Elise McCune is an Australian, Melbourne-based international author.
Growing up in New South Wales, Australia, the daughter of a piano playing father, and a mother who filled their home with books and gardened, Elise learned the value of imagination and storytelling. She read prolifically and widely of books in both the school and community library.
Elise moved to Perth, Western Australia where she raised her two children. She worked for ten years in the Western Australian Museum before settling two hundred kilometres north of Perth on a five thousand acre farm and finally on a vineyard in Yallingup near Margaret River two hundred and fifty kilometres south of Perth. She now lives in Melbourne.
In 2016 she graduated from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program on fiction writing, entered on female authorial voices and female literary characters.
Her novel 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. It is a time-split novel set in Brisbane during the Pacific War, in northern California, and in the present day.
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
Native to South America and Brazil, the name jacaranda comes from a South American language Guarani and means ‘fragrant’.
Jacarandas are the loveliest of trees. Native to Central America and Brazil they flower across south Sydney in late spring. Sister Irene Haxton who grew jacaranda seedlings in jam tins at her private maternity hospital in Cronulla, where I was born, gave one to every mother as she left the hospital with her new baby.
Mrs Haxton would take her two boys to Penrith, where jacaranda trees grew and the boys would climb the trees and collect the pods.
My mother told me that when my father came to pick us up from the hospital, Mrs Haxton carried me, a new baby, to the car followed by a nurse carrying my mother’s bag in one hand and the jacaranda sapling in the other.
I never thought to ask my mother where she planted my jacaranda. Perhaps it was in the backyard of our modest Cronulla house, long since demolished of which I have no memory. And, I imagine Sister Haxton’s maternity hospital is no more.
Whenever I see jacaranda trees in full bloom, anywhere in Sydney or where I once lived, I’m suddenly nostalgic. I dreamed, after thinking about my birth tree, that one grew outside my bedroom window and rained purple on the leafy garden in late spring. It had a slender trunk, delicate leaves, and flower-clusters of violet-blue that bloomed amongst the stars on moonlit nights.
It is the first day of 2022, the perfect time, to think of birth and rebirth.
It’s time to start a new novel. It’s partly set in 1940’s Brisbane. I’ve written the prologue and a couple of thousand words of the first chapter. I love Brisbane and I’ve holidayed there many times. I’ve travelled to the far north of the state, staying at Mission Beach, and on visiting a ruined castle in the rainforest found inspiration there for my novel Castle of Dreams. I absolutely love research and going down the rabbit hole is fun but I warn you research is a long piece of string! I found a site on the Internet while researching 1940’s fashion. I will leave the details at the end of this post in case you are interested. It’s a wonderful asset for any writer and also for those with a love of in fashion in general. I hope you enjoy it!
As a writer I have to research the fashions of the time I am writing about and the 1940’s is definitely a period I love. In 1940, American, Claire McCardell introduced her ‘Popover’ dress. Though the wrap dress was originally introduced as a seven dollar utility garment, it quickly became a staple in her arsenal.
Seamwork’s Betsy Blodgett writes of the dress,
“McCardell came up with a denim wrap-front dress. It was simple, chic, and even came with an oven mitt… A version of the Popover wrap dress was included in collections for the rest of her career” (Deconstructing Claire McCardell).
McCardell’s easy to wear, fun, comfortable clothing, like the 1945 striped sundress and the roomy dress and coat ensemble from 1947 continued to be successful into the 1950s. Thanks to the wide appeal of McCardell and Norell, along with the work of London designers such as Hartnell and Amies, both the US and Britain hoped to continue leading fashion on the world stage after the war ended. While their international fashion profiles had increased, liberated Paris was eager to retake its status as the fashion capital. Thanks to Christian Dior, it certainly did.
McCardell’s designs were sporty, casual, and practical. She deftly navigated rationing restrictions and produced designs that went on to be classics. When wool and silk were limited in 1942, she looked to denim, seersucker, and jersey to create classic dresses and separates.
My 1940’s characters including Lili and Caro are sure to wear something similar to these fabulous fashions.
I think this image personifies the 1940‘s.
I’m imagining my character Caro just like this, full of joie de vivre, and rather beautiful.
Lot’s of fun to be had at dances during wartime.
There’s a very special scene I am imagining for my characters who no doubt will attend a dance as it was such a popular outing for young people in the 1940’s.
McCardell’s 1945 striped sundress.
McCardell’s , 1947 Pop-Over dress.
DETAILS: FASHION INDUSTRY OF TECHNOLOGY, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK.
The Fashion History Timeline is an open-access source for fashion history knowledge, featuring objects and artworks from over a hundred museums and libraries that span the globe. The Timeline website offers well-researched, accessibly written entries on specific artworks, garments and films for those interested in fashion and dress history. Started as a pilot project by FIT art history faculty and students in the Fall of 2015, the Timeline aims to be an important contribution to public knowledge of the history of fashion and to serve as a constantly growing and evolving resource not only for students and faculty, but also for the wider world of those interested in fashion and dress history (from the Renaissance scholar to the simply curious).
The Fashion History Timeline is a project by FIT’s History of Art Department. The Timeline offers scholarly contributions to the public knowledge of the history of fashion and design. Consistent with this mission, the Timeline’s written commentary, research, and analysis provided by FIT students, faculty, and other members of the community is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Unless specifically noted, images used in the Timeline are not subject to this Creative Commons License applied to the written work from the Timeline. While every attempt at accuracy has been made, the Timeline is a work in progress. If you have suggestions or corrections, please contact us.
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958). Pop-over, 1942. Cotton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.45.71.2a, b. Gift of Claire McCardell, 1945. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Claire McCardell (American, 1905-1958). Sundress, 1945. Cotton. New York: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.230. Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Claire McCardell, 1956. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Thanks to the Fashion History Timeline and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
There are some places in the world that are magical and Paronella Park in far north Queensland, Australia is one of them.
Jose Paronella was an immigrant from Catalonia who came to Australia in 1913 to build a new life for himself and his fiancé who was waiting for him back home. He worked first as a labourer cutting sugar cane, saved his money and bought farms, improving them, and selling them.
It was an impossible dream but the young man remembering stories his grandmother had read to him as a child about romantic castles decided to build one in the rainforest alongside a waterfall.
I was staying in Mission Beach not far away when I visited the now ruined castle. It was the inspiration for my novel Castle of Dreams. I was so fortunate that it was sold at the London Book Fair to a Norwegian publisher and thrilled when I saw the cover for The Castle in the Rainforest (the title for the Norwegian translation).
My new novel, Bright Spirit, is a story that is heartbreaking but also full of hope. I can’t wait for you to meet my characters: Lizzie and Adam, Mrs Rawlings, Connie, Ben, and Tom. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the novel begins in Creswick Creek, Victoria where Lizzie, a young orphan, can barely believe her good fortune when she is offered a home with strangers. Chance takes her to Ballarat, and its fields of gold, where she meets Adam, a man of God, and on to Moonta, a copper mining town, in South Australia, where to escape a life of poverty she unknowingly brings disaster into her life. It is a novel of love and desire in a time when it was dangerous to be a woman.
My story is inspired by one particular woman in history I could not forget after reading about her. Then, as these things sometimes do, by way of serendipity, several years ago I was a guest speaker at the Batlow Writer’s Festival. I was staying in a guesthouse, sadly destroyed in the recent devastating bushfires, with other authors, when one evening, as we sat around at the end of the day, drinking wine as one does, I mentioned my idea to a fellow writer. It was he who encouraged me to start writing Lizzie’s story. When I arrived home, even though I was writing another book, I started researching more about this women who has been long forgotten and so my story came into being. I went to Adelaide to research Lizzie’s life further, I lay flowers on her grave, and picked up a small stone from it that now sits on my desk.
Bright Spirit was an emotional book to write: women and men were not equal in the nineteenth century, I knew that,and women were trapped by poverty, I knew that too, but I was shocked by how being born a woman, could mean the difference between life and death.
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
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.
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.’ . . .
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.
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.
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.
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!
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, herolder 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.
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 agentswork 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.
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.
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 novelis like being a puzzle maker and with the help of serendipity the pieces are put together to make a whole.