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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Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair

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.

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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 WIP (work-in-progess) 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 my WIP is set (I write dual narrative stories set in the past and the present) 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 have 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!

Happy writing,

Elise 

 

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Gordon Square, London

via Gordon Square, London

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December 14, 2018 · 9:20 am

Emily Bronte~Wuthering Heights

I was recently at the Bronte Parsonage and the lingering sense of the past was everywhere: in the parsonage, the graveyard, the village. I absorbed the atmosphere that was around every corner and it was certainly not all bleak and forbidding.

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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

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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

depositphotos_21032619-stock-photo-bronte-parsonage-museum-in-haworthWuthering 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.

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I lingered round them, under that benign  sky…

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Mystery and Magic of Plants

I’m going to London this week and I’ll be visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden that was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, England, in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to grow plants to be used as medicines. Most often, an herb is medicinal, culinary, or has some magic connected to it. Botanists differentiate herbs from other plants by the stem. A woody stem above the ground, is not an herb but a tree or a shrub so it follows that parsely is an herb but rosemary is not. I wrote about the Chelsea Physic Garden in my new novel. The garden didn’t play a leading role (it might in my new novel) but I weave all things botanical through my stories: gardens, plants, flowers, botanical art. There is nothing like a garden to grab hold of your heart and not let go.
So while I am visiting a famous garden I also like to walk through the imaginary gardens of my mind. Now can you imagine being in England in January or February; snow on the garden of a mysterious house and heavy on the roof of a Camellia House? A stone house perhaps, or one made of splendid mellowed brickwork, with large casement windows that could be opened to let in the sunshine and fresh air of the warmer months. Magnificent red, white or pink blooms with luminous dark green leaves. I have started writing my next novel, as yet unnamed, but one of my characters will visit a house with a Camellia House when she should be somewhere else.
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Culzean Castle, Camellia House 
So, you can see my mind is full of all sorts of possibilities: a physic garden, a Camellia House, winter snow and summer days. I can see I’ll never run out of gardens to write about, medieval gardens, (there is one in my second novel) flower gardens, knot gardens even the urban garden, or plants with beautiful or unusual names: blue lacecap hydrangeas, a rose called, Peace, acanthus, and bachelors buttons.
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An abandoned Camellia House
The mystery and magic of plants never fade.
Enjoy this Sunday, reading perhaps, dreaming, hopefully,
and walking in a garden.
Elise 

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Dual Timeline Novels

I write dual timeline novels and the benefits are manifold for the reader. A book that I still read at least once a year is Possession by A S Byatt the novel that inspired my own love of the genre. The first book I wrote was a romance novel, the second a historical novel based on a convict ancestor who had a colourful past, and the third  was a dual timeline novel set during the goldrush days in Australia and a contemporary story. Castle of Dreams was a dual timeline novel that became a bestseller in Australia and was published in translation in Norway. Each time I start a novel I consider writing a chronological storyline but the benefits are many in writing a dual narrative story, a more layered plot, a linking theme and two casts of characters.

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My new novel One Bright Day is finished and with my agent. It’s a dual narrative story and by way of serendipity I found a single playing card in the Acorn Patch and while I wrote I kept the card on my desk. The book is one that found me: What better companion than Ronald Blythe? On the coastal paths of North Norfolk, meeting crab fishermen of Cromer or speculation on the lost city of Dunwhich . . . along the footpaths of Northamptonshire in the steps of John Clare . . . climbing Snowdonia after Gerard Manley Hopkins . . . tracking down a mystery in Raleigh, North Carolina . . . following the rounds of a Suffolk doctor in the 1920’s  and a Victorian Breckland shepherd . . . through the seasons in the John Nash’s Essex garden, which he himself now tends . . . and of course, Going to Meet George Mackay Brown, in Orkney. Ronald Blythe walks, remembers, evokes, describes, speculates in these wonderfully written pieces and outings, on which he invites us to accompany him. ~ From the folder flap

The butterfly dish was a gift from a friend and what more beautiful thing than a gift of new beginnings?

When I am writing I sometimes feel like one of my favourite childhood characters from a story book, Alice. One never knows what one will discover down the rabbit hole: dreams, magical happenings, a roadsign that leads you to the land of imaginings, and hopefully, at the end of all this day dreaming and imagining, a new story will be brought to life.

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Photo credit: Lucuna Magazine

Have a wonderful week, writing, reading and most importantly dreaming.

Elise

 

 

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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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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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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.

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The original Celtic year

Imbolc: 1st February-The Beginning of Spring

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Beltaine: 1st May-The Beginning of Summer

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

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Samhain: 1st November

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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

Photo: http://www.irishamericanmom.com

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 behind 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)

Elise 

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

Elise 

 

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