide at 39, throwing herself under a train on August 4, 1944.

Daphne was surprised by Rebecca’s popularity – and also that it was marketed as a romance. Today it is seen as a gothic psychological thriller.

On this read, I was struck by how passive the narrator is. Her very passiveness gives her power. I found myself empathizing more with the absent Rebecca. Even before arriving at Manderley, the narrator is ripping out pages from books that Rebecca has inscribed with her distinctive R. She began to irritate me with her inability to stay in the present and her paranoia.

When Maxim reveals his secret to his second wife, she barely seems to care about his admission.

I also had a lot more empathy for the archetypal crone, Mrs Danvers. She is loyal to her first mistress and she probably guessed the truth of what happened at Manderley. She genuinely mourns Rebecca and it must have appalled and infuriated her that Maxim marries such a young woman a year later.

Lily James as the second Mrs De Winter and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers in the Netflix 2020 version

There is something sickly and rotten about Manderley and its inhabitants. The overlong driveway with overgrown red rhododendron bushes. The sprawl of rooms with a web of secrets contained within.

Daphne and her children at Menabilly

 

Manderley – a conglomeration of Milton Hall in Cambridgeshire, where Daphne visited as a child and Menabilly, a Cornish estate that obsessed Daphne and which she leased from the Rashleigh family – has gripped readers since its first publication. She called Menabilly ‘her house of secrets’ and she loved it, as she admitted, more than she loved people.

That corner in the drive too, where the trees encroach upon the gravel, is not a place in which to pause, not after the sun has set. When the leaves rustle, they sound very much like the stealthy  movement of a woman in evening dress, and when they shiver suddenly, and fall, and scatter away along the ground, they might be the patter, patter, of a woman’s hurrying footstep, and the mark in the gravel the imprint of a high-heeled satin shoe.’

The writing is atmospheric and the words convey a haunting, ominous beat. There is a terrible inevitability to where the novel is leading us. ‘Rebecca has won,’ Maxim says at the novel’s closing chapter.

Rebecca is a dark novel filled with complex characters and shadows. I’ve no doubt that when I re-read it in another five years or so, I’ll have a different perspective on it.

 

The novel has been in print since 1938. In 2017, it was voted the UK’s most popular book of the last 225 years. It’s been adapted for film and television several times and we will see a new adaption in 2020 from Netflix. Not bad for a novel that Daphne declared in a letter to her editor when finishing:

‘Here is the book. I’ve tried to get an atmosphere of suspense. It’s a bit on the gloomy side. The ending is a bit brief and a bit grim.’

 

THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE AND DEAR OLD TABBIES

There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’ 
Even before Coronavirus stopped the world, I had begun re-reading my Miss Marple collection. I always find Marple a tonic in tough times, and her shrewd no-nonsense appraisal of people a great comfort.
I began in January with the first Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage (1930). The elderly spinster first appeared in short stories, later collated into The Thirteen Problems (1932). Miss Marple obviously wasn’t content with just being in short stories, and thankfully for those of us who love her, managed to break through into a full-length novel.
Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool.’
The Murder At The Vicarage introduces us to the world of St Mary Mead, an idyllic, seemingly sleepy English village in south-east England. It has a pub, vicarage, shops and Gossington Hall Estate. Miss Marple’s cottage is Danemead Cottage in Old Pasture Lane.
Colonel Lucius Protheroe, the much disliked church warden, is found shot through the head in the vicarage study. Everybody believes they know who’s responsible, including Miss Marple, one of the ‘old cats’ of the village, who sees everything, hears everything and knows everything! Miss Marple goes as far to declare there are at least 7 suspects who would want the Colonel out of the way.
Just before the unfortunate man’s death, Leonard Clement, the local vicar who narrates the story – and is one of the Seven Suspects – makes the tactless remark that ‘anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service’.
Some of the other suspects include the vicar’s wife, Griselda, a flamboyant character who is a lot of fun. She reminds me of Tuppence Beresfold. I suspect Christie enjoys these young and spirited characters – perhaps reflecting her young and spirited side. She was, after all, one of the first British women to surf standing up in Australia during her Grand Tour in 1924.
Agatha must have been fond of Leonard and Griselda as they also appear in The Body In The Library (1942) and 4.50 From Paddington ( 1957).
The Colonel’s second wife, Anne and her seemingly scatty daughter, Lettice.
Mr Dawes, the new rector under suspicion of stealing from the church collection plate.
Lawrence Redding, the rakish artist and ex-war veteran.
The mysterious Mrs Lestrange, a newcomer to the village.
‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’
The Murder At The Vicarage is filled with red herrings and twists. It also has a lot of humour and some really fun characters and observations on village life. Even in my Australian Blue Mountains village so many decades later, I can recognise some of the personalities Christie has so much fun with.  A Miss Hartnell is described as ‘weatherbeaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor.’ Agatha can sum up so much in so few words.
Inspirations for Miss Marple included the spinster sister, Caroline Sheppard from The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends.
I love Miss Marple because I appreciate that an elderly woman is given such power. Dismissed and overlooked by so many to their cost, Miss Marple is always observing and noticing. Nothing appears to unduly shock her.
At my time of life, one knows the worst is usually true.’ – Miss Marple
I enjoyed revisiting The Murder At The Vicarage. I love Vicar Leonard and Griselda and of course, I will always love Miss Marple. The plot is slightly convoluted and it’s not my favourite of Agatha’s books but it’s a classic Agatha mystery. I am now about to re-read The Thirteen Problems where Miss Marple first appeared in short story form.
Agatha Christie, reflecting on The Murder At The Vicarage, found it sound but thought it was filled with too many characters and sub-plots.
Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid has cited The Murder At The Vicarage as being the novel that inspired her to write detective novels.
Dorothy L. Sayers was so taken by The Murder At the Vicarage and Miss Marple, she wrote the following to Agatha Christie:
‘Dear Old Tabbies are the only possible right kind of female detective and Miss M is lovely… I think this is the best you have done – almost.’

Agatha Christie – The Duchess of Death

THREE HOURS

And You? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
Rumi (1207-1273)
I’m superstitious when it comes to Rosamund Lupton. Not only is she one of my favourite writers, but after reading Sister, her 2011 bestselling debut thriller, I won The Scarlet Stiletto Award. And so, in true writerly superstitious style, I always re-read one of her enthralling stories when I’m working on a book. A new Rosamund Lupton book is always cause for celebration. She is one author I’ll buy the paperback and then end up purchasing the hardcover as soon as I finish it.
Her current book Three Hours is highly lauded and concerns a school shooting set in rural, snowy Somerset. It sounded like a book I’d love, so on the perfect rainy weekend, I opened it with great anticipation.
Like her previous books, Three Hours is a page-turner, clever and stylishly executed. It filled in my rainy weekend admirably.
And this is what evil does, Neil thinks. It exposes your fear and cowardice, your vulnerability and your fragility, makes you confront your mortality; but it also finds courage and selflessness that amaze Neil. He thinks of white type of a white screen, the poem’s beauty invisible until the background screen is turned black.’
A progressive private school in Somerset in England is besieged by two masked gunmen. Children and staff are barricaded inside classrooms, the library and theatre. In a symbolic scene, books are piled against a door to keep the gunmen out. The identity of the gunmen become known, but the question of whether there is a third gunman remains. The multiple characters are given their separate viewpoints in parallel strands.
They include:
The liberal Headmaster, Matthew Marr, who is critically shot in the beginning of the book, and who recognises the voice of the gunman but is unable to voice who it is.
His heroic Deputy Head, Neil Forbright.
Daphne Epelsteiner, the drama teacher.
Two Syrian Refugees taken in at the school, Rafi, and his younger brother, Basi Bukfari. Both suffer from PTSD. Alone and vulnerable outdoors in the snow seeking his brother, with killers on the loose,  Basi is unable to determine what is real and what is genuine. Rafi and Bafi’s journey to England is memorable it its poignant detail such as Bafi’s shame over bedwetting. The brothers cling to the memory of the kindness of strangers and they are unable to trust the normal authority figures.
Not enough money for her, just him and Basi; ten thousand euros each to go via Italy, the safest route, the people smugglers, said. And oh for fuck’s sake, people are bored of this story, all that tugging misery, and you get fed up with desperate people and he gets that, he really gets that, because he’d rather binge-watch a series on Netflix, or listen to Spotify, or play Xbox or hang out with his friends too, who wouldn’t?’  
Detective Inspector Rose Polstein, a pregnant forensic psychologist whose role it is is to get inside the head of the gunmen in order to prevent the tragedy unfolding rapidly.
Beth Alton, an increasing desperate mother trying to get in touch with her son, Jamie, and her mental communications to him. I really enjoyed this character. Whether her action right at the end is something I could relate or believe in, I’m still thinking about.
Hannah, Rafi’s girlfriend who is left caring for the Headmaster, while trying to locate Rafi.
The book rises in intensity as social media picks up the school crisis and the police try to contain the rippling of it via social media to the world as different countries begin to wake up to the drama. Some of these scenes are fascinating for the research on technology and the experts having to encrypt messages and clues from computers with little time to do so.
There are several issues explored in Three Hours: hate crime, white supremacy, radicalisation, teenage alienation, extremism and refugees. The overriding theme of the book is Love.
‘Love is the most powerful thing there is,’ the headmaster tells his student. ‘The only thing that really matters.’
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse…’
The plot device of using Macbeth (the Syrian refugees have a copy of it from their father, and the school is staging it) works well although I’m still wondering if rehearsals would continue with gunmen at their school. The finale (no spoilers) with the trees, didn’t fully convince me, but visually it’s a spectacular scene.
‘Rafi told her once that for him it isn’t Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are the frightening characters, but First Murderer, Second Murderer, Third Murderer, men without names; unknown killers in the darkness.’
FIRST WITCH Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wrecked as homeward he did come.
THIRD WITCH A drum, a drum;
Macbeth doth come.
‘Oh hellfire, Daphne thinks, the tedious Norwegians have finished and the violence is about to start; a spreading evil that leads to children being murdered and men not being able to walk at night, and the world turning dark even in daylight.’
Like The Quality of Silence, some beautifully evocative writing comes from the poetic description of the landscape adding to the melancholy tension. The landscape becomes its own character:
‘A gust of wind batters the police Range Rover. Out of the window, the snowflakes are thick and frenzied, each one an insubstantial feather, weightless, but massed together they are piling on to trees, fences, hills of grass and ploughed fields. Everything weighted down and smothered; the landscape being suffocated.’
Three Hours is a stylish and absorbing read. It has remained with me after I finished the book and I know I will return to it. It’s a call for tolerance and love. I’d love to see it on the Reading List of all schools as well as on the big screen.  I can’t wait to see what Rosamund Lupton offers next.

author photo: Vicki Knights Photography

‘To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden
The moment in the arbour when the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.’
T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’ . Four Quarters (1936) 

MONSTER

As I write this, Australia is on fire. My family had to evacuate from our Blackheath, Blue Mountains home just before Christmas.

 

In a long string of unfortunate events, we were left without a working car and it was safer for us to leave with the great fire they call The Monster having entered the Grose Valley frighteningly close to our house.

Locals being advised by our incredible RFS as the fire approached

 

The Fire Captain at the local station said at an information evening we attended that he’s never seen a fire like this in his decades of fighting fires. The size of two trees combined, it crowns in places and it doesn’t obey the ‘normal’ rules of any fire. A fire christened The Monster by locals.

 

Like countless others we were packed and prepared to go for days. When you live in bushfire country you prepare early with a suitcase by the door. My daughter’s clothes took up half the suitcase. My own packing (somewhat less glamorous than Joan Didion’s famed packing list):

 

Tarot Cards,

Reiki Symbols

A notebook, pens

Books – The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (review to come), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Initiated by Amanda Yates Garcia

Photographs of baby Daisy

Ancestor photos

My mother’s wedding ring

Family documents such as Daisy’s medical folders, passports

Daisy’s diabetic equipment and medication

Sunhat

Cosmetics

Toiletries

Bach Flower Essences

Change of clothes for a couple of days

Hanako mist spray

Letters my father wrote to me before he died

The dog’s supplies and lead

The dog carrier

A lock of my father’s hair cut from his head when he died

 

Christmas plans had to be abandoned. We became addicted checkers of the Fires Near Me app and worried over elderly neighbours and our home.

We felt heartbroken for those who lost their homes. We wept over images of children whose heroic firefighting fathers had died.

 

We are enraged by a Prime Minister who chose to holiday in Hawaii with his family, and only returned because of public pressure. Then he partied on New Year’s Eve with fireworks in polluted Sydney skies and hosted a garden party with cricketers as people died and Australia was ablaze. The Emergency Minister, David Elliot, also shockingly chose his family holiday during this time of severe crisis. I’ve avoided ever posting anything political before but their actions went beyond political. This country will not forget easily the betrayal of the climate-change denying Liberal Party.

LISMORE ROSE our adopted Koala from the incredible Koala Hospital Port Macquarie

Heartbreakingly, our already fragile Koala population was decimated at the time of writing by thirty per cent. And a HORRENDOUS over a BILLION animals killed. 28 people have died. Over 2000 houses destroyed. An area four times the size of the Amazon Rainforest burnt.

The heavy plume of smoke choking Sydney for weeks caused record spikes in hospital admissions. When I travelled down to Sydney with my daughter, I was shocked by how polluted the air was. Sydneysiders in facemasks. An oppressive feeling in city streets. It felt as if I’d entered a science fiction novel, so terribly wrong and tilted.

Brighton Le Sands

Near where we were staying, the beach was packed with thankfully no smoke in the air. We walked the beach twice daily, feeling like aliens in this culture of bronzed people on jet-skis.

 

 

Women in hijabs ran on beaches with their small children. Palm trees waved their fronds against an unnatural salmon-coloured sky. We collected bag after bag of plastic and rubbish, hoping it would inspire others to do the same.

At night I listened to hoons in their cars. I constantly checked the Fires Near Me app before falling into a restless sleep. I would wake at 3am and check the app again to see if the flames had reached our street.

 

It was not the Christmas we had planned but we had a roof over our heads and a beach a short walk away.

I followed images of exhausted RFS service people. Blackened faces, their endurance stretched to the limit. Unforgettable images of wild koalas allowing Firies to give them water. A devastated farmer forced to shoot his scorched stock. A kangaroo found in a swimming pool, desperate for water. A Firie describing koalas screaming as their trees burned. Friends on social media begged for people not to share images of burnt koalas but I couldn’t let those last screams go unheard. I couldn’t look away.

 

The Firies, who sacrificed employment to fight fires unpaid. Several lost their own home while they fought to save a stranger’s. Some even had to take out loans to cover their mortgages. I marvelled over the goodness and the valiant nobility of these warriors who face fires bigger than two tall trees.

Australia feels tilted, shaking. White ash blazing us into a scorching and volatile dead world. It feels as if a doorway has closed.

broken koala image via #kassiissac

 

 

SUMMER STORMS AND STEPHEN KING

Hello,

Australia has been experiencing a summer of record-breaking heatwaves. As I write this post, my home state of Tasmania is suffering bushfires that firefighters have been battling since before Christmas.

 

In the Blue Mountains we’ve sweltered under high temperatures combined with dramatic summer thunderstorms with heavy hail, causing widespread damage to cars and technical equipment.

 

Summer is never my favourite season – more snakes, more spiders. I tend to hibernate under a fan, preferably with an engrossing book.

 

January passed in a pleasant haze of culling papers in my office, spending time with my daughter and reading. I’d yearned for a summer like the summers of my youth, lounging around the local swimming pool and reading. Vinegar splashed over my body in the hope of burning. Book smeared with coconut suntan oil, droplets from the pool and choc wedge smears.

 

I went through a big Stephen King stage as a teenager. I’d also read James Herbert but King, with his ballsy storytelling voice, was my favourite.

His quirky but realistic characters with their drawling Maine accents were a world away from my dozy Tasmanian village life, but I believed in them as I believed in the evil they faced.

 

 

Somehow his stories made my problems disappear as I fell into darkness filled with rabid dogs, school bullies, rampaging obsessive fans, haunted hotels, dysfunctional families and pet cemeteries. I even cherished a fantasy to become one of the characters in his book – journalist Ben Mears who returns to his small town in Salem’s Lot.

 

But as I grew older, Stephen King followed other paths with his pseudonym Richard Bachman and his Dark Tower series. I began reading more widely from a range of authors.

His massive doorstopper books with their gaudy vintage covers were given away by my parents decluttering their house, although I later returned to his excellent memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

My thirteen-year-old daughter, obviously inheriting my macabre bent, also became fascinated with horror. This summer I borrowed her copy of Stephen King’s It (1986), which was inspired by a Norwegian fairytale and devoured by millions.

 

A summer from long ago came flooding back to me as I was pulled into the sewers and nightmare truth of Derry, a normal-enough town on the outside, but with a dark energy permeating it which takes the shape of people’s fears.

I loved It. I enjoyed the weight of the hefty tome and hearing Stephen’s voice again emanating from the pages with his sly unveilings and gutsy storytelling. I cheered for the Losers Club, willing them to take on the town bullies and the monster in the drains they feel morally obliged to destroy, because It kills children.

Every January is going to be reserved for submerging myself in a Stephen King book as I catch up on his backlist. Sometimes in summer’s blazing heat we need to retreat into the darkness.

Further Links connected to this story:

Richard Flanagan article via Guardian: Tasmania is Burning https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/05/tasmania-is-burning-the-climate-disaster-future-has-arrived-while-those-in-power-laugh-at-us

Stephen King It inspiration https://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/it_inspiration.html

images used via Pinterest.

Carried Her So Far

Happy Birthday to Kate Bush and Emily Bronte.  Both born on this day, 30th July. Two unique women who made my world more magical, strange and burning bright.

 

 

photographer John Carder Bush from Cathy

I love the synchronicity of not only both women sharing the same birthdate but also their brothers iconic images: Branwell Bronte painting Emily and John Carder Bush photographing Kate for his beautiful books, Cathy and Inside the Rainbow.

 

Kate Bush’s poem to Emily inscribed on stone in West Riding.

Emily, by Kate Bush
She stands outside
A book in her hands
“Her name is Cathy”, she says
“I have carried her so far, so far
Along the unmarked road from our graves
I cannot reach this window
Open it, I pray.”
But his window is a door to a lonely world
That longs to play.
Ah Emily. Come in, come in and stay.

photographer: Gered Mankowitz