Monthly Archives: July 2016

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek, 1855, is situated at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. Stanton Finch has moved his large family there after his business failed in Adelaide. Fifteen-year-old Hester and her siblings enjoy the company of the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock-route. There is young artist, Charles and the Ngarrindjeri people who they have dispossessed. An Aboriginal boy, Tully, is their friend and over the passing years becomes part of the family.Stanton Finch hopes to restore the family fortunes and the family’s good name. But his ideas fail, leaving him deeper in debt.
Caring for the family falls to young Hester Finch when her mother descends into melancholia and spends time in her bedroom staring into space.
Stanton Finch attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods and when tragedy befalls the family it begins a chain of events that tear the family apart. I notice authors sometimes neglect to mention Aboriginal people in historical novels. It is as if they are ghost people which is not the case in this story. It is wonderful to read about the Ngarrindjeri people and understand more about their lives in the nineteenth century and the history of their culture.

Salt Creek, with its beautiful cover, by Australian author Lucy Treloar is narrated by Hester Finch throughout as she looks back and tells the story of her life and her family. The sense of place in the novel comes alive with the narrative intersperesed with descriptions of the stark and beautiful region of the Coorong.

Coorong Nat Park 2 011.JPG

“Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.” (From the back cover).
This is a novel that will stay with me for a long time, one to be reread and savoured over the passing years. It is the best new novel I have read in a long time.

Cheers Elise




1 Comment

Filed under Elise McCune

Autumn Leaves


Tourist asks street band if he could join. Seconds later, it’s simply DIVINE

Music is truly the international language: When musicians who otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate get together, they find common ground and create art. That’s what happened on the streets of Florence, Italy, in this video posted by DaJeong Kim in October 2015. Korean tourist Jun-Hyuk Choi, a contrabass player at Chungye University for the Arts in Seoul, asks if he could join Romdraculas for a few moments of jamming. When they agree and decide to play the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” it’s aural magic.
Choi may not have known it at the time, but Romdraculas is a very popular “gypsy” street band in Florence. Googling their name brings up countless blogs, dating back to at least 2009, written by tourists who have enjoyed their music and purchased their CDs, including the popular “Firenze” (the Italian name for Florence).

If you look closely, you can see that the upright bass Choi borrows has only three strings, one fewer than is usually there. Nevertheless, the musician plays on, simply making the conversions needed to hit the notes despite the missing string — even through two amazing cadenzas, solo sections for the musician to exhibit good technique.

It’s hard to imagine the world has problems when witnessing strangers connect like this; expressing mutual admiration and respect while sharing a passion and creating art, inspiring smiles from everyone around them … and, through video, around the world.


Leave a comment

Filed under Elise McCune

Letters from the Past

The past impacts on the present in many ways. In my WIP I write about letters from the past before the time of emails. I sometimes write a letter to my daughter and she loves receiving a message that is written on lovely paper, and I use my best pen and stamp the envelope with the prettiest stamp I can find at the time.

When I read about these undelivered letters I had already decided to write about letters from the past. Another serendipitous happening!

Undelivered letters discovered in a 17th century trunk paint a vivid life of early modern Europe and the culture of the time.


© Signed, Sealed & Undelivered Team, 2015–2016. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague.

In 2012, Rebekah Ahrendt, assistant professor of music at Yale was tracking a theatre troupe that worked in The Hague at the turn of the 18th century and came across a short notice in a 1938 French journal that described a collection of undelivered letters at the postal museum and included transcriptions of seven of them.

The archive was established by the postmasters in an attempt to profit from their business. At that time, recipients were responsible for paying for any letters they received, and if the letters were undelivered, the postmasters would keep them in the hope that someday the recipient would search for the letter and pay them what was owed. The letters were stored in a trunk that had been waterproofed with sealskin.

The back of this letter — which is still locked — has been used as a notepad for accounting, probably by someone in the postmaster’s office.

02. Accounting-298x173

 © Signed, Sealed & Undelivered Team, 2015–2016. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague. 

An example of a refused love letter.

01. Refused love letter-315x183

© Signed, Sealed & Undelivered Team, 2015–2016. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague.

Some letter‐writers added enclosures, such as this colored paper dove, which bears the French inscription don de piété (‘gift of piety’), symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

03. Letter enclosure-348x202

© Signed, Sealed & Undelivered Team, 2015–2016. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague.

These letters are inspirational and I’m sure one or more will be included in my story.

Have a wonderful week, whether you write, read or dream (or do all three).

Cheers Elise


Filed under Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

Thoughts on Writing-Elise McCune

I have been asked to speak to a group of writing students in October and while they will be asking me questions about my writing journey I also want to put together some points for them to consider. This is what I have come up with so far.

1. Read

To be a good writer you must read. Read what you love but also read widely in other genres and other types of writing to find out what you consider good and not so good writing. Read the much maligned historical novel which is linked to the romance novel and then read them too. A friend commented that my own novel Castle of Dreams was not a romance novel but a novel about love. Her comment resonated with me. Some years ago I wrote an outline for a tv series with a friend which was both historical and contemporary. I read other scripts and paid attention to the narrative voice.  People from the past read longer more descriptive novels read these too. Read memoirs, debut novels, and online diaries. You will have moments of self-doubt when you reread what you have written (lots of doubts and often). It’s normal for a writer to feel this way. If you wait for the perfect time to write you won’t start.


2. Research

For my research I read primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper reports. I read books written about and of the period I am researching. Trove and Ask a Librarian at the National Library of Australia’s online resources are a valuable source of information. I use Google but online information can be inaccurate so be careful and check more than one source. I use my wonderful local library and inter-library loans for books I don’t necessarily want to keep on my bookshelf or cannot find, and also, I always read bibliographies carefully in each book as they are a source of more information on the subject you are researching and this is something I’m sure most writers would do.


3. Discipline

An important piece of advice I received early in my writing career was to be disciplined. If you want to finish a novel or any other piece of writing it has to be a priority. Put aside time each day to write. If you watch television use the time to write. Limit the time you spend on social media. A page a day is a novel in a year. Have a professional attitude to writing. Set yourself deadlines.


4. Inspiration

‘There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it,’ says Gustave Flaubert.

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table,’ says Diane Ackerman. ‘Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’

Writing is not easy so take the time to find inspiration in the common place and in everyday life. There is a poetic layer of life: look at things with a painters eye. Notice the variation of colour on a single tree leaf, the rainbow in a drop of rain when the sun comes out on a cloudy day, jeweled raindrops on spiders webs and the expression on peoples faces.


5. Notebooks

I always have a notebook with me. My notebooks are many: some tattered with age, some with exquisite covers, some the red and black chinese notebooks from the newsagent. They are different in size and appearance but they all serve the same purpose: to capture an exquiste moment in time. I also have notebooks to write my research notes in. By the time I finished writing Castle of Dreams I  had ten notebooks of scribbled information that I had used in my story. For my WIP I have read a few books on WW1 and its aftermath.  On  three large sheets of butchers paper I wrote a timeline and described and named characters and wrote background information. I found the outline a little restricting so I’ve  made detours but I go back to it for inspiration. And of course I have a new notebook!


I read somewhere the most important thing about writing is to write from the soul. I couldn’t have said it better.

Have a great week: writing, reading and finding inspiration in the everyday,

Cheers Elise




Leave a comment

Filed under Castle of Dreams, Elise McCune

Land Beneath the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith

I am reading  Land Beneath the Wind.  It was given to me as a gift by an intrepid traveller who recently returned from Sabah, Borneo and visited Agnes Keith House.


What I like about the story of Agnes Keith is the mystery that involves her daughter, Jean. It seems that Jean may have been the daughter of her husband by a previous marriage or by a liaison.

In a recent study of Sabah society in colonial days we find this gloss on “liaisons with local women:”

During the period of Chartered Company rule in Sabah it was not uncommon for European administrators to form liaisons with local women. Such a practice occurred throughout the British Empire, though with local variants. Need of companionship saw this practice being condoned by most colonial administrations including the Chartered Company, albeit unofficially. Strictly speaking, it was considered improper, thus little written information is available for a proper treatment of the subject. The Chartered Company’s fortnightly newspaper, the British North Borneo Herald, for instance, is almost silent on this matter. …

Even the husband of the celebrated author Agnes Keith is known to have had a local girl before he married Agnes. …

Agnes Newton Keith (July 4, 1901 – March 30, 1982) was an American author best known for her three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo (now Sabah) before, during, and after the Second World War. The second of these, Three Came Home, tells of her time in Japanese POW and civilian internee camps in North Borneo and Sarawak, and was made into a film of the same name in 1950. She published seven books in all.

Agnes Keith

She was born in Oak Park, Illinois. Her family moved to Hollywood, California when she was very young. The family moved again when Agnes was ten, this time to the nearby beach community of Venice, California.

She attended the University of California, Berkeley. Upon graduation, she worked with the San Francisco Examiner.Eight months after starting her journalism career, she was attacked by an assailant who was convinced that the newspaper was persecuting him by printing Krazy Kat cartoons. She received serious head injuries which affected her memory. She also became seriously depressed, and after two years of illness her father sent her and her brother Al to Europe to recuperate.

Harry Keith

In 1934, she married Henry G Keith, known as “Harry Keith”, an Englishman. He had been a friend of her brother Al when both boys had been at the same school in San Diego, and Agnes had first met him when she was eight years old. He had gone on to work for the government of North Borneo, and she had not seen him in a decade when he visited California while on leave in 1934. However, as soon as they re-met they decided to get married, and were wed three days later. Three months after their marriage they sailed for Borneo.

Harry persuaded Agnes to write about her experiences and enter it in the 1939 Atlantic Monthly Non-Fiction Prize contest. The judges voted unanimously for her entry to win, and it was partly serialized in the magazine before being published in November of that year as Land Below the Wind. The book received favorable reviews: The Scotsman described it as ‘A delightful book … It has abundant humour and a pervading charm … An original and engaging description of a country and people of extraordinary interest.’

On arriving in Sandakan in 1934, they moved into Harry’s bachelor bungalow, but the couple soon relocated to a government building on a hilltop, where they lived until internment in 1942. After the war they returned to Sandakan to find the house destroyed. They built a new house in 1946–47 on the original footprint and in a similar style to the original. They named this house Newlands and lived there until they left Sabah in 1952. After nearly 50 years of gradual deterioration, first under tenants and then as an empty shell, the house was restored by Sabah Museum in collaboration with the Federal Department of Museums and Antiquities in 2001. The house is a rare survival of post-war colonial wooden architecture.

Agnes Keith House


It was opened to the public in 2004 and is a popular tourist attraction. It contains displays on Agnes and Harry Keith as well as information about colonial life in Sandakan in the first half of the twentieth century, and is commonly referred to as the Agnes Keith House.

Agnes and Harry 


Agnes Newton Keith died at age 80 in Oak Bay, British Columbia in 1982; her husband died the same year.

It’s a book that I’ll keep on my bookshelf to reread.

Have a good writing and reading week.

Keep warm and drink hot chocolate!



Filed under Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote