Elise McCune

Elise McCune is an Australian, Melbourne-based international author.

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Welcome to my website where you can see images of the places which inspire me and learn more about my stories.

Born in New South Wales, Australia, I moved to Perth, Western Australia where I raised my two children. I worked for ten years in the Western Australian Museum and during this time I travelled to Egypt and stayed in Cairo and Alexandria for an extended visit. I loved Egypt, its people and culture, and its history.

In 2016 I graduated from the  University of Iowa’s International Writing Program on fiction writing, centered on female authorial voices and female literary characters.

The online program was taught by Margot Livesey, Professor at the acclaimed Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of seven novels and one short-story collection; and Christopher Merrill, Director of the International Writing Program, Professor of English at the University of Iowa, and author of six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation

I have a fascination for the beautiful landscapes of Australia which I weave through my stories. A sense of place is important to me and I like to explore how characters are shaped by unfamiliar places. I enjoy writing dual narrative stories set in two time periods: the past and the present and I also explore the theme of how the past impacts on the present.

Love, regret and yearning, and nostalgia for the past are things that most people can relate to and love is the most important of these.

I receive wonderful letters and emails from my readers, I answer every one, and I am grateful that through my stories I have, in some small way, given people something special.

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Castle of Dreams is a poignant, luminous novel about two sisters, about a mother and daughter, a loved granddaughter, the past that separates them and the healing that comes with forgiveness.

Norwegian publisher Cappelen Damm published  Castle of Dreams in translation in April 2017.

With the castle setting and family secrets the novel fits into the gothic genre, but ironically sans the cold and dark of the customary gothic, swapping it instead for tropical rain forest setting. Elise has given us a novel of rare beauty that matches that of the exquisite forest setting.  Paula Xiberras, Tasmanian Times 

 

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I am currently writing my second novel. One narrative thread is set in southwestern Australia and the other in the lovely Tumut Valley in New South Wales, Australia with some chapters set in 1920’s London.

Book Club discussion questions are on this blog at the Castle of Dreams page.

You can buy a copy of Castle of Dreams here:

https://www.amazon.com.au/Castle-Dreams-Elise-McCune-ebook/dp/B01ASQ8X22

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/castle-of-dreams-2

http://www.booktopia.com.au/castle…/prod9781760291846.html

https://www.bookdepository.com/Castle-Dreams-Elise-McCune/9781760291846

Contact details:

https://www.goodreads.com/EliseMcCune

http://www.elisemccune.com

Email: elisemccune1@gmail.com

And please visit my Facebook author page for updates and to chat with me.

https:///www.facebook.com/elisemccuneauthorpage

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Elise McCune

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Spirit of Place-Tumut Valley

I thought I’d be finished ‘One Bright Day’ many months ago but it has taken until now to put the last full stop on the last page!

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Another month or two and I will be finished writing my new book. It has a working title of One Bright Day. 

The inspiration for this story came from a visit by my daughter to Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookshop in Perth, WA. As she was browsing its dusty shelves she picked up a book with pressed flowers between its pages and thought it might be a good way to start a story.

The early narrative thread (it is a time split novel) is set in the southwest of WA where I lived for several years on a vineyard so I know the area well, with detours to other parts of the world and finally, and most importantly, for this is where the heart of the story is, in the Tumut Valley where the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people lived for thousands of years prior to European settlement.

My story is about abandoned gardens…

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Literary Treasures

Reading Poems by Christina Rossetti last night, I wondered how the book had found its way to me for I knew I hadn’t bought it in any bookshop. It was first printed in January, 1906 and has ‘9’ written in pencil on the front end page and stamped in red is the inscription: ‘Red Letter Library.’

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A previous owner  copied a poem by Christina Rossetti on each of the end pages and marked with a little cross six favourite poems. I assume they were favourite ones and not ones to be avoided for ‘Goblin Market’ is amongst them.

No doubt I found the book in some obscure place: an opportunity shop or a second hand bookshop, perhaps in England but most likely in Sydney, Australia when I frequented such places and found many a literary treasure.

I Googled ‘Red Letter Library’ and discovered the graphic artist Talwin Morris (1865-1911) who was a member of the circle of artists surrounding the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow. Through his book designs, one of which is my Rossetti, Morris was able to introduce a wide audience to what was known as the ‘Glasgow Style’ that flourished at the end of the nineteenth century.

Morris produced designs for page layout, endpapers and title-pages as well, and his design work also extended to other branches of the decorative arts, including textiles, interior design, furniture and metalwork.

But I clearly remember where I found an ancient copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam illustrated by Alice Ross.  I once lived on a farm north of Perth, Western Australia and this little gem, long forgotten, was in a box containing far more mundane things like old farm accounts.  I don’t know who once owned it but surely it must have been a romantic.

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I have a little book called The Roadmender by one Michael Fairless who turned out to be Margaret Fairless Barber, born in May, 1869 at Castle Hill, Rastrick, Yorkshire. The Roadmender came with a yellowed clipping from a newspaper, a biography of Margaret,  that a previous owner of the book had slipped carefully between its pages.

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On the front end page is an inscription: Dear Mrs Derhaven With the love of her old friend JHS, 1906, with half the page inscribed with lines from the book. Mrs D was the original owner for it is a 1905 edition.

The name of a later owner is also inscribed, Helen B 27.9.55 and another name is circled in pencil, Julie K.

The Roadmender has certainly passed through second hand bookshops for a price of one shilling is scrawled on the title page in dark blue ink.

Tomorrow I will sit out in the sun and write my own name in these books.

The journey of any book can tell its own story if you take the time to look for it!

Elise 

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Castles

The first castles were built by the Normans and started with the wooden Motte and Bailey castles. They were eventually replaced by castles of stone.

Winner of England’s Booker Prize in 1990, Possession-A Romance written by A.S. Byatt is one of my favourite novels (a keeper on my bookshelf). Names in novels are of the utmost importance to most authors and A.S. Byatt used Motte and Bailey as surnames for two of her characters in the novel: Christobel LaMotte and Maud Bailey (Bailey was my grandmother’s maiden name). ’A masterpiece of wordplay and adventure, a novel that compares with Stendhal and Joyce.’ ~ Los Angeles Times Book Review. 

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From the back cover:

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Chateau de Chaumont, France

Castles are written about in literature, fairytales and children’s books. I wrote about a castle in the rainforest in my own novel Castle of Dreams. The castle ruins are in the far north Queensland rainforest and if you visit Paronella Park you can wander among the ruins of the castle built by Jose Paronella, a Catalonian immigrant, in the early twentieth century. When Jose was a child his grandmother used to read him bedtime stories about castles in Spain.

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I am not sure if my WIP will feature a castle but it is possible!

Have a lovely week:  dreaming, reading, and writing.

Elise 

 

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Gordon Square, London

I have set some of the scenes in my new novel in London in 1921.

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One of my characters, recently arrived from Australia is living in a flat in Gordon Square. In the opening scene of one chapter she is walking around taking in the sights of London: The weather was getting better and spring was in full bloom in the parks, the gardens awash with daffodils and bluebells. Later in the story I set several scenes in the park opposite her flat. Another character conveniently lives in a nearby house in Tavistock Square.

This area of London was one I frequently walked through when I lived in London some years ago. I loved the parks and the townhouses and the literary links to the past.

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The Square was home to members of the Bloomsbury Group. I found a book written about the group (sadly loaned and lost) in a second hand bookshop in Sydney when I worked in that city. While I knew about the group this book sparked my interest and through the years I have read many books about and by its individual members.

 

The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set— was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

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Looking out from the Church of Christ the King on to Gordon Square.

 Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2011  

http://www.patrickcomerford.com

And in the serendipitious way of things I found Patrick Comerford’s award winning blog. It was so exciting because my next novel will be set partly in Ireland and I can see from the brief glimpse I had of the blog that it will be helpful for my research. My new novel will have a touch of magic about it and of course a lovely garden that is linked to the story.

Have a wonderful week: reading, writing, dreaming.

Elise 

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Paddy Richardson-Through the Lonesome Dark

I met Paddy Richardson when we were on a panel together: Worlds at War: The Appeal of 20th Century Historical Fiction at the recent HNSA conference in Melbourne and in the course of my preparation for the panel I read the first pages of her latest novel Through the Lonesome Dark.

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I recently finished reading this wonderful novel. Paddy Richardson is a fine writer and her characters are so part of the landscape of the era the novel is set that it’s hard to believe they came from her imagination.

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Writing from a child’s perspective is never easy but Richardson does it with ease and as we follow Pansy on her journey from childhood to young adulthood I can only compare Richardson’s writing to Ruth Park. I also keep thinking Katherine Mansfield who had the same magic and immediacy that Richardson’s writing does.

Blackball where the story opens was named after the Black Ball Shipping Line, which leased land in the area to mine for coal. It was formerly known as Joliffetown and Moonlight Gully.

Richardson brings Blackball to life in the times surrounding the First World War. There is hardship and sadness but there is also much hope in the story.

Pansy is a strong  and delightful protagonist. Later in the novel Clem, who loves the mining life but volunteers for the war, is the protagonist. This gives the book its battle scenes and the underlying feeling that war is young men fighting old men’s wars.

From the back cover: For the men of the town, Blackball is the daily hardship of working the mine. For the women, it’s the dismal cottages with the piles of coal outside. Yet for Pansy, Otto and Clem, childrend of Blackball, it’s the treasure of the creek and bush and the richness of the friendship which binds them together. But, as Pansy soon realises, ‘grown up is serious’ and past promise cannot be kept.

Set in the times surrounding the Great War, Through the Lonesome Dark confronts and questions the loyalties demanded by family, friendship and love –– both at home and amongst the ravages of war –– and the hope of finding your way back.

Biography

Dunedin writer Paddy Richardson is a prolific fiction author. To date she has published two collections of short stories, Choices (Hard Echo Press, 1986), If We Were Lebanese (Steele Roberts, 2003), and seven novels, The Company of a Daughter (Steele Roberts, 2000), A Year to Learn a Woman (Penguin, 2008), Hunting Blind (Penguin, 2010), Traces of Red (Penguin, 2011), Cross Fingers (Hachette, 2013) Swimming in the Dark (Upstart Press, 2014) and Through the Lonesome Dark (Upstart press, May 2017). Four of the last five have been finalists in the Ngaio Marsh Award. Paddy has been awarded three Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship (1997), the Beatson Fellowship (2007), and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award (2011). Her work had been published in Australia (MacMillans), and translated and published in Germany (Droemer Knaur). Although she has turned to psychological thriller writing more recently, her first novel was a saga of five generations of New Zealand women, described as a ‘lyrical, slow-moving’ and ‘meditative’. Reviewing her more recent novel Cross Fingers, author Nicky Pellegrino wrote: ‘Part thriller, part social comment, part history, this is a very New Zealand story, stylishly written and compellingly plotted’.

Paddy’s work has appeared in journals, anthologies, including takahē and Landfall and on radio. It has been highly commended in several writing competitions, including the Katherine Mansfield and Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards. Paddy is an experienced teacher of creative writing and has been a speaker at many writing festivals including the most recent Dunedin Writer and Readers Book Week. In 2012, she represented New Zealand at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs.

She is presently working on her new novel, Cheerio Old Son, which is set during the First World War.

Through the Lonesome Dark is wonderful story written by an exceptionally talented writer.

Elise 

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Beauty in Thorns – Kate Forsyth

Beauty in Thorns is a book I was waiting to read after following Kate Forsyth’s blog during the time she was writing the story. Kate, is a wonderful writer and also one who is generous in sharing her writing skills and knowledge with other authors.

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~ Quotes from the backcover blurb.

‘A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.’

‘Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.’

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The story is written in mulitple view points~Lizzie Siddal, Georgie (Georgiana) Macdonald, Jane Burden, and later in the novel Margot Burne-Jones the daughter of Georgie and Edward (Ned)Burne-Jones.

Beauty in Thorns takes the reader on a journey. With mulitple view points Kate Forsyth has magically brought all the view point characters to life. It is a character driven story with a wonderful backdrop of the Pre-Raphaelite circle including as well as the aforementioned William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (a wonderfully romantic name).

Kate has had an obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite circle since, as a young uni student, she came across a copy of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, modelled on his lover, Jane Morris nee Burden. Kate bought the print (sacrificing food and bus fares fro a week).

Proserpine

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Beauty in Thorns is a treasure: exquisite writing, research woven through the story (research you can rely on) that brings the story to life, a book that makes you want to turn back to the first page to read the story again when you finish reading.

You can read more about Kate’s work on her website:  www.kateforsyth.com.au

Have a wonder week~dreaming, reading and writing!

Elise 

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Hedy Lamarr – Castle of Dreams

People often ask me who the woman on the cover of Castle of Dreams is so I thought I’d write a blog and tell you. The image is a photo of Hedy Lamarr a beautiful Austrian who made movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, November 9, 1914 – January 19, 2000) was an Austrian and American film actress and inventor.

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After an early and brief film career in Czechoslovakia that included the controversial film Ecstasy in which Hedy Lamarr is very briefly seen swimming in the nude and running naked, she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, and secretly moved to Paris. There, she met MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood, where she became a film star from the late 1930s to the 1950s.

At the beginning of World War II, Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are now incorporated into modern Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology, and this work led to their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr died in Casselberry, Florida on January 19, 2000, aged 85.  Her son Anthony Loder took her ashes to Austria and spread them in the Vienna Woods, in accordance with her last wishes.

Dreams of the Vienna Woods 

Have a lovely day: dreaming, writing, reading.

Elise 

 

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Tasmanian Times review Castle of Dreams

Rainforest Revelations
Paula Xiberras
14.07.17 6:38 am

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Elise McCune tells me she has been to Tasmania at least five times and loves the feel of the old buildings and of course MONA.

Earlier this year I spoke to Elise about her first novel ‘Castle of Dreams’ and how its idea originated in the discovery of a real castle in the Queensland rain forests by Elise’s actor daughter, Lisa McCune, when she was filming at Mission Beach.

The castle was built by Jose Paronella from Catalonia. For a time he worked in the Queensland rainforests and the castle covered in tropical rainforest helped heal his homesickness reminding him of his childhood home. Nowadays the castle is open to the public and a venue for events like weddings.

When the novel starts, the castle is a ruin that is visited by the granddaughter of Rose, one of the sisters who were the original inhabitants of the castle. The other sister was Vivian. The sisters were very close but grew apart after they both fell in love with the same man, a Second World War American soldier.

One of the wonderful features of the book is its subtle clues to the solving of a great mystery involving the sisters as well as seemingly ordinary events that carry great import. An example is an early scene when the sisters enter the bell tower and one of girls falls sustaining non-threatening injuries. This event long forgotten when reading the book details an event that has long reaching repercussions.

There are also beautiful descriptions that in hindsight can be seen as metaphorical such as the anecdote of the egg that is ‘clean and empty’. This again could be easily read over, yet is one of the subtle clues that demonstrates lives fractured like fragile egg shells

With the castle setting and family secrets the novel fits into the gothic genre, but ironically sans the cold and dark of the customary gothic, swapping it instead for tropical rain forest setting. Elise has given us a novel of rare beauty that matches that of the exquisite forest setting.

‘Castle of Dreams’ is  published by Allen and Unwin

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St Pancras Old Church London

I write time-split novels where the past impacts on the present and in my new novel  One Bright Day I have a scene set in St Pancras Old Church London. I lived in London many years ago and visited this lovely old church and adjoining cemetery. There is nothing more I enjoy than discovering churches new to me and wandering around old cemeteries. When I lived on a farm north of Perth  we’d always stop when we drove past an old country cemetery. There is something captivating about them, especially for a writer, imagining stories for those long ago people and the lives they may have lived.

St Pancras Old Church

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One of my characters walks through this gate to attend a London wedding.

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The Hardy Tree

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In the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, hundreds of old gravestones circle an ash tree. Of course, these were not how they were originally laid out. So, how did they get to this, their final resting place, as it were? And who was responsible?

Long before he became famous for novels like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (like any other aspiring writer) had to find employment with which to pay his way through the world. His chosen field was to be architecture.

When the church grounds were being cleared tomake space for the railway line, Hardy was a London architect’s assistant. He had the grim task of exhuming hundreds of bodies and removing their graves.

During the work Hardy ordered headstones to be placed under this ash tree. His reasons are unknown but Hardy was a keen naturalist and may have done it to prevent the tree being removed. Alternatively, he saved the stones to respect the people whose final resting place had been disturbed.

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Have a wonderful weekend, writing, dreaming, reading!

Elise 

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Castle of Dreams – AWW Sunday Spotlight

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Sunday Spotlight: Elise McCune
by TheresaSmithWrites | Sep 3, 2017 | Historical fiction, Sunday Spotlight | 0 comments
Welcome to Sunday Spotlight. Today our guest is Elise McCune, author of the historical fiction novel, Castle of Dreams.


When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?

I have always written but when my children were small it was mainly short stories. The catalyst to write was that I was a reader first and from my love of reading I became a writer.

How many novels have you written and published?

I have one published novel, one published memoir, and three books in the bottom drawer.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

The time I take to write a book is about eighteen months.

How has being Australian AND a woman impacted on your writing and/or writing career?

I am drawn to the beautiful landscapes of Australia and write about them so this impacted on my writing. Being a woman didn’t make any difference to my career.

What authors and types of books do you love the most?

I enjoy reading time-split novels with family secrets, mystery, and romance. I also read novels from the past like The Woman in White and Jane Eyre and novels by Kate Mosse and Pat Barker. My favourite book recently was Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar.

What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
Alice in Wonderland was a favourite and anything by Enid Blyton. I still read fairytales. As I mentioned in an earlier question reading was what inspired me to write my own stories.

What inspired your most recent book?

The Spanish castle in Castle of Dreams was inspired by a visit to Paronella Park where I walked amongst the ruins of a castle that a Catalonian immigrant built in the far north Queensland rainforest in the early twentieth century.

How much research do you do? As an author of Historical Fiction, how do you balance the demands of getting the facts right and telling a good story?

I read a lot of memoirs from the period I am writing about as well as diaries and letters. I find first hand accounts are not filtered through the eyes of someone from a later period. I love research but it’s no use trying to put it all in your story. I try to look at things through the eyes of my protagonist: if something is unusual for their period in time they will notice it but otherwise it’s part of their everyday life. If I need to research a particular piece of clothing for instance I do that when I am writing the scene.

Do you read your book reviews? Do you appreciate reader feedback and take it on board, even if it is negative? How do you deal with negative feedback after spending so much time writing your book?

As a first time published author I read all my reviews and I appreciate reader feedback, positive or negative. I don’t consider it negative if I learn something from these comments. I don’t take it personally and it doesn’t worry me at all.

How much planning do you do? Do you plan / plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?

I have a rough idea of where the story is going before I start writing. I get to know my characters as I write them. I had an outline for my work-in-progress that helped me get started but the story changed as I went along.

Have you ever had to deal with a situation where someone feels they recognise traits of themselves in one of your characters?

No because my characters and my story both come from my imagination. My characters are so real to me that if they walked through my front door I’d know them although I do let go of them when I have finished writing their story.

If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in?

The forties of the last century.

If you could sit down for an afternoon with an iconic person from history, who would you choose to spend that time with?

It would have to be Alexander the Great one of the greatest military leaders the world has ever seen. He was one of the most influential people in human history.
When did you discover the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge? Do you think the challenge has had any impact on the awareness and discoverability of Australian Women writers? Have you personally benefited in terms of exposure of your work to new readers?

I discovered AWW last year but it has only this year I joined the challenge. The challenge is definitely putting the focus on Australian women writers. I’m not sure if my work has been exposed to new readers but I have certainly become aware of more Australian Women Writers.

About Castle of Dreams:

A ruined castle deep in the rainforest holds a secret that unites three generations of women: two sisters who find themselves in love with the same man as the Second World War rages and, decades later, a young woman determined to uncover the secrets in her grandmother’s hidden past.

Growing up together in a mysterious castle in northern Queensland, Rose and Vivien Blake are both sisters and close friends. But during the Second World War their relationship becomes strained when they each fall in love with the same dashing but enigmatic American soldier.

Rose’s daughter, Linda, has long sensed a secret in her mother’s past, but Rose has always resisted Linda’s questions, preferring to focus on the present.
Years later Rose’s granddaughter, Stella, also becomes fascinated by the shroud of secrecy surrounding her grandmother’s life. Intent on unravelling the truth, she visits the now-ruined castle Rose and Vivien grew up in to see if it she can find out more.
Captivating and compelling, Castle of Dreams is about love, secrets, lies – and the perils of delving into the past.

Historical fiction fans might be interested to attend the 2017 Melbourne Historical Novel Society Australasia conference on 8-10 September.

The programme features over 60 speakers. You can read interviews with some of the participating authors at the HNSA blog.

Elise will be a speaker at the HNSA Conference Swinburne University Hawthorn, Melbourne, September 8-10

Visit our website to purchase tickets:http://hnsa.org.au/conference/buy-tickets/

Thanks so much to Theresa Smith for this interview.

You can check out all the AWW Sunday posts here:  australianwomenwriters.com/

I committed to review ten novels by Australian women this year. I am working to a deadline for my new novel but I will make sure I meet the challenge!

Elise

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