Monthly Archives: March 2017

What Elise Wrote-Today

The working title for my work-in-progress is One Bright Day and my story does seem shiny and bright (except for when I come to a great stumbling block in the plot). Now I have made a deadline to finish the novel I find that the words are flowing more easily. Still, I do have some way to go yet until I finish.

It’s April, 1921 and the war that impacted so many people has been over for three years. I’m spending time with Ellen, who at this moment is walking along taking in the sights of historical London. It’s Ellen’s first overseas journey and she left her home in southwestern Australia with some trepidation. It’s the English spring, and there’s nothing like a fine, spring day in England and Ellen and a friend are going on a picnic in Regent’s Park. Ellen is an artist and takes her sketchbook wherever she goes I wonder what she sketched today.

Regent’s Park, London

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Ellen, for a very special reason, goes to St Pancras Old Church in London so I’ve researched part of its history. (I love research and finding some little gem to include in my story.) I found this!

In the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, an ash tree is circled by gravestones.

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Thomas Hardy (before turning to writing full time) studied architecture in London under Mr. Arlhur Blomfield, an architect based in Covent Garden. During the 1860s the Midland Railwayline was being built over part of the original St. Pancras Churchyard. Blomfield was commissioned to supervise the proper exhumation of human remains and dismantling of tombs. He passed this unenviable task to his protegé Thomas Hardy in. c.l865. Hardy would have spent many hours in St. Pancras Churchyard overseeing the careful removal of bodies and tombs from the land on which the railway was being built. The headstones around this ash tree would have been placed here about that time. The tree has since grown in amongst the stones.

It’s fun writing a story!

I particularly enjoy setting my stories in Australia but sometimes my characters travel overseas. In this story it is to England and I have glimpses of the Middle East in WW1.

This the gate Ellen walks through to visit an abandoned house.

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I’m looking forward to being a speaker at the HNSA Conference in Melbourne in September (details below).

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing our theme, inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories. http://hnsa.org.au/conference/programme/ Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Arnold Zable, Gary Crew, Melissa Ashley, Kate Mildenhall, Juliet Marillier, Anne Gracie, Pamela Hart, Kelly Gardiner and Libby Hathorn. http://hnsa.org.au/conference/speakers/

Let’s celebrate historical fiction!

Elise

Ref. The Hardy Tree:   jinx-in-the-sky.blogspot.com

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Spirit of Place-Tumut Valley

Another month or two and I will be finished writing my new book. It has a working title of One Bright Day. 

The inspiration for this story came from a visit by my daughter to Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookshop in Perth, WA. As she was browsing its dusty shelves she picked up a book with pressed flowers between its pages and thought it might be a good way to start a story.

The early narrative thread (it is a time split novel) is set in the southwest of WA where I lived for several years on a vineyard so I know the area well, with detours to other parts of the world and finally, and most importantly, for this is where the heart of the story is, in the Tumut Valley where the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people lived for thousands of years prior to European settlement.

My story is about abandoned gardens and love and romance, betrayal, and of course big family secrets and what more beautiful place to write about than the lovely Valley that sits on the north-west foothills of the Snowy Mountains.

I enjoy writing stories set in the Australia and although I grew up beside the Pacific Ocean when I moved to a  five thousand acre farm two hundred and fifty kilometres north of Perth it was there I found the sense of place I’d been searching for.

A favourite author of mine, Miles Franklin used to live in the Brindabella Ranges and she was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature. While she does not feature in my story through her I felt a connection to the area. Another link was Elyne Mitchell’s stories set in the high country that I’d read as a child and remembered  fondly.

Miles Franklin

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I was lately in the Valley and it was here I found not just a sense of place but a spirit of place. I travelled with two friends and we stayed in an old house with lots of history (but beautifully updated)  in Wynyard Street in Tumut. I’d already written about this street in my story so to be able to walk where my characters walk was perfect for my research.

The best part of the trip was meeting people from the area, wonderful, friendly and engaging people who took us into their hearts and their community.

Sulari Gentill, the writer of the Roland Sinclair Mysteries series, lives in Batlow, a twenty minute drive from Tumut, and we met up with her and Sarah, her good friend, who’d invited me to speak at the View Club’s luncheon (in support of the Smith Family) for International Women’s Day. We shared coffee and cake in Coffee and More in the main street (no parking restrictions) and we parked right outside the shop.

Sulari, a generous person with both her time and sharing of knowledge of the area, took us to the Sugarpine Walk in Batlow where we strolled amongst the dense stand of enormous sugar pines, the largest and tallest of pines, planted in 1928. Someone in the past had had the great idea to take out a row of pines. It’s like walking up the nave of a cathedral and is a place where marriages are blessed.

Sugarpine Walk in Winter

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I had read about the bogong moths that provided a rich food source for Aborigines in the area. The moths would be hunted by the male members of the tribe as the moth lay at rest in the mountains and many bogong moth feasts occured. I will weave this through my story.

Bogong Moth

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I met Sue Bulger, a Wiradjuri Elder who grew up on the Brungle Mission, and felt a sense of connection to her when I sat next to her at the luncheon.  Welcome to Country recognises the unique position of Aboriginal people in Australian culture and history as the original Custodians of the Land and Sue conveyed the meaning of this in her welcome to all the women at the event. I asked Sue if she’d launch my book in Tumut should I be lucky enough to have it published and she said yes.

We were also fortunate to meet Marcia from the Historical Society who kindly opened their museum to us and we spent an hour or so happily looking around. There is so much history about Miles Franklin in the museum and seeing one of her typed manuscripts and many items owned by or relating to this wonderful writer was inspirational.

I spent time with Pat who lives next door to our house in Wynyard Street. We sat together on her verandah and she told me about people from the past for she is a lady in her eighties, and we looked at clippings from old newspapers and one of the three published genealogy  books on her large family. My friends and I were invited to a country property for afternoon tea at Marlene’s beautiful family home built of local stone  and she showed us her art work made from old metal. I loved the bridal dress she’d welded from an old pressed tin ceiling and the added gauze veil with scattered pearls.

Tumut River

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Outside of  Tumut is a pioneer cemetery which of course we had to visit. A Chinese Funerary burner, which serves as a safe place for the ritualized burning of spiritual tributes, stood near old Chinese graves. In the photo below you can see the funerary burner to the right.

Tumut Pioneer Cemetery

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And while I didn’t find Pat’s great-grandparents (the Bridals) graves (next visit) I did see, on another grave surrounded by rusted railings, a beautiful shed snakeskin. A superior being, the Rainbow Serpent in Aboriginal mythology created the people and the universe. The shedding of their skin made the snakes a symbol of rebirth and renewal. I have written about the Rainbow Serpent in my story so seeing the pale delicate beauty of the shed snakeskin seemed a powerful omen of good fortune.

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We have been invited to return to Tumut, when no matter how beautiful we thought it to be, we have been assured that in other seasons the Valley is even more glorious.

And I forget to tell you that as Sulari pulled up at the  Sugar Pine Plantation my friends and I  saw our first brumby, a lovely young animal, who paused for a second to look at us before it disappeared into the shadowed pine forest.

Brumbies

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All Saints Anglican Church, Tumut

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On our last morning in the Valley my friends and I walked at first light with the mist hanging low over the river and in early evening we went around the corner to River Street and stood at the gates of historical All Saints Anglican Church to watch the last rays of evening light touch the top of the tall spire.

Friends found, a spirit of place found, and friends to share with.

We walked back slowly to our house and  when we left the next day something of the magic we’d found in the Valley came with us.

Elise

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The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

I will be speaking at the HNSA Melbourne Conference 8th to 10th September, 2017. My session is on Saturday afternoon.

WORLDS AT WAR: THE APPEAL OF 20TH CENTURY HISTORICAL FICTION
The history of the early to mid-20th century now falls within the definition of ‘historical fiction’. Why do novels depicting the great conflicts of modern times hold such fascination? And has war fiction replaced Tudor fiction as ‘the favourite flavour’ for readers and publishers? Julian Novitz discusses these questions with Paddy Richardson, Elise McCune, Justin Sheedy and Julian Leatherdale.

The main menu of the website (2017 Programme) is broken into the following sub-menu:

This is my fifth review for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

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The Harp in the South by Ruth Park is one of my favourite books. It was first published in 1948 and was Ruth Park’s first novel. Set in the 1940’s it tells the story of the Darcy family who live in a small terrace house in Surrey Hills, a working class suburb of Sydney: Roie and Dolour, their parents Hughie and Margaret (Mumma) and Mr Diamond and Miss Sheily who rent the two attic rooms in the house. Hughie has a job at a foundry, but is often off sick due to the effects of the sly grog he imbibes. Mumma tries to be a good Catholic wife. They once had a little son,Thaddy, but one day he was playing outside on the pavement and disappeared never to be seen again. The lose of Thaddy leaves a hole as big as the sky in Mumma’s heart.

Ruth Park

Rosina Ruth Lucia Park (24 August 1917 – 14 December 2010) was a New Zealand–born Australian author. Her best known works are the novels The Harp in the South (1948) and Playing Beatie Bow (1980), and the children’s radio serial The Muddle-Headed Wombat (1951–1970), which also spawned a book series (1962–1982).


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The main theme is the influence of the Catholic Church and poverty and hardship. When I read The Harp in the South I am in awe of how Ruth Park, a young woman at the time of writing this novel, had such insight into the lives and loves and despair of the people who lived at Twelve-and-a-Half, Plymouth Street. And she understands that they enjoyed being part of a family and the wider community and also that they considered themselves lucky.

In October 1945, the Sydney Morning Herald announced an art and literature grant that included a two-thousand pound prize for the best novel. In December 1946, Ruth Park (aged twenty-six) learned that out of 175 entries, her book about the Irish-Australian family had won.

The Harp in the South, wrote war poet Shawn O’Leary in the review that accompanied the announcement, ‘bludgeons the reader about the brain, the heart, and the conscience.’ It became an Australian classic, acclaimed by literary critics and so loved that it is yet to go out of print and is published in 37 languages.

The Harp in the South is a wonderful book, a quintessential Australian story that I reread often with something amounting to glee.

Perhaps in some other time she would find him here in this room, this dirty dark room that had now been enhaloed and enchanted as the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea after the Resurrection. She looked up at the ceiling; neither the stained plaster nor the clotted webs did she see, only the dark and fathomless and immortal sky, and beyond it Him who chose to walk in the ways of the poor and the forgotten as He walked in His garden. 

Ruth Park

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Good reading and writing

Elise

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