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Monday, September 22, 2014

My novel BITTER GREENS comes out in the US tomorrow! Of course I am filled with hopes and dreams (and fears) about it ... it's impossible not to be. 

Writing can be a tough game.

Authors like me can spend years working on a novel, sacrificing our social lives, our peace of mind, and our health.

The rewards can be small. Few authors become a cultural phenomenon like J.K.Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. Many need to have a second or even a third job in order to make ends meet (not me, thankfully!)

We do it because we love it. We do it because its necessary to us, like breathing.

Yet forging a career as a writer has never been more fraught with difficulties than now. E-books, self-publishing, print-on-demand, global rights, book pirating, multi-media narratives, reader-assisted authorship ... The world of literature has never seen such sudden and earth-shaking changes.

Many authors are struggling to be able to afford to keep on writing.

So what can YOU do to help save a starving author today?

1) Buy an author's book.

Yes, I know this seems self-evident but, thanks to financial worries & busy lives, some people rarely buy books at all. We need to create a thriving literary community by buying books often. Buy books for yourself, for your partner and your children, as birthday and Christmas gifts, as rewards for good behaviour, as prizes for good work, as a special Friday afternoon treat, for any reason whatever. You can buy them in any format - e-books or p-books (traditionally published books) or audio books - the format doesn't matter, as long as you buy a book today!

2) Read an author's book.

If we all read every day as a matter of course, then we would all read many more books and so, as a matter of course, we'd all need to BUY many more books. That would, of course, be a great support to all the struggling authors out there. But reading every day will also enrich your life, set up new neural networks in your brain, stimulate your imagination, deepen your sense of empathy and compassion, and widen your knowledge of the world. 

 3) Listen to authors speak about their work

With more writers' festivals and conferences and literary events than ever before, you can go and listen to a writer speak about their inspirations and influences, their creative processes and creative challenges, more easily than any other time in history. Don't expect that these events should always be free - writers need to feed their children too! Speaking engagements can help supplement a writer's income, and allow them to keep on writing.  Many writers are engaging and entertaining speakers, and their words can help set your own imagination on fire. 

4)    Tweet about what you are reading

Social media is one technological innovation that can quickly & efficiently spread the word about an author's work. I tweet about every book I read - the title, the author's name, a quick glowing comment if I like the book, the publisher's twitter handle ... as much as I can fit into 140 characters.  If you aren't a tweep, post on Facebook. Share your thoughts via Google +, pin the author's cover to Pinterest, post a pic of it to Instagram, do anything you can to put the author's name and the book's cover out into cyber space. You have the power to create an internet meme - do it!

5) Write a review about an author's book

Nowadays you don't need to be a literary critic to write a review of a book you've loved. Reviews of books on reading sites like GoodReads, The Reading Room, Shelfari, LibraryThing, or on internet booksites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, The Nile, Fishpond, or Dymocks can help other readers decide whether to buy an author's book or not, and creates a lively online reading community. Start your own book blog, and visit other people's book blogs. It is easy enough to write a short review of a book you'v loved, upload it, and then cut and paste it to a number of different sites. Many internet bookshops offer incentives to readers to review what they have read. Remember to be kind. Writers are people too, and a cruel review can wreck their day. Be thoughtful and respectful as well as honest ... and maybe you could make a writer's day.

6) Talk, TALK, TALK about an author's book

Tell your friends, your family, your workmates, your friendly local bookseller about any book you've loved. Push it into their hands. Say 'you must read this book!' Start conversations with people on buses if you must. But talk about the book at any given chance you can. Because word of mouth is still the most powerful of all selling tools for books and it can't be bought, or manipulated, or faked. 

Now go forth, my friends, and see what you can do to save a starving author today!

Read more about BITTER GREENS and 

DRAGONCLAW is now available for FREE download on iBooks!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I have such exciting news that I've been keeping under my hat for a while now.

My first ever published book DRAGONCLAW: Book 1 in The Witches of Eileanan series is now FREE to download on ibooks for a limited time only!



I wrote DRAGONCLAW when I was an impoverished university student, undertaking a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Western Sydney and dreaming of being an internationally bestselling author.  I had quit work as a journalist when I was 25 years old and had (with my soon-to-be husband's support & encouragement) set myself the task of having a novel published by the time I was 30.

Well, the years whizzed past. Although I regularly had poems, stories and articles published, the much longed for novel contract eluded me. I'd been working on a novel for my MA thesis and had finished it, but now the long hot summer holidays stretched before me. Instead of going to the beach and partying like all my other friends, I decided to start work on something new. I had recently been totally enraptured by a fantasy series by the American writer Tad Williams, which had kept me reading late into the night, and so my soon-to-be husband said, 'you're enjoying reading that fantasy book so much, why don't you write one?'

Why not? I thought.

I remembered a dream that I had had when I was about sixteen years old, about a wood witch who lived hidden within the trunk of an ancient tree and one day discovered an abandoned baby lying in the tree's roots. I knew that the old witch had to keep the child safe at all costs, because she had some secret or some kind of power which was crucial to that world in which magic had been outlawed. 

That was all I remembered of the dream.  I used it as my jumping off point, beginning the story when the child has grown into a young woman and was facing her First Test as a witch. I wrote like a madwoman, totally obsessed with the story of romance, magic and danger unfolding under my fingers.

By the end of my university holidays I had written more than 40,000 words. I felt a seething excitement under my ribcage. I felt sure I had written something good. I packaged it up and sent it off to an agent and crossed all my fingers and toes, hoping the agent would agree.

 Only a day later I heard from Gaby Naher at Jill Hickson's Literary Agency. She told me that she loved it, and she thought she could definitely sell it. Could I send her the complete manuscript.

 Once I could breathe again, I had to tell her that I had not yet finished the book.

When can you get it finished by? she asked.

I'm halfway through a Masters degree, I thought. Working three days a week as a freelance journalist. I'm getting married in 6 months' time!

Two months, I said. 

So for the next two months, I did nothing but write. Everything else was put on hold. And I finished the first draft of 100,000 words in those two months. Gaby put the book up for auction, and three Australian publishing houses bid for it. Meanwhile, the book was also sold into the US, Germany and Russia.

On the 1st June 1996, I signed a three book deal with Random House Australia and with Tor Books in the US.

On the 3rd June, I turned 30.

So I made my self-imposed deadline by TWO DAYS!



DRAGONCLAW is the book that changed my life. I am now free to spend my days daydreaming, reading, making stuff up and writing it down, and knowing my books are read all over the world, in more than a dozen different languages.    

If you'd like to read the book that began it all for me, it is available FREE for a short time only on iBooks. Trust me, this is unlikely to ever happen again.

Here's the link:

BOOK REVIEW: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Friday, September 19, 2014

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

When I was a little girl, I spent many a long summer holiday with my great-aunts in the seaside town of Merewether, about an hour's drive north of my home town of Sydney.

I remember one year, when I was about twelve, lying on the floor in their living-room and looking through the bookshelves in search of something to read. My eye fell upon a novel called Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis, and I grabbed it eagerly. I loved the Narnia books - they were my all-time favourite books - and so I confidently expected I would love this book too.

The very first line both startled me and intrigued me:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.

It was clear at once this was not going to be a tale set in the magical, funny, wondrous world of Narnia, but something much darker and more grown-up. With a little shiver of anticipation, I lay down behind my great-aunt's green velvet wing-chair and gave myself over to the story, the first adult book I ever read.

Till We Have Faces was Lewis's last book, published in 1956, the year that he married Joy Davidman, the American poet and writer whose tragic death in 1960 was immortalized in the movie Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It is believed that Joy inspired Orual, the central character in Till We Have Faces.

The book is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of 'Cupid and Psyche'. I was not familiar with the myth when I read the book, but understood it easily, possibly because of the strong echoes the story has with that of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale.

In brief, the myth tells the story of Psyche, who wed Cupid, the God of Love; he gave her everything a woman could want except the sight of his own face. Her jealous elder sisters convinced her to take a candle and shine it upon her husband's face while he slept. Psyche did so, but a drop of hot wax fell on Cupid's face and woke him. Angry and disappointed, he cast her out and she had to undertake a set of seemingly impossible tasks before she could win him back.

Lewis said that the Cupid and Psyche myth had haunted him all his life. He tried to write it in poetic form, and as a play, before at last writing it from the point of view of the jealous older sister, Orual.

Originally the manuscript was titled Bareface, with an interplay of multiple meanings: Orual's facial deformity, which she hides with a mask; Psyche's mortal beauty; and the invisible gods Cupid and Aphrodite, who are supposedly the most beautiful of all. However, Lewis's editor rejected this title, thinking it sounded like a Western, and so Lewis re-named it after a line from the book in which Orual says, 'How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?'

When I first read this book, at the age of twelve, I don't think I understood what C.S. Lewis meant by this line. I do know that when I read it – and recognized it as the title and so having some kind of special significance – it stirred all sorts of new thoughts and feelings in me. I dimly realized that Orual could only grasp the truth about the gods – and so understand the meaning of the universe – once she had realized the truth about herself.

Here is the whole quote:

Lightly men talk of saying what they mean... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak openly, nor let us answer. Till that need can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

I was puzzled and moved and enthralled by this passage, and bookmarked it in my great-aunt's book with a frangipani flower that had fallen from the tree in their garden. That flower, now brown and withered and without fragrance, still marks the page.

With this book, C.S Lewis somehow taught me that stories can contain in them some kind of truth that cannot always be easily expressed, or understood with the intellect alone. He also gave me a deep and abiding love of stories that retell older stories, and find new truths hidden within the old.

THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST: Book 1 launched!

Monday, September 01, 2014

I am very excited to announce that Book 1 of THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST is being launched today

Four unlikely heroes 
Four mysterious gifts 
Four impossible tasks 
Five thrilling books

‘Tell your lord to beware,’ the wild man said, gripping Tom’s arm with a dirty hand. ‘The wolves smell danger in the wind.’

The Impossible Quest is set in the faraway land of Wolfhaven. It tells the story of four friends who are forced into undertaking an impossible quest to try and awaken the legendary sleeping warriors of the past.

Tom is the son of the castle cook, trained to scrub pots, not fight. Lady Elanor is the daughter of the Lord of Wolfhaven. She has been protected all her life and is not equipped for a dangerous journey through the wilderness. Sebastian is a squire who dreams of being a knight, but has a tendency to fall over his own feet. Quinn, an orphan, is apprenticed to the Grand Teller, and likes to think she knows everything.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked by deadly enemies, and the lord and his people have been forced into slavery. An ancient prophecy says that four sleeping warriors are hidden deep beneath the castle and that, with the help of a spell, they can be awoken to fight for Wolfhaven. The only problem is, the spell calls for seemingly impossible ingredients:

When the wolf lies down with the wolfhound 
And the stones of the castle sing, 
The sleeping heroes shall wake for the crown 
And the bells of victory ring. 
Griffin feather and unicorn’s horn, 
Sea-serpent scale and dragon’s tooth. 
Bring them together at first light of dawn, 
And you shall see this spell’s truth.

Hunted by sinister bog-men, led by a knight with a helmet of boar tusks, Tom, Elanor, Sebastian and Quinn have only the last gifts of the Grand Teller to help them – an old flute that makes no sound, a wooden pendant of a dragon curled around amber, a moonstone ring, and a wooden talisman of an old man’s face with a beard of oak leaves.

Together they must learn about courage, compassion, and trust, if they are to survive and succeed in their impossible quest.

Watch the cool THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST trailer or go THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST website to read a sample chapter! 


Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I have loved fairy tales since I was a little girl. 

I was first given a book of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ when I was seven, and in hospital. I had been cruelly savaged by a dog as a baby and spent the first ten years of my life in and out of hospital, suffering high fevers and seemingly endless operations to repair a damaged tear duct. 

Reading that book of fairy tales were such an escape for me, and yet, also a comfort.
I could imagine myself riding a winged horse, soaring free of my narrow white hospital bed, escaping to have marvellous adventures somewhere else. 

The world of fairy tales was filled with beauty and mystery and romance and strangeness, all the things my hospital ward was lacking. In fairy tales, blinded princes were healed as I wished to be. In fairy tales, imprisoned maidens won their way free. 

I read that collection of fairy tales to tatters, and was always hungry for more. 

One day, when I was about ten, I discovered a book called The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon on my school library bookshelf. I began reading it as I walked home from school and was instantly entranced. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale and is full of charm and whimsy. I was so engrossed I walked straight past the end of my street and could possibly have kept on walking for miles, if a neighbour had not driven past and honked me back to the real world. 

That book has been such a talisman for me all of my life that I named my own daughter Eleanor (after the writer), nicknamed Ella for short (after the heroine). 

That book began my love of fairy tale retellings. A year or so later, I read The Stone Cage by Nicholas Stuart Gray, a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ told from the point of view of the witch’s cat. Of all the fairy tales I loved, ‘Rapunzel’ one resonated with me the most – perhaps because I too had been a young girl locked away from the world, longing for escape, perhaps because the injuries to my eye meant that for long periods of time, I was half-blind and in pain, as the prince had been.

I began to imagine writing my own retelling of Rapunzel before I had even finished reading the book. I love The Stone Cage, and Nicholas Stuart Gray is, I think, one of the greatest children’s writers ever. Nonetheless, I needed my own retelling of the tale to be from Rapunzel’s point of view, and to give some sense of the terrible loneliness, fear and despair she must have endured. 

When I was twelve or thirteen, I read When We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis. I had found it on my great-aunt’s bookshelf while staying there one summer, and I read the whole book, cover to cover, while lying on the floor on my stomach behind her over-stuffed tapestry armchair. It was an utter revelation. Dark and strong and full of anger, it showed how well-known tales – in this case, the story of Cupid and Psyche – could be turned utterly inside-out when told from the point of view of the supposed villain of the tale. 

I began to imagine writing part of my own Rapunzel retelling from the point of view of the witch. She had always puzzled me. Why had she wanted to lock Rapunzel in the tower? What happened to her after the story ended? 

As I grew up I devoured the work of Robin McKinley, reading her wonderful retellings Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Beauty and Deerskin. I also loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, North Child by Edith Pattou (also published as East), and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. 

Then I read Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, the first time I had read a retelling of a fairy tale written for adults. I knew at once that was what I wanted to do – write a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ for an adult audience.

For me, it was always a story about sexual desire and power. I never understood how it could be told as a pretty bedtime story for little children, with pictures of a smiling girl combing her hair in a tiny tower wreathed with roses. I knew, gut-deep, that Rapunzel was a far darker story.

So I began to think seriously about my own retelling. It took me seven years to write Bitter Greens – a powerfully symbolic number in fairy tales – and the book ended up very different to how I had first imagined it. As well as telling the story from the point of view of the maiden in the tower, and the witch who put her there, I also tell the story of the woman who first wrote the tale – the utterly fascinating 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

So why do I love such retellings? Because they illuminated the dark and hidden depths of fairy tales, the most mysterious and magical of all narratives.  

INTERVIEW: Josephine Pennicott, author of Currawong Manor

Friday, August 29, 2014

I'm very happy to welcome my dear friend and writer Josephine Pennicott to the blog today. She is the author of the brilliantly creepy and suspenseful Gothic murder mystery Currawong Novel, which I enjoyed immensely.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Definitely! I’ve always felt as if I straddle different worlds. I do meditate a lot in an attempt to quieten my mind, so I can receive the impressions of the project I’m working on. I believe in the power of daydreaming, and not overstimulating your brain in order to access deeper levels of imagination. It’s something I’ve actively pursued over many years. I’m just about to take up transcendental meditation, so I’ll be interested to note the effects on my writing. When you stop trying to control and distract your mind and allow your brain to become bored, ideas can be whispered by the muses. I often feel uneasy, when on public transport or out and about, to see so many people strapped to their little machines, not allowing the quiet space to unfurl in their mind for daydreaming and creativity to flourish.    

Have you always wanted to be a writer? 
From when I first discovered books such as Enid Blyton’s, I wanted to be a writer. I was an insatiable reader as soon as I learnt to decipher the mysterious markings that made my heart race just to look at them. Words always had a calming, soothing effect on me. I remember my mother removing my book from me at the dinner table once and I immediately began reading the labels on jars. I find bookstores and libraries calming spaces. I just didn’t think it was possible for me to actually become a writer. My classmates can still relate stories of how I held them spellbound with tales made of simple props in the classroom, such as a biro and its cap (a gnome and his helmet). My English teachers were very disappointed when I chose to enter nursing rather than pursue my writing.

My father always encouraged my love of words but I had a couple of beliefs that blocked me. One was that you couldn’t make money from writing; and I was in a hurry to leave school, see the world and make money. The second belief was that to lock yourself away writing was a self-obsessed pursuit, when you could be actively pursuing a path of service. It seems blindingly obvious to me now how foolish and untrue those mental blocks were – but I believed them. It took me becoming incredibly burnt-out and despairing about the career path I was on – and travelling to India to consult with a well-known guru – to return me to my childhood dreams and fantasies.

It’s a long story, but his basic statement was: “If you don’t use the gifts you are born with, it’s an insult to God.”

Or as that American guru, Bob Dylan also says, “Do what you must and do it well.”

When people going through cancer treatments and difficult circumstances say how much my book helped take their mind off their problems, I realise I’m actually doing the service I always wanted to do. I will always consider nursing to be one of the greatest service professions, but I knew inside myself it wasn’t my soul’s calling. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Tasmania in Oatlands, a small village in the Tasmanian midlands. It’s a very pretty historic village which boasts of having the most sandstone buildings in Australia. I spent my early years in Papua New Guinea having a most Papuan Swallows and Amazons type childhood. I now live in the inner-west of Sydney in a tiny brick cottage with my writer husband, David Levell and our daughter, Daisy. I like to write, read, go for walks in nature. I enjoy the opera, art gallery, theatre, spiritual and cultural pursuits, but mostly I enjoy simple pleasures – a walk in nature, my book-club, birdwatching, a picnic, excursions with my family around Sydney or the Blue Mountains, a pot of tea, a good book and a bath. I am happiest when I’m in my garden shed, writing. I’ve worked a wide variety of jobs over the years to support my writing at different times. I also have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts where I majored in painting.  

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for Currawong Manor?

I had the opening line: The bush kept its secrets well. I also had an image of a young blonde-haired girl running through the Australian bush in a long white dress. I could see around her currawongs that appeared to be menacing the child as she ran through the bush. I also saw that same little girl drowned in a waterhole, and her father was holding her:  I didn’t know if he was screaming in anguish, because he had attempted to rescue her, or if he had killed her. I was curious to find out... I had the symbol of keys in my mind and a strange-fairy tale looking house in the Blue Mountains. I knew all of these elements would work well together in the gothic landscape of the Blue Mountains.

The story was also inspired by a real life murder in the Blue Mountains when my husband was working at SBS television. It made me realise how vulnerable we are when we’re alone in the bush. I spend a lot of time in the bush alone and often spook myself speculating what could be around the next corner.

And throughout my art school years I was always drawn to the 1940s Australian Modernist painters such as Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. And I was also fascinated by the glamorous lives and personalities of the life models for artists such as Pearl Goldman, Norman Lindsay’s life model who modelled for him between 1938-1945.   

Poet’s Cottage, my Tasmanian sea-fishing village mystery, was inspired by a real-life cottage I fell in love with on a Tasmanian family holiday. The house was called Poet’s Cottage and I had several major scenes of that book down before I left. I also had an image of a little girl playing in the snow with her sister and she walks into the house and down the cellar steps where she witnesses her mother being murdered. 

I’m really very visual when I work.  

How extensively do you plan your novels?

It varies with each book. For Poet’s Cottage, which was written out of contract, I plotted very loosely and free-fell into the story. I didn’t know who had killed Pearl Tatlow until I came to that point. I remember the shock I felt when I realised the killer, and when I looked back over the manuscript I saw the plot threads had led me to that point. I love it when the subconscious works so cleverly. 

With Currawong Manor I had tighter deadlines and plotted it out a bit more. The book I’m working on now needs to be written fairly quickly, so I have to know exactly where I’m going. Because my books have twists, I need prior knowledge of some of them, but it’s always a delightful experience when the book starts to emerge on its own and surprises you. My favourite way of working is to begin with the images and ideas that I’ve been brewing away with for years and allow the story to dictate itself.  

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I’ve actually woken from a dream today, which I might be able to use for a darker crime novel further down the track. Dreams often give me titles and images to work with. When I was at art school I was fascinated by the surrealist painters and their work with the unconscious. I still find dreams a really fabulous place to connect with muses.  There’s a quote by Jorge Luis Borges: “Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.”

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

One thing that did surprise me when writing Currawong Manor was the character of Dolly. From the very beginning of the book, I knew she was going to be an important character. I couldn’t figure out exactly why, or where she had come from. I realised months after finishing the book, that when I was growing up there was a young girl who lived with her mother in the bush and attended school every day. I knew they lived a very simple lifestyle in the wild and didn’t have electricity or any mod cons. She would walk for miles to attend school. I hadn’t consciously thought of this girl for many years, but my unconscious had remembered her and she became a part of Dolly. There’s also another part of the story (which I can’t mention because of spoilers) but as soon as I began writing the scenes, newspapers began reporting the twist I was writing about!

Also – Pearl Goldman turned up to speak at Norman Lindsay’s house in the Blue Mountains when I was working on an early draft. This was an amazing bonus to hear stories from one of the life models who had inspired the character of Ginger in Currawong Manor.

And in 2012 when I was working on the book, the Sydney Museum kindly put on an exhibition called Homefront Wartime Sydney: 1939-45. Perfect timing for scenes I was working on!  

Where do you write, and when?
I have a garden writing shed which we had built in our courtyard garden amongst the palm trees and large tea tree. It’s a very lovely space, and without internet access I tend to get a lot of work done. 

Elizabeth Taylor is the patron saint of the shed. I have wallpapered it in a Laura Ashley paper; my German publishers liked it so much they used it for their Poet’s Cottage cover (Dornentochter in Germany).

If I’m not in the mood for the shed, I write in bed (which I find cosy and womb-like) using a wooden lap table for my computer that my father-in-law made.

I try to write every day, seven days a week. With a nine-year old daughter, it’s not always possible, but that’s what I aim to do. I show up when I’m feeling deflated, over-it, joyous and every mood and shade in-between. My best writing is often done in the very early hours (from 4am). It’s hell to get up, but once I’m writing the words flow so much faster when the moon is still in the sky, the birds have yet to begin their morning cries and I’m surrounded by the dreaming household.

What is your favourite part of writing?

My favourite part is the early drafts of a book when the story is emerging onto the page. I love filling notebooks with images and ideas and getting to know characters. I find that process so exhilarating and joyous. It’s the work that brings me all the satisfaction.  

What do you do when you get blocked?

I don’t tend to get blocked. But when I feel I’m falling out of the story, I would try to meditate. I limit the internet and either take a walk or have a bath to find what I’m attempting to bring forth from inside myself.  

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Reading poetry and reading across all genres of writing. Looking at art books, Pinterest online for visual imagery. The Art Gallery of New South Wales. Nature itself always inspires me. Being in the bush, or by the ocean. I keep scrapbooks and clippings of newspaper articles that interest me. I use everything around me for inspiration. I play games with myself when I’m out, trying to notice as many things as I can, because I feel we are all on auto-pilot a lot. I un-name things as well for example: if I didn’t know that was a tree, what would I call it? If I had just arrived from another planet, what would I think a supermarket was? These games might sound silly, but they help you to think outside the box a lot and wake your brain up. Biographies of other artists help as well. You realise that success often has a huge back-story to it and it gives you inspiration to keep going.      

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

I do tend to follow moon cycles with a lot of my writing as I believe in there being more opportune times in the natural world for new beginnings and endings. For example, with my blog, I would do posts on favourable moon days, rather than a ‘negative’ cycle. I have a few crystals around and before starting work every morning, I say a prayer, an invocation to the muses to be with me. I also find it helpful to write the journal pages that Julia Cameron talks about in her book The Artist’s Way, but I don’t do the journal pages every day. I also try to avoid social media and read instead from a few pages of a book that inspires me or a poem before I start. I’m actually a big believer in the power of ritual for creative projects. Affirmations, visualisations. I’m a believer!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This is an almost impossible question as there are so many I really love! Plus, I have so many writer friends that I’m terrified of leaving someone out, so to be careful I won’t name any contemporary Australian writers. But some of my long-standing other favourites are: 
Agatha Christie
Erin Kelly 
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine 
Mo Hayder 
Donna Tartt 
Kate Mosse 
Daphne du Maurier 
Robert Louis Stevenson 
Sarah Waters 
Isabel Allende. 

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that doesn’t sacrifice page-turning absorption for strong, poetic imagery. And vice-versa. Characters that remain in your marrow long after you’ve closed the book. Writing that makes you see the familiar in a different way. A book that transforms your present circumstances, making you dread the last page approaching: you keep trying to slow down your reading, but you have to keep turning the pages long after the witching hour. The book you close and think, ‘God, if only I could be that good! Even half that good.”

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Just DO IT. Don’ t talk about doing it on blogs, twitter or Facebook. Just do it. Read a lot, write a lot. Write every day when possible, even if it’s only for twenty minutes. Support the industry you want to be a part of by buying books and don’t only buy books that you see featured in Spectrum. Support all sorts of authors. Don’t wait for the perfect moment or circumstances to evolve before you begin. Now is the perfect time. Don’t overstimulate your brain; quieten your brain. Believe in yourself even when the rest of the world doesn’t. Write the book you would love to read. Create a space where there’s no internet access to write. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Too may people give up too easily. As Stella Adler says: ”You really do have to have the skin of of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose”.  

What are you working on now?
I’m working on another mystery novel, set in Tasmania between the 1950s and 1920s. It’s an idea I’ve had brewing for quite a few years. It relates the ripple effect of what happens in a small village when the town’s most popular girl is murdered. The working title is Sweetwater and I’m loving watching it emerge.

You can read my review of Poet's Cottage or visit Josephine Pennicott's website


SPOTLIGHT: Josephine Pennicott on Picnic at Hanging Rock

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Today on the blog, Josephine Pennicott talks about the haunting Australian classic Picnic At Hanging Rock and how it helped inspire her new Gothic mystery, Currawong Manor, which is set in the Blue Mountains.

Please welcome her! 

A Dream within a Dream” – Joan Lindsay and some other influences on Currawong Manor.

One of the cinema experiences that haunted me throughout my adolescence was Peter Weir’s 1975 film of Joan Lindsay’s mystery novel Picnic At Hanging Rock (1967). The dreamy, surreal juxtaposition of Victorian schoolgirls and the Australian bush seemed to imprint itself through my being. Even discovering later that the dreamy on-screen effect was achieved by placing a bridal veil over the camera has never diminished its power. It remains one of my very favourite movies to this day.

When I came to Joan Lindsay’s book, I was relieved to see how faithfully Weir kept to her story. Joan must surely give hope to all aspiring novelists, as she wrote Picnic At Hanging Rock in her mid-sixties – her only work of adult fiction – in just four weeks. It was written in a frenzy where she felt as if she totally lived the novel. Lindsay's original draft had a final chapter in which the mystery was resolved. 

At her editor's suggestion, Lindsay removed it before publication, but it eventually appeared as The Secret of Hanging Rock in 1987, three years after Lindsay’s death. The lost chapter suggests that the girls encountered some sort of time warp, which fits Lindsay's interest and emphasis on time.

I believe the editors and publishers were correct in cutting the original ending, because Picnic At Hanging Rock works best as a unsolved mystery.  The girls have somehow succumbed to a magical, yet natural Australia, and are forever lost - possibly within a remnant of ancient dreamtime. 

It was genius marketing at the time, because nearly everyone I knew believed it was genuinely a true case. Joan herself refuses to discuss how true the book was, which has only added to its appeal. In the book’s forward, she says, “Whether Picnic At Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year 1900, and all the characters who appear in the book are long dead, it hardly seems important.”

But there was another mystery regarding Picnic At Hanging Rock and the author. Watching a documentary where Anne Lambert (who played the bewitching, enigmatic Miranda) recounts that one day she wandered away from the crew in full costume, to explore some of the rock. A middle-aged woman seemed to come from nowhere, rushing at her in great excitement, calling her Miranda and saying how much she had missed her. This woman was Joan Lindsay. She never referred to Anne by her name and seemed to really believe she was the Miranda of her book.

Another Joan Lindsay  mystery is that Picnic At Hanging Rock has watches stopping when they are at the rock. Through this device, we know we are now in a world without time – a world between worlds. There have been several reports from people of their watches stopping at Hanging Rock:  Joan Lindsay was a ‘watch-stopper.’ She claimed just by sitting next to somebody she had the power to stop their watch. She had this gift all her life, but could not explain it. Her absorbing autobiography is called Time Without Clocks.

I relate deeply to Joan Lindsay with her fascination with the mystical and her appreciation of the Australian landscape. in my novel, I used currawongs as a link to the eerie natural world which remembers through some primordial brain a wrongdoing long-forgotten by recorded history.  

Birds represent life in the heavens, higher paths of knowing. Birds that are black represent mystery, magic, secrets, transition and transformation. In the early days of European settlement in Australia, the unfamiliar currawong calls were mistaken for the cries of ghosts, so haunting and unfamiliar were they. Just as Joan Lindsay’s Picnic At Hanging Rock has long haunted me.

BOOK RVIEW: Currawong Manor by Josephine Pennicott

Monday, August 25, 2014

Currawong Manor
Author: Josephine Pennicott
Publisher: Macmillan Australia. 
Age Group & Genre: Contemporary/Historical Parallel Narrative; Gothic Mystery. 
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: I bought it. 

The Blurb:
When photographer Elizabeth Thorrington is invited to document the history of Currawong Manor for a book, she is keen to investigate a mystery from years before: the disappearance of her grandfather, the notorious artist Rupert Partridge, and the deaths of his wife, Doris, and daughter, Shalimar. For years, locals have speculated whether it was terrible tragedy or a double murder, but until now, the shocking truth of what happened at the Manor that day has remained a secret.

Relocating to the manor, Elizabeth interviews Ginger Flower, one of Rupert's life models from the seventies, and Dolly Shaw, the daughter of the enigmatic 'dollmaker' who seems to have been protected over the years by the Partridge family. Elizabeth is sure the two women know what happened all those years ago, but neither will share their truths unconditionally. And in the surrounding Owlbone Woods, a haunting presence still lurks, waiting for the currawongs to gather...

An evocative tale set in the spectacular Blue Mountains, Currawong Manor is a mystery of art, truth and the ripple effects of death and deception.

What I Thought: 
Currawong Manor

is an atmospheric and dramatic Gothic mystery set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The narrative has two threads. The first is that of a modern-day photographer who is invited back to the house that once belonged to her grandfather, a famous artist in the 1940s who disappeared mysteriously after the tragic death of his daughter and wife on the same day. Elizabeth interviews one of her grandfather’s muses, an elderly, flamboyant and quite fabulous former model and actress named Ginger. Her story provides the second narrative thread. Ginger is the only one still living who remembers what happened on that tragic day so long ago.

But as Elizabeth digs deeper into the mystery of her grandfather’s disappearance, she begins to fear that someone at Currawong Manor may not want her to discover the truth …

The two stories intersect in all sorts of interesting ways, and the whole book is imbued with a Gothic atmosphere of menace and strangeness. I was kept guessing right up to the end, and was still surprised by the denouement which deftly tied all the threads together in a most satisfying way. 

Josephine's blog


SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Tales Reimagined with Kate Forsyth and Natasha Mitchell

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I've been chatting about the strange, dark history of well-known fairy tales with Natasha Mitchell on ABC Radio National's LIFE MATTERS show over the last four months. 

Here are the links to all the podcasts for your listening pleasure, plus the round-ups I've been posting on the blog. 

Read on  ... if you dare ....

Edward Burne-Jones, 'Sleeping Beauty'

Sleeping Beauty Podcast


Snow White Podcast

My post on SNOW WHITE

Aya Kato, 'Rapunzel'

Rapunzel Podcast

My post on RAPUNZEL

And the talkback session with me, Natasha and Jack Zipes from last year! 

SPOTLIGHT: Spike Dean & her fairy-tale-inspired art

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spike Deane is a friend of mine who does the most exqusite fairy-tale-inspired art - she is exhibiting her work at the moment and I just had to share some of it with you. It is so beautiful.

Spike says:

My inspiration comes from stories, particularly those of folk and fairy tales, and I like to read them all! I can’t say enough how reinterpretations and retellings inform my visual arts practice. 

Collecting different impressions of a story, from old tales and new, academic papers, poems, short stories, comics, novels and of course lots of images of illustrations and sculpture (hello Pinterest) assists in critically examining the tales and feeding the creativity well.  All the words and ideas bubble around in my head until one particular concept comes forward, demanding to be made. 

In my work I focus on the narrative elements of metamorphosis and becoming, for folk and fairy tales for me encourage us to believe that change and transformation are essential aspects of the human condition. That is why, I think that Kate’s character Isabeau/Khan’tinka from the ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ series is a favourite of mine, she very much embodies the power of transformation and personal growth.

Whilst many of my glass pieces draw on the magic of the woods and forests my newest body of work is based on the shape changing Selkie. It was Margo Lanagan’s novel ‘Sea Hearts’ which rekindled my interest in Selkie tales. 

From that point I read every Selkie retelling I could get my hands on, though it was an article on Midori Snyder’s blog (on the Swan Maiden’s feathered coat) that really got me thinking about the role that the ‘Selkie’s Coat’ plays in the tales. The skin/coat then became in my interpretation, the symbolic core of the myth. It signified change, transformation or becoming within the story. The shed seal skin, rendered someway in glass was the image in my head, demanding to be made. That was the beginning to these works in glass and textiles.

Thank you to all the folk and fairy tale writers and researchers. Know that your words and ideas have an ongoing effect on my arts practice.

Fragments of poems often become my titles, two pieces I named from Carol Anne Duffy’s ‘Little Red Cap’: ‘the breath of the wolf in my ear…’ & ‘he held a paperback in his hairy paw…’ Duffy’s words are so fitting for the pieces I couldn’t imagine anything better.

One of my favourite quotes from Jack Zipes:

"Inevitably they find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies.”

My next exhibition is a group show called Silhouettes - Red Gallery, Fitzroy. September 24 - October 11 2014.

The works for this exhibition are inspired by the fiction subgenre ‘urban-fantasy’; where folk tale creatures dwell in city streets, where a sliver of magic stands out like a rainbow on a rainy day, a glimmer of elusive enchantment. The outline of the silhouette, like a folktale offers us just enough clues to fire up the imagination and then asks us to fill in the detail from our own store of memories and dreams. 

Charles De Lint is one of my favourite authors in this genre. I always loved his character Jilly Coppercorn who paints fae folk in city streets. In my early 20's I wanted to be just like Jilly. Does anyone else have a fictional role model?

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