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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s to April 1638)
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.
Gardens are the thread that binds all my novels together and I can think of nothing more beautiful.
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.
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.
It is very quite in my garden other than a group of magpies singing their early morning song. In my WIP I am writing about a small herb garden in 19th century Australia while in previous works I have written about different types of gardens so I thought I’d share some of my research with you.
My novel Castle of Dreams featured a rainfores and a walled garden. Often, by serendipity I am guided to what I am to write next, and it happened with my WIP and recently Iran won awards for a film called Castle of Dreams (I keep getting Google alerts about this) at the Shanghai Film Festival and I am reading a book that features a castle. Gardens and castles are connected.
Textures and shapes are important in the overall structual design in Persian Gardens so as to harness the light. Iran’s dry heat makes shade important where trees and trellises feature as shade and pavilions and walls block the sun.
The Persian garden integrates indoors with outdoors through the connection of a surrounding garden with an inner courtyard. And often architectural elements such as vaulted arches are added between the outer and interior areas to open up the divide between them.
Persian Garden Layout on Carpet
Culture and identity in a society can be represented in the architecture and the meanings intertwined with it. In this sense, the architecture and design are the interface for transferring meaning and identity to the nation and future generations. Persian gardens have been evolved through the history of Persian Empire in regard to the culture and beliefs of the society. the patterns of design and architecture in Persian gardens and the meanings intertwined with their patterns and significant elements such as water and trees. Persian gardens are not only about geometries and shapes; but also manifest different design elements, each representing a specific symbol and its significance among the society.
Garden has been defined as ‘the purest of human pleasures and the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man’ (Bacon 1883). According to Hunt, gardens are “concentrated or perfected forms of place-making’ (Hunt 2000). Garden is also perceived as a symbolic site, resulting from the human’s attempts to materialize Eden on the earth (Alon- Mozes 2004). In the Greek text of the Bible, a garden has been expressed as a “paradise”. In Hebrew “Eden” is translated to an unidentified region or country. In Persian literature, the word garden “pardis” derives from the word “paridaiza” which literally means “walled garden“ and it has been summed up as a luminous and perfumed place, populated by a number of angelical and beautiful creatures (Babaie 1997).
A mystical feeling for flowers and a love of gardens are integral parts of ancient Persian gardens. The Persian garden is a manifestation of supreme values and concepts and is well-known as a bridge connecting the two worlds of matter and meaning.
The philosophical design concept of Persian gardens is believed to be rooted in the four sacred elements of water, wind, fire and soil. The geometrical design of Persian gardens has been reflected in Persian carpets, potteries and visual arts. The other distinctive feature of Persian gardens, which contributes to the introspective characteristics of ancient Persian people, is the wide application of thick brick walls, which surround the entire rectangular plan of the garden. Other traits of Persian gardens include: the application of perpendicular angles and straight lines, ponds and pools to supply the water and highlight the scenic landscape view, simultaneous use of evergreen and deciduous trees, planting of various types of plants and consideration of focal a pavilion known as Kooshk.
I’m so glad I discovered, serendipity definitely, this very enlightening, well-written, and researched article. If you have an interest in the gardens it’s well worth reading.
I like to weave a little magic through my stories. Writing a novel is rather like taking a magic carpet ride for who knows where you’ll end up? Most times lately it’s in a garden.
Reference: Leila Mahmoudi Farahani, Bahareh Motamed and Elmira Jamei.
Deakin University, School of Architecture and Built Environment, 1 Gheringhap St, Geelong; 3220, Australia
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution on License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Enjoy your week, reading, writing, dreaming and working in or creating a garden.
Persephone Books is my favourite bookshop in the world. I live in Australia and discovered this bookshop online. Since then the people at Persphone Books have kindly sent me The Persephone Biannually. The first one I received (I have kept them all) was No. 9 Spring/Summer 2011 and the most recent No. 25 Spring/Summer 2019. I also have two catalogues, 1999-2011 and 1999-2017 these can now be found online
The people at Persphone Books are charming and when I was in London last year (I took the photo above) I visited the shop in Bloomsbury for the first time. I was fortunate to meet Nicola Beauman and Lydia. I bought Nicola’s book, A Very Great Profession which I enjoyed very much.
And, they stop for tea and cake at 4 o’clock.
If you are in London make sure to visit this wonderful bookshop, it’s just around the corner from the Charles Dickens Museum. We loved wandering around this lovely part of London with the past all around us. I keep seeing, in my minds eye, Persephone Books at 4 o’clock on a rainy London afternoon, the kettle on the heat, and slices of cake, Victoria sponge perhaps, on flower-covered plates.
From Persephone Books website:
The Persephone shop and office is in Lamb’s Conduit Street. Our Grade II Listed building was built in 1702–3 and for some years was on the northern edge of London. The street was developed by Nicholas Barbon, an economist, quoted by Marx on the second page of Das Kapital, who invented fire insurance after the Great Fire of London. Formerly called Red Lion Street, the present name derives from the conduit provided by a William Lamb, from which water ran through open wooden pipes down to the city. ‘Plenty of panelling and staircases of this date remain behind some of the later re-fronting (eg. No. 59)’ comments the modern Pevsner, praising ‘a lively local shoppping street, a rarity now in inner London, with enjoyable C19 shopfronts’.
The basement remains virtually unchanged (even the beautiful twisted balusters so typical of Barbon’s buildings are still in place) and, for reasons of cost, will remain so. The ground floor is now the office of Persephone Books, with the wooden tables and bentwood chairs in place, the mangle in the west-facing york-paved yard, the shop front painted Persephone grey.
I first read Daphne du Maurier when I found old hardback copies of her books with their beautiful wrap around covers on my mother’s bookshelf and these books were the start of my obsession with all things Gothic. Having an interest in Australian Gothic it’s on my ‘to be read’ list to read more of our 19th century Australian writers who wrote in the Gothic genre.
I wrote a post on 29 th October, 2016 called ‘Gothic Literature’ in which I spoke about Australian Gothic Literature and listed some of my favourite books in the Gothic genre.
Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) used traditional Gothic motifs. Her motifs are: dark romances, a fascination with the past, the supernatural, and the magical intermingled with the realistic. And contain psychological insight through characterisation and representation of fear and the sinister and macabre .
Her short stories, such as ‘The Birds’, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘The Apple Tree’, take Gothic themes and add new twists. ‘The Apple Tree’can be read as the story of a woman haunting her husband from beyond the grave but it can also be viewed as a chilling meditation upon mental disintegration.
Daphne du Maurier was foremost a storyteller and that’s what I love about her novels and short stories. They draw you in and you can’t let go of the characters, ever!
Rebecca herself is dead when the novel starts and is the perfect example of a character and not a ghost, who makes not a single living appearance, but haunts the imaginations of the living protagonists. Favourite characters all.
I read all Daphne du Maurier’s novels and short stories, often found preloved in second hand bookshops, before I left school, The mystery and magic of her story telling and the haunting darkness and complexity of her work makes me return to them often.
Other favourite characters are Phillip and Rachel in My Cousin Rachel and Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn.
In the same way as Thomas Hardy is forever associated with Wessex, and Charles Dickens with London, so Daphne du Maurier is forever associated with Cornwall. Cornwall gave du Maurier the freedom to write free from the distractions of London life. I have several books about Cornwall on my bookshelf including Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier.
Daphne and her two sisters
Have a wonderful week and include storytelling, writing and reading.
Thanks to Greg Buzwell, Curator for Printed Literary Sources, 1801 – 1914 at the British Library. His research focuses primarily on the Gothic literature of the Victorian fin de siècle. He is also editing a collection of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ghost stories, The Face in the Glass and Other Gothic Tales, for publication. The text in Greg’s article is available under the Creative Commons License.
I wrote about a WW2 photographer in my own novel Castle of Dreams and I wrote about light as a means to find my way into the story.
Light streamed in through the window, warmed the varnished timber panelling of their compartment, and encased Vivien with Robert and William, like insects trapped in amber.
Reimagining the lives of famous people who have left an historical legacy is challenging. I recently read ‘Becoming Mrs Lewis’ by Patti Callaghan and the author inhabits Joy Davidson the wife of C S Lewis. It is a wonderful novel. Now I can’t wait to read The Age of Light a novel about photographer and model, Lee Miller, by Whitney Scharer. I have had an interest in Lee Miller since I found a biography about her on my daughter’s bookshelf some years ago.
The Age of Light is a novel I am going to hurry out to my local bookshop and buy as a gift to myself. Titles are one of the hardest things for a novelist to come up with and this one is perfect.
REVIEW: By Caroline LeavittGLOBE CORRESPONDENT
Women have always paid a steep price for artistic genius.
Take, for instance, sculptress Camille Claudel, who was as talented as her lover, Rodin, felt he took credit for her work, and spent the last 30 years of her life in an insane asylum. Or consider the painter Dora Maar, who had a long-term relationship with the physically abusive Picasso, before being crippled with a horrific breakdown.
And now here, in her dazzling debut novel, “The Age of Light,’’ the prodigiously talented Whitney Scharer reimagines the life of photographer Lee Miller, who was first a fashion model then a protégé to surrealist Man Ray, eventually coming into her own as a brilliant artist, all the while stubbornly refusing to let the male gaze destroy her own.
Scharer, who flipped the script by commanding a seven-figure advance for her own artistry, offers a kind of transcendent ghost story, where the past never seems to leave the present’s side. Her narrative moves hypnotically back and forth through time and through three very different Lees, starting with her early days in glittering Paris with Man (as Lee refers to him), when she’s just 22. After meeting the artist in an opium den, she rejects his offers to be just his model, muse, or lover, and instead determinedly pushes him to teach her how to print a photograph the right way.
But Man betrays her, claiming Lee’s work as his own, even though he had no hand in it, giving her the reason that “[y]our eye is my eye. You’re my model. My assistant. My lover.” How could Lee do anything else but plot her own revenge?
There is the Lee Miller who photographs the devastation of World War II, giving up her silks and satins for rugged army pants.
And there is finally the Lee Miller who retreats to a farm with her British painter husband Roland, becoming a food writer and Cordon Bleu chef, grappling with her rage about how things turned out for her, and cooking up recipes and articles instead of adventures.
But then her editor prods her to give up her food writing and instead tell the blistering story of her time with Man Ray, and while the editor is interested in the more famous man, Lee knows the story is truly hers, not his, and she insists on one very telling condition: All photographs used in the piece must be hers, rather than Man’s.
Lee is haunted by this story, but she also carries with her other betrayals and tragedies — all by men she trusted — striking the narrative like little electric shocks. An uncle rapes her when she’s just a girl. Her adored father urges her to take her dress off and stand naked so he can capture her nudity on film. Are these men any different from Man whose love for Lee comes with a price tag: that he be allowed to use her for his own purposes?
The book is so much about the difference in what we believe to be true and what is true, how a photograph can be absolute truth (Lee takes a photo of Buchenwald and captions it “Believe It”) or manipulated (What is more deliberately artificial than a fashion shoot?). But when it comes to herself and her life, the lines of reality blur for Lee. When Lee herself is photographed, she floats out of her body, completely unmoored in the moment. She even observes her own relationship with Man from a distance, as if she might be another person watching and judging, daring Lee to prove that they are a couple.
Part of the heady pleasure of Scharer’s novel is the writing, which is as seductive and beautiful as her descriptions of the shimmery satin kimonos in the opium den. Juxtaposed with that flossy Paris time is the war, where she points out “the bombed-out tableaux arranged before her like the work of some Surrealist set designer. A church destroyed, but a typewriter balanced on the rubble before it.’’ There are “malnourished babies dying in Viennese hospitals, their rib cages delicate as pick-up sticks.” And finally, there is food and drink, so intensely presented that your mouth might water, including a “baked Camembert, so rich and stinky it makes Lee’s tongue ache,” and the pleasure of a gin martini, “cold and clear as a glass of diamonds.”
An absolutely gorgeous and feminist novel about art, love, and ownership, “The Age of Light’’ is truly a work of art in itself, both deeply moving and thrilling. Want to know what it’s like to be an artist? Read this astonishing novel and then, like Lee Miller, take time to consider the extraordinary cost she paid to be herself.