Category Archives: A Writer’s Notebook

Writing a Novel – the First Draft

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 agents  work 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. 

Good writing,




Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

What Elise Wrote: Castle of Dreams

Thrilled to let you know the rights for Castle of Dreams have been sold by Allen&Unwin to Norwegian publisher, CappelenDamm. The publisher is very well known and extremely reputable.

I loved writing Castle of Dreams a story set in Australia and weaving the two storylines together. I felt immersed in the story from the start. It is set in two time periods: WW2 and contemporary times. I had visited Paronella Park some years previously and never forgot the sense of mystery and decided the castle would hold my story together.

After three novels in the bottom drawer, a memoir, and a lost romance novel I was thrilled when Louise Thurtell from Allen&Unwin’s innovative Friday Pitch made me an offer to publish Castle of Dreams. I can’t speak more highly of the support I received from the whole team at Allen&Unwin and they did enjoy the cake my daughter and grandchildren delivered to their office in Crows Nest in Sydney!



Leave a comment

Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Allen & Unwin, Castle of Dreams, What Elise Wrote

What Elise Wrote-Colleen Moore

The third in my series of forgotten women and this post has two videos: one a tribute to Colleen Moore and the other further down a video of her  dollhouse size fairytale castle.It is not like the castle that inspired my novel Castle of Dreams but it is beautiful and as I have an affinity with castles I decided to include it in this post.


Colleen Moore, born Kathleen Morrison on  January 25, 1988 in Port Huron, Michigan, U.S. was an American film actress who began her career during the silent film era and popularised the bobbed haircut.After her film career she became a partner in the investment firm Merrill Lynch.

At age 15 she was setting her first step in Hollywood. Her uncle arranged a screen test with director D.W. Griffith. She wanted to be a second Lillian Gish but instead she found herself playing heroines in Westerns with stars such as Tom Mix.


Two great passions of Colleen’s life were dolls and movies; each would play a great role in her later life. Her aunts, who doted on her, indulged her and often bought her miniature furniture on their many trips, with which she furnished the first of a succession of doll houses.


Through family contacts she was offered a  contract to Griffith’s Triangle-Fine Arts conditional on passing a film test to ensure that her heterochromia (she had one brown eye, one blue eye) would not be a distraction in close-up shots. Her eyes passed the test, so she left for Hollywood with her grandmother and her mother as chaperones. Colleen made her first credited film appearance in 1917 in The Bad Boy.

By the late 1920s, she had accomplished dramatic roles in films such as So Big, where she aged through a stretch of decades and was also well received in light comedies such as Irene. Promotional portraits of Colleen at the height of her fame, c. 1927, show the Dutchboy bobbed haircut that she made famous, and which she kept until she died.

With the advent of talking pictures in 1929, Colleen took a hiatus from acting. In 1934, she returned to work in Hollywood. At the height of her fame, she was earning $12,500 per week. She was an astute investor, and through her investments remained wealthy for the rest of her life.

Colleen married four times and was happily married to her last husband when she passed away.She never had children of her own, although she had wanted them,  but was close to her step-children.
On January 25, 1988, Colleen died from cancer in Paso Robles, California, aged 88.For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Colleen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1551 Vine Street.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of her: “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.”

I have saved the best for last: images of Colleen’s fairytale castle.

In 1928, inspired by her father and with help from her former set designer, a dollhouse was constructed by her father, which was 9 feet square with the tallest tower 12 feet high. The interior of The Colleen Moore Dollhouse, designed by Harold Grieve, features miniature bear skin rugs and detailed furniture and art. Colleen’s dollhouse has been a featured exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois since the early 1950s, where, according to the museum it is seen by 1.5 million people each year and would be worth $7 million. Colleen continued working on it, and contributing artifacts to it, until her death.

I hope you enjoy Colleen’s magical castle.

Have a wonderful week full of magic and dreams,










Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook – Castle of Dreams

In April of this year, Allen & Unwin will publish my novel Castle of Dreams. I thought I’d share a small excerpt.

Castillo de Sueños, 1935

Vivien and Rose Blake rushed out through the heavy front doors of Castillo de Sueños, yelling to their mother they’d be home before dark. Too late Vivien remembered she’d promised to help Ma in the propagating shed with the orchids and lacy maidenhair ferns, but all day the rich scent of wild honey-suckle climbing over the loggia had drifted through the open windows, and now that lessons were over, outdoors beckoned irresistibly. Feet barely touching the mosaic tiles, the girls ran across the loggia, down the wide stone steps, and across the lawn towards the rainforest.

I visited the castle ruins at Paronella Park some years ago, a magical place set in the far north Queensland rainforest. Paronella Park has a website that you can visit to see pictures of the castle ruins and read about its rich history.  I’m sure lots of WW2 romances must have started there when the Australian and American servicemen came out to the Saturday night dances with their Cairns and Innisfail girlfriends. All of which I have written about in Castle of Dreams.

Castle of Dreams has two narratives, one set in WW2 Australia and the other in contemporary times. It’s full of all the things I love in a novel: romance, mystery and betrayal, everything to keep you turning the pages to find out what happened next.

Have a wonderful day and I hope it is full of magic and enchantment,






Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Allen & Unwin, Castle of Dreams, Elise McCune, Paronella Park, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook – Ellen Terry

This is the second in a series of forgotten women.

Ellen Terry was the Queen of Britain’s stage at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And, while not forgotten in the true sense of the word, unless one has an interest in the history of the theatre it is likely she is not known to you. My introduction to Ellen was many years ago when I found a nineteenth century edition of Shakespeare in a second hand bookshop for a few dollars. Inside I discovered wonderful photographs of Ellen and Henry Irving and other actors as they appeared in various stage roles. The Shakespeare now resides on my daughter’s bookshelf.


  1. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
  2. Choosing a painting of Ellen Terry by George Frederick Watts
  3. A photograph (1864) of Ellen Terry by Julia Margaret Cameron

Alice Ellen Terry (she reversed her given names) was born in Coventry, England, the third surviving child born into a theatrical family. Her parents, Benjamin of Irish descent, and Sarah (née Ballard,) of Scottish ancestry, were comic actors in a Portsmouth-based touring company,and had 11 children. With two actors as parents who had already made a reputation for the name Terry and an older sister Kate also on the stage it was ineveritable Ellen became an actress. At least five of her siblings became actors: Kate, Ellen, Marion, Florence, and Fred.Two other children, George and Charles, were connected with theatre management. Kate (the grandmother of John Gielgud) and Marion were particularly successful on stage.  Ellen made her first stage appearance at age nine, as Mamillius, opposite Charles Kean as Leontes, in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at London’s Princess’s Theatre in 1856.

Between 1861 and 1862, Ellen was engaged by the Royalty Theatre in London, managed by Madame Albina de Rhona, where she acted with W. H. Kendal, Charles Wyndham and other famous actors. In 1863  15-year-old Ellen appeared at the opening of the Theatre Royal, Bath, as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then returned to London to join J. B. Buckstone’s company at the Haymarket Theatre in Shakespearean roles as well as in  modern comedies.

n 1878 she joined Henry Irving’s company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. Two of her most famous roles were Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She and Irving also toured with great success in America and Britain.

Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century, George Bernard Shaw wrote of the Dame Ellen when she was at the height of her career. Their correspondence was a love affair in words.

On Ellen’s death, through her nephew, the famed actor Sir John Gielgud, the family tradition of connection to the theatre continued.

Good writing and have a wonderful week,



Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook – Social Media

I have been thinking lately about my online presence and while I enjoy writing a blog post each week (and will continue to do so) when I’m online for too long I find my creative energy is stalled. I am not sure how many other writers feel this way but it must be quite a lot for many well known authors are not online presences. Some writers have two computers one for writing and one for internet searches and social media which is a great idea. Now that I am starting a new novel it is simply more important to me to concentrate on my outline which will save me many hours of unnecessary detours along the way. I realise that social media is a way of promoting my work but I have to weigh that up against the time I spend and the value I get from it. I’d rather be reading for research, plotting my story, and getting to know my characters. As an artist I want my story to be the very best it can be.

Good writing,







Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook-Rochelle Hudson

This is the first post on a series about forgotten women.


I have found the perfect person in Rochelle Hudson to be my inspiration for the protagonist in my next novel. Once again, as in Castle of Dreams,  my novel will be a duel narrative story and I can see Rochelle in the earlier narrative. And she was a family friend of Edgar Rice Burroughs the creator of Tarzan. I love Tarzan stories!

Rochelle Hudson (born Rochelle Elizabeth Hudson, March 6, 1916 – January 17, 1972) was an American film actress from the 1930s through the 1960s.

The Oklahoma City-born actress may be best remembered today for costarring in Wild Boys of the Road (1933), playing Cosette in Les Misérables (1935), playing Mary Blair, the older sister of Shirley Temple’s character in Curly Top, and for playing Natalie Wood’s mother in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

During her peak years in the 1930s, notable roles for Hudson included: Richard Cromwell’s love interest in the Will Rogers showcase Life Begins at Forty (1935), the daughter of carnival barker W.C. Fields in Poppy (1936) and Claudette Colbert’s adult daughter in Imitation of Life (1934).

She also played Sally Glynn, the fallen ingenue to whom Mae West imparts the immortal wisdom, ‘When a girl goes wrong, men go right after her!’ in the 1933 Paramount film, She Done Him Wrong.

Rochelle was married four times. Her first husband was Charles Brust. Little is known of the marriage other than it ended in divorce.

Espionage work during World War Two.

Rochelle remarried in 1939 to Harold Thompson, who was the head of the Storyline Department at Disney Studios. She assisted Thompson, who was doing espionage work in Mexico as a civilian during World War II. They posed as a vacationing couple to various parts of Mexico, to detect if there was any German activity in these areas. One of their more successful vacations uncovered a supply of high test aviation gas hidden by German agents in Baja California. There is a story in this! 

After their divorce in 1947, Rochelle married a third time the following year to Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Dick Irving Hyland. The marriage lasted two years before the couple divorced. Her final marriage was to Robert Mindell, a hotel executive. The two remained together for eight years before they divorced in 1971.

Rochelle died in 1972 of a heart attack.

A beautiful tribute to Rochelle

youtube tribute: sebasj1978


Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Castle of Dreams, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook-Memoirs of a Geisha



A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

My Thoughts:

What I found striking about ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ is that it was a novel written by a man, Arthur Golden, and he has created a convincing female narrator. Written in beautiful prose and historical detail the heroine, Chiyo, as she is called at the start of the novel is a spirited young girl who is a product of an archaic, traditional Japan.

To me the novel starts like a fairytale in a remote village by the sea. My favourite books are often based on fairytales so the story had me hooked from the first pages. Chiyo is sent to a geisha house in Kyoto, but not so lucky is her sister, who, not as pretty, is sent to a house of prostitution.
‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a book I reread every couple of years and find the same enjoyment in turning the pages as I did the first time I read it.

In a way it is a coming of age story of one young girl that spans nearly a hundred years and one world war. It is exotic and portrays the lost world of the Kyoto geisha in historical detail which adds and does not detract from this character driven novel. In my recent reread I loved this story as much as ever. It is a classic in the sense of a Dickens novel. Highly recommended.

Now I must get back to reading the last proofpages of my novel, Castle of Dreams which will be published in April by Allen & Unwin. After I mail the pages back to my editor I will take a few days to think about my proposed new novel. I will then start to outline it and while I have written some pages I will make sure that my outline has tied up any plot holes before I start. I will have maps, floorplans of houses, garden outlays etc, so I don’t waste time in sorting these things out while writing the novel. I am very fond of flowers and the language of flowers in particular. I am sure this language will be woven through my new novel. Other than that I doubt I will say much about the plot as I prefer not to discuss it before the novel is finished, after all it might change along the way!

For the moment, though my thoughts are firmly centred on Castle of Dreams. If you want to see images of the castle ruins that I based Castillo de Suenos on just google Paronella Park in far north Queensland. I will write more about the park in the coming weeks.

Good writing,




1 Comment

Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook – Castle of Dreams




An image of how I imagine Vivien, a main character in my novel Castle of Dreams. Vivien has a sister called Rose and they grew up in a castle in the far north Queensland rainforest. A dual narrative novel it is about love and betrayal and dark family secrets.

This week I received the ‘master’ proofread set of page proofs of Castle of Dreams from my publisher Allen & Unwin. I will be spending the next week reading through them carefully and making any necessary corrections. I am loath to use too many commas in my writing. I am grateful the proofreader has added them where necessary. I wrote lightening instead of lightning several times (and I do know the difference!) it shows how helpful a fresh pair of eyes are. I have struck gold with the team at Allen & Unwin, from my publisher, Louise Thurtell, who through her innovative Friday Pitch (which is now everyday) picked up my novel, to my editors and now a proofreader with an eagle eye. Everyone I have had contact with at with Allen and Unwin has been thoughtful and considerate. They are the rockstars of the publishing industry!  I am ready to start at page 200 this morning so I am more than halfway through the proofreading process and should be finished in a few days. I will then, of course reread it. In early February the pages will wing their way back to Allen & Unwin’s Sydney office and Castle of Dreams will be published in late April.

Good writing and reading,

Elise x


Leave a comment

Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Allen & Unwin, Castle of Dreams, Elise McCune, Paronella Park, What Elise Wrote

A Writer’s Notebook – Christina Rossetti



“My heart is like a singing bird.”

Painting by Florence Hamilton to illustrate:  A Birthday by Christina Rossetti.

I have used Florence Hamilton’s painting The Lady of Shalott for the background of this blog.

I have always loved Christina Rossetti’s poems. In my novel Castle of Dreams to be released in April of this year I referenced her poem: A Birthday.

Part of a scene in Castle of Dreams:

‘She opened the wrapping; inside was an anthology of Christina Rossetti’s poems. The antique book, bound in green crushed levant, mirror-polished, hand-tooled, was so beautiful she was almost afraid to touch it.

“My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

Because my love is come to me.”

It’s a secret for the moment who gives this beautiful book of poetry to Rose, one of my characters in Castle of Dreams, but after all it is a novel of secrets. There is another verse to the poem that is truly beautiful too that I didn’t use in this scene. I’ll  post it another day with a few verses from the very long poem: Goblin Market also by Christina Rossetti.

I have long had an interest in fairytales and throughout Castle of Dreams you will find an occassional reference to magic and the otherworldly.

Have a great day . . . good writing . . .

Elise x



Filed under A Writer’s Notebook, Allen & Unwin, Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote