Elise McCune

Elise McCune is an Australian, Melbourne-based international author

Contact details:

Email: elisemccune1@gmail.com

http://www.elisemccune.com

https://www.goodreads.com/EliseMcCune

Born in New South Wales, Australia,  I moved to Perth, Western Australia where I raised my two children. I now live in Melbourne.

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

Castle of Dreams, published by Allen & Unwin 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.

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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Elise McCune

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Charlotte Bronte

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Charlotte Bronte was born on 21st April 1816 at Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England.

‘Since 1857, when Elizabeth Gaskell published her famous Life of Charlotte Bronte, hardly a year has gone by without some form of biographical material on the Brontes appearing—from articles in newspapers to full-length lives, from images on tea towels to plays, films, and novelizations,’ wrote Lucasta Miller in The BronteMyth, her 2001 history of Brontemania.

I read Jane Eyre when I was eleven. I reread it constantly that year and it is still on my bookshelf and  read every year. I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte some years later having found it in a second hand book shop in Sydney. To me it was the definitive book on Charlotte Bronte’s life.

I enjoy Victorian literature for it’s often gothic tropes and the gothic has informed part of the narratives in my own writing.

As a child I read about Scottish heroines locked up in castles, dark and gloomy and cold. Castles are more often thought of as being in Europe or the Middle East but I discovered one in the far north Queensland rainforest of Australia. This led me to writing Castle of Dreams. I’m sure the books I read in childhood have been absorbed by osmosis for when I visited the castle ruins at Paronella Park I also imagined a graveyard (perhaps similar to the graveyard at the parsonage) and a tower covered in rambling vines and I included both in my story.

The Bronte Parsonage 

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Storytelling has always been part of every culture since the beginning of time and I look forward to exploring the Dreamtime stories in our Australian Aboriginal culture. What a wealth of magic and mystery waiting for me to read about.

Chapter 38 Conclusion which includes one of the most famous lines in literature.

CHAPTER XXXVIII 

Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the
parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church,
I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking
the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said –

‘Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning.’  . . .

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Charlotte Bronte died 31 March 1855 (aged 38)
Haworth, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Notable works: Jane Eyre, Villette.
Spouse Arthur Bell Nicholls (1854–1855; her death)

Have a wonderful week of writing, reading and magic.

Elise

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Harlequin Herstory Contest 2020

I was a finalist in Harlequin Books, Australia wide Herstory contest. I wrote about the woman in my work-in-progress who was indeed a strong woman although terribly wronged by the mid-nineteeth century society in which she lived.

This morning in the mail I received these two historical novels from Harlequin Books. I read and write historical fiction so they are perfect for me and I can’t wait to read them. I also feel it’s a good omen for my own novel, Bright Spirit, and I hope to have it finished before too long. 

Have a good day, and remember, no matter where in the world you live, all things pass. 

Elise xx

 

 

 

 

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Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair

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When I lived in London one of my favourite places was the Mount Street Gardens a quiet  residential area in the heart of Mayfair where I spent peaceful summer afternoons reading or writing. The public gardens are a sanctuary hidden behind red-brick mansion blocks and the neo-Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception. I didn’t live in Mayfair but how I wished I did. I visited London recently and found that the gardens hadn’t changed, it is still the same beautiful space.

Mount Street Gardens has large London plane trees, lawns, plants and shrubs, including laurels and hollies and camellias. Park benches that have been donated by or in memory of people who have loved and used the garden line the paths.  If you are ever in the gardens you might notice in a warm and sheltered spot an Australian silver wattle (a touch of home for this Australian author) and there is a Canary Islands date palm. The gardens provide a home for birds, including robins, magpies, and blackbirds.

The green and open city squares, parks and gardens are an integral part of London and they often have connections to writers from the past and are perfect for a novelist to use in a story. I wrote about Gordon Square, and Tavistock Square where Virginia Woolf once lived, in my recent novel.

My novel that is in draft stage warrants such a setting and my protagonist sets off one morning from a Victorian mansion in Mount Street, for a destination that will change her life forever. And even though it was pouring rain that morning the gardens are so familiar to me it was an easy scene to write.

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I wrote about an American serviceman in my novel Castle of Dreams and by serendipity discovered a US connection to the gardens during the era part of a new novel is set (I write dual narrative stories set in the past and the present although my WIP is a story of the heart and in a different genre) when I read about a bench inscribed, ‘An American who did not find a park like this in New York City’.  During World War Two, the American Embassy was situated in Grosvenor Square and began to accommodate many US government offices, including the headquarters of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the  European headquarters of the United States Navy. I later discovered many of the benches were donated by  US citizens who had enjoyed the gardens.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my protagonist meets an American, perhaps a serviceman maybe a spy in the Mount Street Gardens!

In the meantime keep safe in these strange times.

Happy writing,

Elise 

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Best Books I’ve Read in 2019

Best Books I’ve read in 2019

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I’ve read some wonderful books this year, some for research others for pleasure, some not published this year, some from my ‘to be read’ pile that keeps growing like Jack’s beanstalk. Like most writer’s I have many books but some are so special I reread them, treasured books found over the years in second-hand bookshops, op-shops, bookstores, and some gifts from family or friends. I haven’t numbered the list because each book is special in its own way.

THE REBECCA NOTEBOOK by Daphne Du Maurier

 If one of your favourite all time books is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier you will love this book. As a writer it’s always interesting to have a glimpse into the mind of other authors and the craft of writing. I read Rebecca at a very young age, our home was filled with books, and luckily for me there was no restrictions on what a young person could read. The Rebecca Notebook is the perfect companion for Rebecca and outlines how Rebecca was written.  Daphne describes how she came upon a secret house, hidden deep in the Cornish woodland, that became the setting for her most famous novel. It’s a treasure to be reread often. 

RISING GROUND by Philip Marsden 

A celebrated non-fiction writer, Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground explores the idea of the search for the spirit of place and takes the reader on a walk through Cornwall’s ritual sites. It explores the relationship between man and the landscape. How can one not love a book that explores Cornwall? 

THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN by Tim Smit

It was once the estate of the Tremayne family, in Cornwall, and when WW1 came it lost most of its staff and the garden of more than a thousand acres fell into decay. It became a ghost garden. The book is the story of its rediscovery and restoration. If you love gardens as much as I do this is a book for you to read. On my bookshelf I have always had books about Cornwall and the magic of that place never fails me. Although my new book is set in Australia it has a link to Cornwall. I was transported to that lovely garden by this book. 

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING BY Delia Owens 

This New York Times Bestseller was a gift from my daughter. A murder mystery and a coming-of-age story it is an exquisite book. The narrative is poetic without embellishments, the setting is a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. I’ve read it twice this year and each time I find more to admire. It reminds me of books like Green Mansions and Cross Creek. If it’s the only book you have time to read between now and the end of the year do so because it will stay in your heart and mind forever. 

ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan 

I love books set in WW2. Briony Tallis is thirteen and misinterprets what is a flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the family gardener. Her innocence of the world of adults begins a chain of events that alters the lives of all three.  It was a book that explored guilt and shame and is one that I read every couple of years and each time find other layers.

TOBY’S ROOM by Pat Barker

This book is an all-time favourite of mine. With a backdrop of WW1 it is a story that moves effortlessly between the past and the present. The story of Elinor Brooke, her  older brother, Toby, Kit Neville and Paul Tarrant is a narrative of the hardships of war, love and betrayal. It is not only the soldiers on the front but those left behind on the home front, who suffer. Once you read any of Pat Barker’s novels you will want to seek out her others. A brilliant novel that I return to often. 

THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kate Morton

I found this quite different to Kate’s earlier books but I loved it the most of all. It was a unique story and made the reader work hard (which is as it should be) and the different parts of the story wove together effortlessly. A very gifted writer who spins a web and draws you in.  I hope it’s not too long before her next book. 

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by J. L. Carr

The story of damaged survivor of WW1, Tom Birkin, this novel explores the power of art to heal and restore. Tom is spending a summer uncovering large medieval wall-painting in a village church. There is something about war stories and the power they have to engage the reader that makes for a powerful story. War is something I have never personally experienced (for which I am grateful) but with older family members lost to war and survivors of conflicts that I know personally, to me thoughts of war are almost like an inherited memory. A beautiful, beautiful story. 

Happy Reading! 

Elise 

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Writing a Novel – the First Draft

I’m half-way through writing my new book and it’s the one I’ve been waiting to write for a long time. I am lost in the world of story and I can imagine no other place I’d rather be.  I’m enjoying the process of bringing my characters to life one page at a time.  I have a basic outline but I feel free to change it as I go along to suit the direction of the story. I write about 90,000 to 100,000 words for my first draft. I aim for 1000 words per day but if that doesn’t happen that’s fine and sometimes I write more. When I finish a 3000 word chapter it’s one that I have worked hard over. I cannot fly through a first draft and leave behind spelling mistakes and rambling dialogue. Every writer is different.

My new story has a working title of Bright Spirit and before I began writing this book I visited the various  areas where much of the story is set and read a few books on the subject matter which of course led to more research. However, research is a long piece of string and writers need to know when to stop. So I don’t do a lot of research in the beginning but I do know enough about the characters and setting to start writing. By the time I start the first draft I know who my main characters are and also some of the minor ones. My main characters don’t change but minor ones are sometimes deleted or I add new ones.  

I read somewhere that writing a first draft is like pushing a pea uphill with your nose and I agree!  For me, it’s a time of hard work and struggle, and I am heartily pleased when I put that last full stop on the page. When I finished writing my last book I can honestly say if my characters had stepped through my front door at that moment I’d have known them because they had become part of my family. But it’s then I let go of them.

Like most writers I have a notebook, for my last novel I had five, but this time I only have one, and I don’t read them again. I disposed of about ten old (large) notebooks earlier this year plus about 100,000 words from a ‘might be used file’.  A notebook is very handy. 

I always know the ending of a story (although it can change). Bright Spirit is a straight narrative written in first person so it is easy to jump from an earlier chapter to a later one.

I was asked recently about my writing day. I write most days for three to four hours in the morning. I am very methodical in backing up my files on a memory stick and/or emailing them to myself. I work in Pages, the Apple version of Word, and then convert the file to Word when needed. Most of the publishing houses, editors and agents  work in Word. 

A writer doesn’t produce a book all by themselves. It takes multiple input from many people to get a manuscript ready for publication. It’s something worth working hard to achieve. 

Good writing,

Elise 

 

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Serendipity in Writing a Novel

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Serendipity does not come from Latin or Greek, but rather was created by a British nobleman in the mid 1700s from an ancient Persian fairy tale. The meaning of the word, good luck in finding valuable things unintentionally, refers to the fairy tale characters who were always making discoveries through chance.  I would like to do more research on the word Serendipity.

While I’ve written about the magic of serendipity in the past I was recently asked what sparks an idea for a novel. Serendipity is a powerful and mysterious happening that leads you in one direction like the flight of an arrow to its target: an advertisement, overhearing a conversation, something you read, a place you unexpectedly visit.  It’s something to be aware of. For my novel Castle of Dreams it was an unexpected visit to the ruins of a castle in the far north Queensland rainforest. It was discovering during my research into the American military presence in WW2 Brisbane that Australian and American servicemen went out to the castle every Saturday night to dance with their Cairns and Innisfail girlfriends under the silver glitter ball in the ballroom. I started to write and had to keep writing  it was if a door to the past had opened and if my characters had walked in through my front door I’d have known them immediately. All the young women and men who came out to the castle would have passed away by now, all but forgotten. Those nights when they danced in the glittering ballroom have left no trace on the present day but if you listen with your heart you will be with them.

The ruins of the castle in my story are now a tourist attraction called Paronella Park.  http://www.paronellapark.com.au

I am researching a new novel, Bright Spirit, and serendipity is at work again.  I cannot walk past a second hand bookshop without going in and recently I found a copy of a book that was written by a person who lived and worked in the remote area where my story is set. In the course of my research I would probably have come across this book but it might have been in many months time and so not as useful as it is now.  

Bright Spirit will not be a dual timeline novel like Castle of Dreams, much as I enjoyed writing Castle of Dreams I am tired of dusty attics, grandmothers with hidden pasts and secrets waiting to be discovered, and people (mainly granddaughters) in the present just waiting to discover them. Hopefully an author might come up with a fresh take on the genre that has flooded the market in recent years. 

Serendipity is the moment you know the bliss of having followed your heart and you have trusted your intuition and had faith in the unknown. To write a novel  is like being a puzzle maker and with the help of serendipity the pieces are put together to make a whole.

Happy Writing, 

Elise 

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Books I Have Loved

A book that takes you on a journey is a friend for life. These are books I have loved.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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It began with a letter, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road in London. Helene’s witty letters are responded to by the rather stodgy Frank Doel of 84 Charing Cross Road. A relationship that lasts across the ocean and the years. Delightful!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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Wuthering Heights was Emily’s only novel, published in 1847 under the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’. It was controversial at the time because it challenged strict Victorian ideas regarding religion, morality, and social classes. It is now a classic of English literature and should be read by the fire on a dark evening with a storm raging outside the window.

Cross Creek  by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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A delightful memoir about the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling, author of The Yearling, in the Florida backcountry. Originally published in 1942, Cross Creek has become a classic in modern American literature. It is the story of Marjorie’s experiences in the remote Florida hamlet of Cross Creek. She has a deep-rooted love of the earth, and it is one of my all-time favourite books.

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

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Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Francaise first tells the story of a group of Parisians as they flee south; then it follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Most of all it is a novel of hope amidst war and one to cherish.

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley 

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The first time I read this book I fell in love with the large house and the fragrant camomile lawn that stretched down to the Cornish cliffs. The young characters dazzle with their exhilaration and the older characters have secrets. Mary Wesley paints a  vivid picture of wartime London. She is the most witty writer I have read. It is a book I read at least once a year.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

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I discoverd this book and its author this year. The novel features stories told by three siblings, Jook-Liang, Jung-Sum and Sek-Lung or Sekky. Each child tells their own unique story, revealing their personal flaws and differences. It is set in Vancouver’s Chinatown and takes place during the 1930s and 1940s.  I read the book quickly and I now have two other Wayson Choy novels on my to be read pile. The Jade Peony is a wonderful book.

Elise 

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The Lost Gardens of Heligan – Cornwall

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From the Garden of Eden in Christian tradition gardens are typically thought of as a safe enclosure as opposed to the Australian bush or the European forest.

I first read about the lost gardens of Heligan in the wonderful Kate Morton novel, The Forgotten Garden, with all its mystery, romance and a garden it inspired me to read more about the garden that was the inspiration for Kate’s novel.

Heligan, seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, is one of the most mysterious and romantic estates in England. A genuine secret garden, it was lost for decades; its history consigned to overgrowth.

At the end of the nineteenth century Heligan’s thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty”. The outbreak of WW1 was the start of the estate’s demise as its workforce went off to fight in the trenches; many sadly never to return

This was a story played out in many of the large estates throughout Britain’s war period.Unlike many other estates, however, the gardens and land at Heligan were never sold or developed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Heligan House itself was eventually sold and split into private apartments.

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After decades of neglect, the devastating hurricane of 1990 should have consigned the now lost gardens to a footnote in history. But the gardens have been restored and The Lost Gardens of Heligan, by Tim Smit is a book that tells the story of the gardens.
The symbolism of gardens is something that has been
with us for thousands of years, and to me, there is nothing
like being in a garden on sunny day,  a cup of tea at my elbow,
and a book to read. And, Bella drowsing under a daisy bush
as cats do.
Enjoy time in a garden or take a walk in a park,
and most importantly, stop and smell the flowers.
Elise 

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John Tradescant the Elder

I first read about John Tradescant the Elder in Phillipa Gregory’s novel Earthly Joys a novel that I reread at least once a year. I love reading about the history of gardens and the people who lived their lives creating and collecting botanical treasures.

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John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s to April 1638)

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John Tradescant the Elder, the father of John Tradescant the Younger, was an English naturalist, gardener, collector and traveller, born in Suffolk, England. He began his career as head gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House. Cecil sent Tradescant to the Low Countries for fruit trees  which was the start of his travelling to collect rare and beautiful plants and trees. He made gardens at Salisbury House in London and he designed gardens on the site of St Augustine’s Abbey for Edward Lord Wotton in 1615-23. In 1630, he was engaged by King Charles 1 to be Keeper of his Majesty’s Gardens, Vines and Silkworms at his queen’s small palace, Oatlands Palace in Surrey.

On all his trips he collected seeds and bulbs and assembled a collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography which he housed in a large house, ‘The Ark’, in Lambeth, London. The Ark was the prototypical Cabinet of Curiosity, a collection of rare and strange objects, that became the first museum open to the public in England, the Musaeum Tradescantianum.

He was buried in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth, as was his son; the churchyard is now established as the Garden Museum.

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Gardens are what that binds all my novels together and I can think of nothing more beautiful.

Have a wonderful day,

Elise x

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The Road of a Naturalist

There is nothing more helpful to a writer than to walk in nature.

The Road of a Naturalist, by Donald Culross Peattie, published in 1948.

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It was then that I discovered that the desert dandelions and Mojave asters and many other flowers close up at night. And other flora, nocturnal, steals into bloom. All day long one lax and weedy plant had looked dead, its flowers withered. But by twilight this wild four-o-clock secretly opened its rose-pink calyces and emitted a faint odour.

The West is a kingdom of evening primroses; though I knew many species, still I was unprepared for the dune primrose I found in the desert dusks. Its crepuscular flowers are like as those of a wild rose when they open, but insubstantial as spider floss, great moth like petals languidly expanding as if still oppressed with the long siesta of the day.

Naturalist  is a favourite book of mine. How can one not love the words written by Donald Peattie, I read a page or two when I feel the need to be absorbed by this quiet American voice that speaks so eloquently of nature’s beauty.

Enjoy a week of reading, walking and writing.

Elise

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