Category Archives: Elise McCune

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

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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. 
ELLEN WEINSTEIN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

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.

THE AGE OF LIGHT

By Whitney Scharer

Little, Brown, 384 pp., $28

Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel is “Cruel Beautiful World.’

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Anaïs Nin~Louveciennes

My house is two hundred years old. It has walls a yard thick, a big garden, a very large green iron gate for cars, flanked by a smaller gate for people. The big garden is in the back of the house…Anaïs Nin.

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Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell (February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977), known professionally as Anaïs Nin, was an American diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories. Born to Cuban parents in France, Nin was the daughter of composer Joaquín Nin and Rosa Culmell, a classically trained singer. Although Nin spent some time in Spain and Cuba, she lived in Paris and in the United States, where she became an established author.

Her journals describe her marriages to Hugh Parker Guiler and Rupert Pole, in addition to her numerous affairs, including those with psychoanalyst Otto Rank and writer Henry Miller, both of whom profoundly influenced Nin and her writing.

Anaïs had two husbands — one in  Los Angeles and one in New York , 

Anaïs Nin and her husband Rupert Pole

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Anaïs Nin and her husband Hugh Guiler

Anaïs Nin’s reputation came from her diaries. She documented her life as a writer, artist and woman. She became a cult figure on campuses in America in the 60’s and early 70’s. Anaïs lived her life as a liberated woman and became a feminist heroine. The diaries are considered to be mainly fictional, illusions and lies.

While the diaries are considered mainly fictional, Anaïs writes about the many writers and artists that she knew. Her love affair with Henry Miller when she lived at Louveciennes  is well-known and the two writers stayed friends for life.

Her obsession with allusions, water and mirrors, and houses, reflected her own imagining of her life.

Living her life as a work of art wasn’t always easy but it must have been enchanting!

Elise

 

 

 

 

 

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Persephone Books, London

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I have never visited the Persephone bookshop but plan to do so when I am next in London. They have kindly sent me The Persephone Biannually since I first discovered their books in 2011 and I recently received No 22 Autumn/Winter 2017-18. It is now available to read  on their website for overseas customers.

Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 125 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial. We publish novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books; each has an elegant grey jacket, a ‘fabric’ endpaper with matching bookmark, and a preface by writers such as Jilly Cooper, David Kynaston and Elaine Showalter.        Reference: Persephone website

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Interior Persephone Bookshop

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And don’t you love the window display?

While the Christmas period is a busy one I made time to start a new novel and while it doesn’t have a working title as yet there is something magical about writing the first word of a new story on the first day of a new year.

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice.’ ~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

May the joys of the season be with you throughout the coming year.

Elise 

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Castle of Dreams-Slottet i regnskogen

This edition of Slottet i regnskogen (The Castle in the Rainforest) was published in 2017 in hardback with a lovely new wrap-around cover. My Norwegian publisher recently let me know that the paperback edition will be published in 2018.

This is an interview with my Norwegian publisher, Jorid Mathiassen. It is posted on the Cappelen Damm website.

The castle in my story was inspired by castle ruins at Paronella Park in the far north Queensland rainforest.

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What was it about Paronella Park that most captured your imagination?

I visited Paronella Park in far north Queensland, Australia with my daughter, an actor,who was filming at nearby Mission Beach. Lisa had visited the park in the rainforest and wanted to show me the castle ruins. The beautiful setting captured my imagination: I glimpsed the past, imagined those long ago people who danced in the now deserted ballroom under the shining glitter ball. When I discovered Australian and American servicemen visited the castle (before it was destroyed by a cyclonic flood in the late 1940’s) during the Pacific War it the perfect place to set my story about two sister’s who each fall in love with the same American serviceman.

For you, did the setting come before the story?

The setting came before the story. The mystery of the castle and the story of the Catalonian immigrant who built the castle in the rainforest stayed with me. It was a unique setting because in Australia we more easily associate castles with Europe or the Middle East .

You’ve chosen to write about the journey of two sisters, bound by blood yet diminished by love. Why sisters?

I think blood ties make any betrayal worse and have a greater impact on your life than any betrayal between friends. It is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. It was my Australian publisher, Louise Thurtell, from Allen & Unwin who suggested that the two women in my story be sisters as I’d written them as friends. It was a great suggestion and I immediately felt comfortable with Louise’s suggestion. I found a quote from Maya Angelou that says this perfectly: The thorn from the bush one has planted, nourished and pruned, pricks more deeply and draws more blood.

Your novel’s narrative moves smoothly between the past and the present. What appealed to you about this structure?

I have always enjoyed reading time slip novels and I like to write them. The past always impacts on the present and this is what I weave through my stories. I also enjoy researching the past and this adds to my enjoyment.

I love the way you use the environment of the rainforest to set the mood – the bell tower, lightning flashing, or conversations on verandahs amid a symphony of tree frogs and insects with lights in the distance. And towards the end of the novel this beautiful description. Night had fallen. The full moon showered light on the pines above the water. Everything glowed: every patch of grass, every tangled reed. The silvered river splashing over smooth, unseen rocks, and stars as big as silver dollars shining bright in the sky.

Was that a conscious thing or did the setting lend itself to the mood?

I try to bring a scene to life by describing the surroundings as best I can, scents, sounds, visuals, so it becomes almost a character in my stories. And, yes the setting did lend itself to the mood of the story although I tried not to overdo it!

Your book contains lots of twists and turns – which we won’t mention! – how did you plan these out? Did you have a wall chart or a flow chart?

My characters come alive as I write them and eventually I know how they will react in any given situation. I start with the kernel of an idea and end up filling a lot of notebooks with information from my research although I rarely look back at these notes.

This is your first novel. What’s your biggest learning curve?

I have always written: short stories, a memoir, a lost romance novel, and three completed novels in the bottom drawer (the drawer is nailed shut!) but I write everyday even if it’s only a page.

There are no doubt budding novelists reading this. Tell us about how you got published.

I followed the guidelines for Allen & Unwin Australia’s innovative Friday Pitch and emailed some chapters. After a few months my publisher asked to see the finished manuscript. After some rewriting I was offered a contract.

Finishing a novel leaves a rather big hole in an author’s life. What did you fill it with?

I am writing another novel.

What’s the next project?

Another time slip novel, this time with a backdrop of World War One and the present time. I can’t wait to get up each morning and come to my computer to write.

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Literary Treasures

Reading Poems by Christina Rossetti last night, I wondered how the book had found its way to me for I knew I hadn’t bought it in any bookshop. It was first printed in January, 1906 and has ‘9’ written in pencil on the front end page and stamped in red is the inscription: ‘Red Letter Library.’

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A previous owner  copied a poem by Christina Rossetti on each of the end pages and marked with a little cross six favourite poems. I assume they were favourite ones and not ones to be avoided for ‘Goblin Market’ is amongst them.

No doubt I found the book in some obscure place: an opportunity shop or a second hand bookshop, perhaps in England but most likely in Sydney, Australia when I frequented such places and found many a literary treasure.

I Googled ‘Red Letter Library’ and discovered the graphic artist Talwin Morris (1865-1911) who was a member of the circle of artists surrounding the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow. Through his book designs, one of which is my Rossetti, Morris was able to introduce a wide audience to what was known as the ‘Glasgow Style’ that flourished at the end of the nineteenth century.

Morris produced designs for page layout, endpapers and title-pages as well, and his design work also extended to other branches of the decorative arts, including textiles, interior design, furniture and metalwork.

But I clearly remember where I found an ancient copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam illustrated by Alice Ross.  I once lived on a farm north of Perth, Western Australia and this little gem, long forgotten, was in a box containing far more mundane things like old farm accounts.  I don’t know who once owned it but surely it must have been a romantic.

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I have a little book called The Roadmender by one Michael Fairless who turned out to be Margaret Fairless Barber, born in May, 1869 at Castle Hill, Rastrick, Yorkshire. The Roadmender came with a yellowed clipping from a newspaper, a biography of Margaret,  that a previous owner of the book had slipped carefully between its pages.

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On the front end page is an inscription: Dear Mrs Derhaven With the love of her old friend JHS, 1906, with half the page inscribed with lines from the book. Mrs D was the original owner for it is a 1905 edition.

The name of a later owner is also inscribed, Helen B 27.9.55 and another name is circled in pencil, Julie K.

The Roadmender has certainly passed through second hand bookshops for a price of one shilling is scrawled on the title page in dark blue ink.

Tomorrow I will sit out in the sun and write my own name in these books.

The journey of any book can tell its own story if you take the time to look for it!

Elise 

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Tasmanian Times review Castle of Dreams

Rainforest Revelations
Paula Xiberras
14.07.17 6:38 am

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Elise McCune tells me she has been to Tasmania at least five times and loves the feel of the old buildings and of course MONA.

Earlier this year I spoke to Elise about her first novel ‘Castle of Dreams’ and how its idea originated in the discovery of a real castle in the Queensland rain forests by Elise’s actor daughter, Lisa McCune, when she was filming at Mission Beach.

The castle was built by Jose Paronella from Catalonia. For a time he worked in the Queensland rainforests and the castle covered in tropical rainforest helped heal his homesickness reminding him of his childhood home. Nowadays the castle is open to the public and a venue for events like weddings.

When the novel starts, the castle is a ruin that is visited by the granddaughter of Rose, one of the sisters who were the original inhabitants of the castle. The other sister was Vivian. The sisters were very close but grew apart after they both fell in love with the same man, a Second World War American soldier.

One of the wonderful features of the book is its subtle clues to the solving of a great mystery involving the sisters as well as seemingly ordinary events that carry great import. An example is an early scene when the sisters enter the bell tower and one of girls falls sustaining non-threatening injuries. This event long forgotten when reading the book details an event that has long reaching repercussions.

There are also beautiful descriptions that in hindsight can be seen as metaphorical such as the anecdote of the egg that is ‘clean and empty’. This again could be easily read over, yet is one of the subtle clues that demonstrates lives fractured like fragile egg shells

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.

‘Castle of Dreams’ is  published by Allen and Unwin

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St Pancras Old Church London

I write time-split novels where the past impacts on the present and in my new novel  One Bright Day I have a scene set in St Pancras Old Church London. I lived in London many years ago and visited this lovely old church and adjoining cemetery. There is nothing more I enjoy than discovering churches new to me and wandering around old cemeteries. When I lived on a farm north of Perth  we’d always stop when we drove past an old country cemetery. There is something captivating about them, especially for a writer, imagining stories for those long ago people and the lives they may have lived.

St Pancras Old Church

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One of my characters walks through this gate to attend a London wedding.

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The Hardy Tree

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In the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, hundreds of old gravestones circle an ash tree. Of course, these were not how they were originally laid out. So, how did they get to this, their final resting place, as it were? And who was responsible?

Long before he became famous for novels like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (like any other aspiring writer) had to find employment with which to pay his way through the world. His chosen field was to be architecture.

When the church grounds were being cleared tomake space for the railway line, Hardy was a London architect’s assistant. He had the grim task of exhuming hundreds of bodies and removing their graves.

During the work Hardy ordered headstones to be placed under this ash tree. His reasons are unknown but Hardy was a keen naturalist and may have done it to prevent the tree being removed. Alternatively, he saved the stones to respect the people whose final resting place had been disturbed.

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Have a wonderful weekend, writing, dreaming, reading!

Elise 

Ref: Wiki

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Daphne du Maurier-Gothic Literature

I am busy finishing my work-in-progress but I enjoy writing my blog so I thought I’d indulge myself and write a post about my favourite genre this morning with a cup of tea at my elbow. I notice that other writers, often older writers (of which I am one), steer clear of social media but I have made friends all over the world as well as in Australia through my blog. I cherish these friendships and learn much from my fellow writers and my readers. Social media is now part everday life for most people and I like to connect with my readers. Writing is my passion and it doesn’t take more than a half-hour to write a post. I write them for myself as well as for my readers so my blog is rather like a journal. When I finish my WIP I am going to become more active on Instagram which I love!

My WIP is a dual narrative story set in the southwest of Western Australia and the beautiful Tumut Valley which is at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, with a few chapters set in London. I set my stories against a backdrop of war and in my WIP, which has the working title of One Bright Day, I write about World War One and its aftermath.

 

My novel is not a Gothic novel but it does have elements of magic with an abandoned garden and lots of family secrets. If I have a motif in my WIP it is definitely gardens with  an artist in the past who paints flowers and a botanist in the present day.

Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic

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.  I was about ten years old 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.

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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 .

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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!

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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.

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Other favourite characters are Phillip and Rachel in My Cousin Rachel and Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn.

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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

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Have a wonderful week and include magic and storytelling and writing and reading.

Elise

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.

 

 

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The Rose

A gift from my daughter this year was ‘The Rose’  The history of the World’s favourite flower with classic texts and beautiful rare prints. Written by Brent Elliott, Historian, Royal Horticultural Society the society shares the best in gardening.

The Rose

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Audrey Hepburn, an icon of class and beauty, had a rose named after her. The rose named after Audrey is a soft apple-blossom pink hybrid tea rose. The blossoms are a deep pink in bud, but when they open they become a softer pink and then almost white. She grew them in her garden and in a bouquet you have different hues of colour.

Audrey Hepburn

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow . . .

The Audrey Hepburn Rose

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My mother was a gardener and my daughter has inherited the gardening gene and also my son.  I enjoy writing about gardens! In my novel Castle of Dreams I wrote about the rainforest plants and trees and in my WIP I am writing about all things botanical. My protagonist in the modern day is a botanist and my protagonist in the past collects wildflowers and paints botanical pictures. I have written about a medieval garden, a herb garden, an orchard and a vegetable garden. And of course a rose garden. There are dark family secrets and the past impacts on the present. But are some secrets better never to be discovered?

Gardens are a recurring motif in my novels.

Monet’s Garden at Giverny

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Audrey Hepburn:

If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairytales and I like them best of all. 

Have a wonderful day, writing, reading, dreaming . . .

Elise

 

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Slottet i Regnskogen

The Castle in the Rainforest (Hardcover)

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This is the lovely cover for the translated Norwegian hardcover edition of The Castle in the Rainforest. The title of the Australian edition is Castle of Dreams.

Norway is a Scandinavian country encompassing mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords. Oslo, the capital, is a city of green spaces and museums. Preserved 9th-century Viking ships are displayed at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum. Bergen, with colorful wooden houses, is the starting point for cruises to the dramatic Sognefjord. Norway is also known for fishing, hiking and skiing, notably at Lillehammer’s Olympic resort.

My publisher Cappelen Damm is a Norwegian publisher based in Oslo.

I appreciate Norwegian style which is characterised by simplicity although like in Australia I guess some people love their clutter!

Norway is truly beautiful. I’d love to visit one day!

Elise

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