Category Archives: What Elise Wrote

Celtic Myths and Customs

It’s an old Celtic custom to talk to your bees. I wrote about bees in my novel Castle of Dreams.  It is the early nineteen forties and Robert Shine, an American soldier, is having dinner with Vivien Sherman and her husband William at their home in Brisbane.

. . . We have an orchard and there’s an old apple tree with a low branch and a bees’ nest stuck fast into it. We have several hives. They keep us supplied with honey.’

‘I like bees,’ said Vivien. ‘My mother has beehives and tells them every significant event– every birth, marriage and death that occurs within the community.’

‘Old folklore.’ said William. He turned to Robert with a knowing smile. ‘My wife’s parents live in a strange falling-down castle in far north Queensland. Superstition came from Ireland with Vivien’s mother. She’s an unusual woman.’

Vivien frowned. While what he said was true, she wondered why he’d told a stranger about her mother’s eccentricities. ‘The bees foretell death when they abscond from their hive,’ she said stubbornly. She knew William didn’t like it when she referred to her mother’s beliefs.

‘Vivien, surely you can’t believe that,’ William said coldly.

‘If the bees become hurt by neglect, you will suffer the consequences,’ she continued.

Robert nodded, his expression serious. ‘I remember returning from my grandfather’s funeral and finding that the bees had absconded from their hives,’ he said.

So if you have bee hives remember to talk to your bees and plant lots of bee-loving flowers in your garden.

Celtic mythology is an endless source of gold for an author. It is easy to weave a few strands through a novel to make it a more layered story. I was recently researching Celtic traditions and came across the earliest-known Celtic calendar, the Coligny calendar, now in the Palais des Arts, Lyon.  Each year is divided into thirteen months.


The original Celtic year

Imbolc: 1st February-The Beginning of Spring

Beltaine: 1st May-The Beginning of Summer


Lughnasadh: 1st August- Beginning of the Harvest, and the end of summer

Samhain: 1st November


Sunset on Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-en’), October 31st, is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest gathered, livestock  brought in from the fields, leaves are falling from the trees. It’s the ending of one cycle, the beginning of another as the earth slowly begins to hibernate. In Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter). Like Bealtaine, Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed.

Ancient Celtic wisdom associates seeing a large patch of primroses with a gateway or portal into the faerie realms.Primroses-on-the-side-of-a-road-in-Ireland


I will never stop writing about flowers and myths in my novels. In Castle of Dreams I wrote about the rainforest, I also wrote about an overgrown garden surrounding a cottage in the Blue Mountains.

Afterwards, Vivien slipped on her kimono, left Robert sleeping, and went outside to the garden. 

While the inside of the cottage was as neat as a pin, the backyard was a delightfully overgrown shambles with a back-drop of autumn hues: a row of tupelo trees immediately behing the cottage, and maple, ash and tallow woods on the crest of a small hill a little further away. Ferns dipped over a brick path leading to the one point of light in the garden, a silver linden tree. 

Taitneamh a bhaint as aisling draíochta

(enjoy magical dreams)







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The Literary Institute of Batlow-‘Doors to Other Worlds’.

27797789_2061081123909504_9191363407359349454_oThe Literary Institute of Batlow is proud to announce “Doors to Other Worlds” which will be opened at the Tumut River Brewery on the 20th of July and held in Batlow on the 21st and 22nd of July. Seven wonderful authors have been confirmed as well as Ali Green (CEO of Pantera Press) who will be “opening the door” to what publishers are looking for in new manuscripts. A detailed program will be announced and published in the coming weeks but please circle that weekend and save date. What better way to spend a winter’s day than in the warmth of the Literary Institute stepping through doors to other worlds created by some of Australia’s best writers. The Literary Institute of Batlow is delighted to welcome: Ali Green, Angela Savage, Dan O’Malley, Andrew Nette, Elise McCune, Robert Gott, John M. Green and Sulari Gentill.

I visited Tumut and Batlow last year to research my new book One Bright Day and most importantly to speak at an International Women’s Day event. When we left I took with me the warmness and heartfelt welcome of the wonderful community. I am looking forward to my next visit and meeting up with people I now consider old friends. And of course stepping through the doors to other worlds.

Have a magical week,

Elise x

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Emily Bronte~Wuthering Heights

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte wrote about the wild moors in the north of England. It is place that is grey and dark in winter and even in warmer seasons is a sombre place where  tough bracken and heather cover the hills and fragments of the past linger.

Emily Bronte


The isolation of Haworth Parsonage on the wild and bleak local moors separated the Bronte children from other families and they relied on each other for companionship. This lead them to create fantasy worlds: Gondal, shared by Emily and Anne, is an island in the North Pacific; Angria, shared by Charlotte and her brother Bramwell, is nominally in Africa.

Bronte Parsonage in Haworth


Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Bronte and is her only novel. It was published in 1847 under the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’.  Emily Bronte died the following year, aged 30.


I lingered round them, under that benign  sky, watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’ 

~Catherine and Heathcliff.

‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed. One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and by a gaunt range of thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving the alms of the sun. ~ Wuthering Heights, Chapter 1.

I discovered the Brontes when I was still at school and knew straightaway I’d found magical stories. The images were wonderful: bleak moors, star-crossed lovers, solitary landscapes, valleys and streams; haunting novels.

And, of course the story of the Brontes themselves.

Remember, read books that bring magic into your life.




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Persephone Books, London


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


And don’t you love the window display?

I put the final full-stop on the last page of my work-in-progress (with a working title of One Bright Day) and sent it to my publisher at Allen & Unwin in December. 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 for 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.








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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.


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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Spirit of Place-Tumut Valley

I thought I’d be finished ‘One Bright Day’ many months ago but it has taken until now to put the last full stop on the last page!

what elise wrote

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

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

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

My story is about abandoned gardens…

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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.’


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.


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.


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!







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The first castles were built by the Normans and started with the wooden Motte and Bailey castles. They were eventually replaced by castles of stone.

Winner of England’s Booker Prize in 1990, Possession-A Romance written by A.S. Byatt is one of my favourite novels (a keeper on my bookshelf). Names in novels are of the utmost importance to most authors and A.S. Byatt used Motte and Bailey as surnames for two of her characters in the novel: Christobel LaMotte and Maud Bailey (Bailey was my grandmother’s maiden name). ’A masterpiece of wordplay and adventure, a novel that compares with Stendhal and Joyce.’ ~ Los Angeles Times Book Review. 


From the back cover:

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Chateau de Chaumont, France

Castles are written about in literature, fairytales and children’s books. I wrote about a castle in the rainforest in my own novel Castle of Dreams. The castle ruins are in the far north Queensland rainforest and if you visit Paronella Park you can wander among the ruins of the castle built by Jose Paronella, a Catalonian immigrant, in the early twentieth century. When Jose was a child his grandmother used to read him bedtime stories about castles in Spain.


I am not sure if my WIP will feature a castle but it is possible!

Have a lovely week:  dreaming, reading, and writing.




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Gordon Square, London

I have set some of the scenes in my new novel in London in 1921.


One of my characters, recently arrived from Australia is living in a flat in Gordon Square. In the opening scene of one chapter she is walking around taking in the sights of London: The weather was getting better and spring was in full bloom in the parks, the gardens awash with daffodils and bluebells. Later in the story I set several scenes in the park opposite her flat. Another character conveniently lives in a nearby house in Tavistock Square.

This area of London was one I frequently walked through when I lived in London some years ago. I loved the parks and the townhouses and the literary links to the past.


The Square was home to members of the Bloomsbury Group. I found a book written about the group (sadly loaned and lost) in a second hand bookshop in Sydney when I worked in that city. While I knew about the group this book sparked my interest and through the years I have read many books about and by its individual members.


The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set— was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

10, Looking out from the Church of Christ the King ...

Looking out from the Church of Christ the King on to Gordon Square.

 Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2011

And in the serendipitious way of things I found Patrick Comerford’s award winning blog. It was so exciting because my next novel will be set partly in Ireland and I can see from the brief glimpse I had of the blog that it will be helpful for my research. My new novel will have a touch of magic about it and of course a lovely garden that is linked to the story.

Have a wonderful week: reading, writing, dreaming.



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Paddy Richardson-Through the Lonesome Dark

I met Paddy Richardson when we were on a panel together: Worlds at War: The Appeal of 20th Century Historical Fiction at the recent HNSA conference in Melbourne and in the course of my preparation for the panel I read the first pages of her latest novel Through the Lonesome Dark.


I recently finished reading this wonderful novel. Paddy Richardson is a fine writer and her characters are so part of the landscape of the era the novel is set that it’s hard to believe they came from her imagination.


Writing from a child’s perspective is never easy but Richardson does it with ease and as we follow Pansy on her journey from childhood to young adulthood I can only compare Richardson’s writing to Ruth Park. I also keep thinking Katherine Mansfield who had the same magic and immediacy that Richardson’s writing does.

Blackball where the story opens was named after the Black Ball Shipping Line, which leased land in the area to mine for coal. It was formerly known as Joliffetown and Moonlight Gully.

Richardson brings Blackball to life in the times surrounding the First World War. There is hardship and sadness but there is also much hope in the story.

Pansy is a strong  and delightful protagonist. Later in the novel Clem, who loves the mining life but volunteers for the war, is the protagonist. This gives the book its battle scenes and the underlying feeling that war is young men fighting old men’s wars.

From the back cover: For the men of the town, Blackball is the daily hardship of working the mine. For the women, it’s the dismal cottages with the piles of coal outside. Yet for Pansy, Otto and Clem, childrend of Blackball, it’s the treasure of the creek and bush and the richness of the friendship which binds them together. But, as Pansy soon realises, ‘grown up is serious’ and past promise cannot be kept.

Set in the times surrounding the Great War, Through the Lonesome Dark confronts and questions the loyalties demanded by family, friendship and love –– both at home and amongst the ravages of war –– and the hope of finding your way back.


Dunedin writer Paddy Richardson is a prolific fiction author. To date she has published two collections of short stories, Choices (Hard Echo Press, 1986), If We Were Lebanese (Steele Roberts, 2003), and seven novels, The Company of a Daughter (Steele Roberts, 2000), A Year to Learn a Woman (Penguin, 2008), Hunting Blind (Penguin, 2010), Traces of Red (Penguin, 2011), Cross Fingers (Hachette, 2013) Swimming in the Dark (Upstart Press, 2014) and Through the Lonesome Dark (Upstart press, May 2017). Four of the last five have been finalists in the Ngaio Marsh Award. Paddy has been awarded three Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship (1997), the Beatson Fellowship (2007), and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award (2011). Her work had been published in Australia (MacMillans), and translated and published in Germany (Droemer Knaur). Although she has turned to psychological thriller writing more recently, her first novel was a saga of five generations of New Zealand women, described as a ‘lyrical, slow-moving’ and ‘meditative’. Reviewing her more recent novel Cross Fingers, author Nicky Pellegrino wrote: ‘Part thriller, part social comment, part history, this is a very New Zealand story, stylishly written and compellingly plotted’.

Paddy’s work has appeared in journals, anthologies, including takahē and Landfall and on radio. It has been highly commended in several writing competitions, including the Katherine Mansfield and Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards. Paddy is an experienced teacher of creative writing and has been a speaker at many writing festivals including the most recent Dunedin Writer and Readers Book Week. In 2012, she represented New Zealand at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs.

She is presently working on her new novel, Cheerio Old Son, which is set during the First World War.

Through the Lonesome Dark is wonderful story written by an exceptionally talented writer.



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