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 International Writing Program on fiction writing, centered on female authorial voices and female literary characters.
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.
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
Book Club discussion questions are on this blog at the Castle of Dreams page.
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 rainforest, a walled garden, a secret garden and native flowers that bloomed in wild abandon in the southwest of Western Australia. Often, be serendipity I am guided to what I am to write next, and it happened with my WIP, (more about that in a future post) and now Iran has 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. I feel 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 Cornwell on my bookshelf including Vanishing Cornwell 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.
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 WIP (work-in-progess) 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 my WIP is set (I write dual narrative stories set in the past and the present) 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 have 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 was recently at the Bronte Parsonage and the lingering sense of the past was everywhere: in the parsonage, the graveyard, the village. I absorbed the atmosphere that was around every corner and it was certainly not all bleak and forbidding.
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte wrote about the wild moors in the north of England. It is place that is grey and dark in winter and even in warmer seasons is a sombre place where tough bracken and heather cover the hills and fragments of the past linger.
The isolation of Haworth Parsonage on the wild and bleak local moors separated the Bronte children from other families and they relied on each other for companionship. This lead them to create fantasy worlds: Gondal, shared by Emily and Anne, is an island in the North Pacific; Angria, shared by Charlotte and her brother Bramwell, is nominally in Africa.
Bronte Parsonage in Haworth
Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Bronte and is her only novel. It was published in 1847 under the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’. Emily Bronte died the following year, aged 30.
I’m going to London this week and I’ll be visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden that was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, England, in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to grow plants to be used as medicines. Most often, an herb is medicinal, culinary, or has some magic connected to it. Botanists differentiate herbs from other plants by the stem. A woody stem above the ground, is not an herb but a tree or a shrub so it follows that parsely is an herb but rosemary is not. I wrote about the Chelsea Physic Garden in my new novel. The garden didn’t play a leading role (it might in my new novel) but I weave all things botanical through my stories: gardens, plants, flowers, botanical art. There is nothing like a garden to grab hold of your heart and not let go.
So while I am visiting a famous garden I also like to walk through the imaginary gardens of my mind. Now can you imagine being in England in January or February; snow on the garden of a mysterious house and heavy on the roof of a Camellia House? A stone house perhaps, or one made of splendid mellowed brickwork, with large casement windows that could be opened to let in the sunshine and fresh air of the warmer months. Magnificent red, white or pink blooms with luminous dark green leaves. I have started writing my next novel, as yet unnamed, but one of my characters will visit a house with a Camellia House when she should be somewhere else.
Culzean Castle, Camellia House
So, you can see my mind is full of all sorts of possibilities: a physic garden, a Camellia House, winter snow and summer days. I can see I’ll never run out of gardens to write about, medieval gardens, (there is one in my second novel) flower gardens, knot gardens even the urban garden, or plants with beautiful or unusual names: blue lacecap hydrangeas, a rose called, Peace, acanthus, and bachelors buttons.
An abandoned Camellia House
The mystery and magic of plants never fade.
Enjoy this Sunday, reading perhaps, dreaming, hopefully,
I write dual timeline novels and the benefits are manifold for the reader. A book that I still read at least once a year is Possession by A S Byatt the novel that inspired my own love of the genre. The first book I wrote was a romance novel, the second a historical novel based on a convict ancestor who had a colourful past, and the third was a dual timeline novel set during the goldrush days in Australia and a contemporary story. Castle of Dreams was a dual timeline novel that became a bestseller in Australia and was published in translation in Norway. Each time I start a novel I consider writing a chronological storyline but the benefits are many in writing a dual narrative story, a more layered plot, a linking theme and two casts of characters.
My new novel One Bright Day is finished and with my agent. It’s a dual narrative story and by way of serendipity I found a single playing card in the Acorn Patch and while I wrote I kept the card on my desk. The book is one that found me: What better companion than Ronald Blythe? On the coastal paths of North Norfolk, meeting crab fishermen of Cromer or speculation on the lost city of Dunwhich . . . along the footpaths of Northamptonshire in the steps of John Clare . . . climbing Snowdonia after Gerard Manley Hopkins . . . tracking down a mystery in Raleigh, North Carolina . . . following the rounds of a Suffolk doctor in the 1920’s and a Victorian Breckland shepherd . . . through the seasons in the John Nash’s Essex garden, which he himself now tends . . . and of course, Going to Meet George Mackay Brown, in Orkney. Ronald Blythe walks, remembers, evokes, describes, speculates in these wonderfully written pieces and outings, on which he invites us to accompany him. ~ From the folder flap.
The butterfly dish was a gift from a friend and what more beautiful thing than a gift of new beginnings?
When I am writing I sometimes feel like one of my favourite childhood characters from a story book, Alice. One never knows what one will discover down the rabbit hole: dreams, magical happenings, a roadsign that leads you to the land of imaginings, and hopefully, at the end of all this day dreaming and imagining, a new story will be brought to life.
Photo credit: Lucuna Magazine
Have a wonderful week, writing, reading and most importantly dreaming.