Category Archives: Elise McCune

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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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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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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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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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the HNSA Patron at the  HNSA Conference Melbourne
8th -10th September 2017.

 Visit our speaker’s page www.hnsa.org.au/speakers for more information.

SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter to hear when early bird registration opens http://eepurl.com/bgWm49 And 

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the award-winning & internationally bestselling author of more than 20 books for both adults and children.

Beauty in Thorns, the extraordinary love story behind the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones’s famous painting of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Other novels include The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of ‘Beauty & the Beast’ set in the underground resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany; The Wild Girl, the story of the forbidden romance behind the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales; and Bitter Greens, a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ which won the 2015 American Library Association Award for Best Historical Fiction. Named one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists, Kate has a doctorate in fairy tale studies and is an accredited master storyteller.

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The Wild Girl  by Kate Forsyth is storytelling at its best. I enjoyed the richness of the words, the characters who were brought to life and the story which is about love and overcoming adversity. It is a blending of historical fact and fiction. Kate Forsyth has researched the events in the novel and in the afterword the author writes that she listened to the story within the stories that Gretchen told. This helped to plausibly fill in the blanks in Gretchen’s life.

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From the back cover:
Dortchen Wild is drawn to the boy next door, young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. They live in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in the early nineteenth century in a time of war. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Living under French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save the old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.
Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories and as she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.
Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

As a lover of history The Wild Girl had me turning the pages. I enjoyed the historical facts of Napoleon’s advance, then retreat, through Europe. I have an interest in plants and flowers and found the glimpse into how flowers and herbs were used at the time, as both medicines and to help people achieve their desires, added to the richness of the story.

The abuse that Dortchen suffers at the hands of her father, one of the people in her life who should protect her, was handled well, although one particularly harrowing scene was not to my liking. I can, however, see the need for this scene as it explains future happenings in the plot.

Excerpt from the first page:
‘Snow lay thick on the ground. The lake’s edges were slurred with ice. The only colour was the red rosehips in the briar hedge, and the golden windows of the palace. Violin music lilted into the air, and shadows twirled past the glass panes.’

In The Wild Girl Kate Forysth enchants with her descriptive powers, engages the reader with the story, and most of all Gretchen and Wilhem are vividly brought to life.

Elise

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Castle of Dreams

Photos I used as inspiration in writing the historical narrative in Castle of Dreams.

Robert Shine and Vivien Blake                    Vivien typing a letter


Rose Blake


Paronella Park aka Castillo de Suenos 


Jacaranda trees in Brisbane

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I was wondering how I could weave the Pacific War through my story when I discovered by a serindipitious happening that Australian and American Service personnel visited the castle for rest and recreation during the war years. They came out to the Saturday night dances, went canoeing on the lake with their Cairns and Innisfail girlfriends.

Castle of Dreams will be published in Norwegian in April 2017 and re-printed in Australia in June 2017. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it!

Elise

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The Storyteller

‘Storyteller Under Sunny Skies,’ a clay sculpture by Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes (Jemez Pueblo), 1993, in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

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Early storytelling most likely originated in simple chants. People sang chants as they worked at grinding corn or sharpening tools. Our early ancestors created myths to explain natural occurrences. They assigned superhuman qualities to ordinary people, thus originating the hero tale.

Journeying from land to land, storytellers would learn various regions’s stories while also gathering news to bring back with them. Through exchanging stories with other storytellers, stories changed, making it difficult to trace the origins of many stories.

I write time-slip novels with one narrative set in the past. I hope I create stories that engage the reader and my plot  has them turning the pages. The wonderful thing about being a storyteller is being able to bring characters to life so that when a reader finishes your novel the characters live on in their imagination. Research for historical fiction can be overwhelming. If an author wants to convince a reader there is no room for error although on saying that I’ve read the most wonderful and well researched books that have included an incorrect historical detail and it has not detracted from the story. Someone once told me about carpet weavers in India who always make sure to leave a flaw in a finished carpet to show only God is perfect. Research is a long piece of string but on the whole it’s crucial historical details are correct so we can bring the dusty, cobwebbed world of the past to life.

When I write I like to focus on the beauty of the writing and intricate issues. A story that provides a means to better understand the world. A story driven by my characters and one that keeps my readers turning the page.

But the most important thing to remember is that authors are storytellers and must enchant the reader which is easier to do in some stories than others.

One of my favourite books is Speak, Memory an autobiographical memoir by writer Vladimir Nabokov. It’s been on my shelf since my teenage self found it in a Sydney  bookstore and it’s a book I reread.

Vladimir Nabokov writes:

‘There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three — storyteller, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer…The three facets of the great writer — magic, story, lesson — are prone to blend in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought…Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.’

Excerpt: Paris Review No. 40

‘There is no doubt that Nabokov feels as a tragic loss the conspiracy of history that deprived him of his native Russia, and that brought him in middle life to doing his life’s work in a language that is not that of his first dreams.’

Enchantment is such a lovely word, the sound of it, the meaning it brings to mind.

Oxford Dictionary of English:

Enchantment

1 a feeling of great pleasure; delight: the enchantment of the mountains.
2 the state of being under a spell; magic: a world of mystery and enchantment.

I hope the new novel I’m working on tells a story that is full of enchantment and mystery and that my readers want to keep turning the pages.  And because it has a magical garden at the heart of the story I thought I’d give you a glimpse of the garden that inspired me.

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Have a wonderful day, dreaming, writing and reading and most of all I hope it is full of enchantment.

Elise

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