Category Archives: Elise McCune

Harlequin Herstory Contest 2020

I was a finalist in Harlequin Books, Australia wide Herstory contest. I wrote about the woman in my work-in-progress who was indeed a strong woman although terribly wronged by the mid-nineteeth century society in which she lived.

This morning in the mail I received these two historical novels from Harlequin Books. I read and write historical fiction so they are perfect for me and I can’t wait to read them. I also feel it’s a good omen for my own novel, Bright Spirit, and I hope to have it finished before too long. 

Have a good day, and remember, no matter where in the world you live, all things pass. 

Elise xx

 

 

 

 

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Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair

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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 novel that is in draft stage 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.

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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 a new novel is set (I write dual narrative stories set in the past and the present although my WIP is a story of the heart and in a different genre) 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 had 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!

In the meantime keep safe in these strange times.

Happy writing,

Elise 

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Best Books I’ve Read in 2019

Best Books I’ve read in 2019

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I’ve read some wonderful books this year, some for research others for pleasure, some not published this year, some from my ‘to be read’ pile that keeps growing like Jack’s beanstalk. Like most writer’s I have many books but some are so special I reread them, treasured books found over the years in second-hand bookshops, op-shops, bookstores, and some gifts from family or friends. I haven’t numbered the list because each book is special in its own way.

THE REBECCA NOTEBOOK by Daphne Du Maurier

 If one of your favourite all time books is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier you will love this book. As a writer it’s always interesting to have a glimpse into the mind of other authors and the craft of writing. I read Rebecca at a very young age, our home was filled with books, and luckily for me there was no restrictions on what a young person could read. The Rebecca Notebook is the perfect companion for Rebecca and outlines how Rebecca was written.  Daphne describes how she came upon a secret house, hidden deep in the Cornish woodland, that became the setting for her most famous novel. It’s a treasure to be reread often. 

RISING GROUND by Philip Marsden 

A celebrated non-fiction writer, Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground explores the idea of the search for the spirit of place and takes the reader on a walk through Cornwall’s ritual sites. It explores the relationship between man and the landscape. How can one not love a book that explores Cornwall? 

THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN by Tim Smit

It was once the estate of the Tremayne family, in Cornwall, and when WW1 came it lost most of its staff and the garden of more than a thousand acres fell into decay. It became a ghost garden. The book is the story of its rediscovery and restoration. If you love gardens as much as I do this is a book for you to read. On my bookshelf I have always had books about Cornwall and the magic of that place never fails me. Although my new book is set in Australia it has a link to Cornwall. I was transported to that lovely garden by this book. 

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING BY Delia Owens 

This New York Times Bestseller was a gift from my daughter. A murder mystery and a coming-of-age story it is an exquisite book. The narrative is poetic without embellishments, the setting is a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. I’ve read it twice this year and each time I find more to admire. It reminds me of books like Green Mansions and Cross Creek. If it’s the only book you have time to read between now and the end of the year do so because it will stay in your heart and mind forever. 

ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan 

I love books set in WW2. Briony Tallis is thirteen and misinterprets what is a flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the family gardener. Her innocence of the world of adults begins a chain of events that alters the lives of all three.  It was a book that explored guilt and shame and is one that I read every couple of years and each time find other layers.

TOBY’S ROOM by Pat Barker

This book is an all-time favourite of mine. With a backdrop of WW1 it is a story that moves effortlessly between the past and the present. The story of Elinor Brooke, her  older brother, Toby, Kit Neville and Paul Tarrant is a narrative of the hardships of war, love and betrayal. It is not only the soldiers on the front but those left behind on the home front, who suffer. Once you read any of Pat Barker’s novels you will want to seek out her others. A brilliant novel that I return to often. 

THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kate Morton

I found this quite different to Kate’s earlier books but I loved it the most of all. It was a unique story and made the reader work hard (which is as it should be) and the different parts of the story wove together effortlessly. A very gifted writer who spins a web and draws you in.  I hope it’s not too long before her next book. 

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by J. L. Carr

The story of damaged survivor of WW1, Tom Birkin, this novel explores the power of art to heal and restore. Tom is spending a summer uncovering large medieval wall-painting in a village church. There is something about war stories and the power they have to engage the reader that makes for a powerful story. War is something I have never personally experienced (for which I am grateful) but with older family members lost to war and survivors of conflicts that I know personally, to me thoughts of war are almost like an inherited memory. A beautiful, beautiful story. 

Happy Reading! 

Elise 

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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,

Elise 

 

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Books I Have Loved

A book that takes you on a journey is a friend for life. These are books I have loved.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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It began with a letter, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road in London. Helene’s witty letters are responded to by the rather stodgy Frank Doel of 84 Charing Cross Road. A relationship that lasts across the ocean and the years. Delightful!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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Wuthering Heights was Emily’s only novel, published in 1847 under the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’. It was controversial at the time because it challenged strict Victorian ideas regarding religion, morality, and social classes. It is now a classic of English literature and should be read by the fire on a dark evening with a storm raging outside the window.

Cross Creek  by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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A delightful memoir about the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling, author of The Yearling, in the Florida backcountry. Originally published in 1942, Cross Creek has become a classic in modern American literature. It is the story of Marjorie’s experiences in the remote Florida hamlet of Cross Creek. She has a deep-rooted love of the earth, and it is one of my all-time favourite books.

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

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Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Francaise first tells the story of a group of Parisians as they flee south; then it follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Most of all it is a novel of hope amidst war and one to cherish.

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley 

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The first time I read this book I fell in love with the large house and the fragrant camomile lawn that stretched down to the Cornish cliffs. The young characters dazzle with their exhilaration and the older characters have secrets. Mary Wesley paints a  vivid picture of wartime London. She is the most witty writer I have read. It is a book I read at least once a year.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

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I discoverd this book and its author this year. The novel features stories told by three siblings, Jook-Liang, Jung-Sum and Sek-Lung or Sekky. Each child tells their own unique story, revealing their personal flaws and differences. It is set in Vancouver’s Chinatown and takes place during the 1930s and 1940s.  I read the book quickly and I now have two other Wayson Choy novels on my to be read pile. The Jade Peony is a wonderful book.

Elise 

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The Lost Gardens of Heligan – Cornwall

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From the Garden of Eden in Christian tradition gardens are typically thought of as a safe enclosure as opposed to the Australian bush or the European forest.

I first read about the lost gardens of Heligan in the wonderful Kate Morton novel, The Forgotten Garden, with all its mystery, romance and a garden it inspired me to read more about the garden that was the inspiration for Kate’s novel.

Heligan, seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, is one of the most mysterious and romantic estates in England. A genuine secret garden, it was lost for decades; its history consigned to overgrowth.

At the end of the nineteenth century Heligan’s thousand acres were at their zenith, but only a few years later bramble and ivy were already drawing a green veil over this “Sleeping Beauty”. The outbreak of WW1 was the start of the estate’s demise as its workforce went off to fight in the trenches; many sadly never to return

This was a story played out in many of the large estates throughout Britain’s war period.Unlike many other estates, however, the gardens and land at Heligan were never sold or developed. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Heligan House itself was eventually sold and split into private apartments.

 Bee Boles 
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After decades of neglect, the devastating hurricane of 1990 should have consigned the now lost gardens to a footnote in history. But the gardens have been restored and The Lost Gardens of Heligan, by Tim Smit is a book that tells the story of the gardens.
The symbolism of gardens is something that has been
with us for thousands of years, and to me, there is nothing
like being in a garden on sunny day,  a cup of tea at my elbow,
and a book to read. And, Bella drowsing under a daisy bush
as cats do.
Enjoy time in a garden or take a walk in a park,
and most importantly, stop and smell the flowers.
Elise 

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The Road of a Naturalist

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.

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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.

Enjoy a week of reading, walking and writing.

Elise

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Persian Gardens: Meanings, Symbolism and Design

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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 rainfores and a walled garden. Often, by serendipity I am guided to what I am to write next, and it happened with my WIP and recently Iran 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. Gardens and castles are connected.


Persian Garden

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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.

Persian Violets

Greenhouses, glasshouses

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

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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.

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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.

Elise 

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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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