Tag Archives: A Writer’s Notebook

Thoughts on Writing-Elise McCune

I have been asked to speak to a group of writing students in October and while they will be asking me questions about my writing journey I also want to put together some points for them to consider. This is what I have come up with so far.

1. Read

To be a good writer you must read. Read what you love but also read widely in other genres and other types of writing to find out what you consider good and not so good writing. Read the much maligned historical novel which is linked to the romance novel and then read them too. A friend commented that my own novel Castle of Dreams was not a romance novel but a novel about love. Her comment resonated with me. Some years ago I wrote an outline for a tv series with a friend which was both historical and contemporary. I read other scripts and paid attention to the narrative voice.  People from the past read longer more descriptive novels read these too. Read memoirs, debut novels, and online diaries. You will have moments of self-doubt when you reread what you have written (lots of doubts and often). It’s normal for a writer to feel this way. If you wait for the perfect time to write you won’t start.


2. Research

For my research I read primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper reports. I read books written about and of the period I am researching. Trove and Ask a Librarian at the National Library of Australia’s online resources are a valuable source of information. I use Google but online information can be inaccurate so be careful and check more than one source. I use my wonderful local library and inter-library loans for books I don’t necessarily want to keep on my bookshelf or cannot find, and also, I always read bibliographies carefully in each book as they are a source of more information on the subject you are researching and this is something I’m sure most writers would do.


3. Discipline

An important piece of advice I received early in my writing career was to be disciplined. If you want to finish a novel or any other piece of writing it has to be a priority. Put aside time each day to write. If you watch television use the time to write. Limit the time you spend on social media. A page a day is a novel in a year. Have a professional attitude to writing. Set yourself deadlines.


4. Inspiration

‘There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it,’ says Gustave Flaubert.

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table,’ says Diane Ackerman. ‘Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’

Writing is not easy so take the time to find inspiration in the common place and in everyday life. There is a poetic layer of life: look at things with a painters eye. Notice the variation of colour on a single tree leaf, the rainbow in a drop of rain when the sun comes out on a cloudy day, jeweled raindrops on spiders webs and the expression on peoples faces.


5. Notebooks

I always have a notebook with me. My notebooks are many: some tattered with age, some with exquisite covers, some the red and black chinese notebooks from the newsagent. They are different in size and appearance but they all serve the same purpose: to capture an exquiste moment in time. I also have notebooks to write my research notes in. By the time I finished writing Castle of Dreams I  had ten notebooks of scribbled information that I had used in my story. For my WIP I have read a few books on WW1 and its aftermath.  On  three large sheets of butchers paper I wrote a timeline and described and named characters and wrote background information. I found the outline a little restricting so I’ve  made detours but I go back to it for inspiration. And of course I have a new notebook!


I read somewhere the most important thing about writing is to write from the soul. I couldn’t have said it better.

Have a great week: writing, reading and finding inspiration in the everyday,

Cheers Elise




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A Writer’s Notebook – Castle of Dreams

In April of this year, Allen & Unwin will publish my novel Castle of Dreams. I thought I’d share a small excerpt.

Castillo de Sueños, 1935

Vivien and Rose Blake rushed out through the heavy front doors of Castillo de Sueños, yelling to their mother they’d be home before dark. Too late Vivien remembered she’d promised to help Ma in the propagating shed with the orchids and lacy maidenhair ferns, but all day the rich scent of wild honey-suckle climbing over the loggia had drifted through the open windows, and now that lessons were over, outdoors beckoned irresistibly. Feet barely touching the mosaic tiles, the girls ran across the loggia, down the wide stone steps, and across the lawn towards the rainforest.

I visited the castle ruins at Paronella Park some years ago, a magical place set in the far north Queensland rainforest. Paronella Park has a website that you can visit to see pictures of the castle ruins and read about its rich history.  I’m sure lots of WW2 romances must have started there when the Australian and American servicemen came out to the Saturday night dances with their Cairns and Innisfail girlfriends. All of which I have written about in Castle of Dreams.

Castle of Dreams has two narratives, one set in WW2 Australia and the other in contemporary times. It’s full of all the things I love in a novel: romance, mystery and betrayal, everything to keep you turning the pages to find out what happened next.

Have a wonderful day and I hope it is full of magic and enchantment,






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A Writer’s Notebook – Ellen Terry

This is the second in a series of forgotten women.

Ellen Terry was the Queen of Britain’s stage at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And, while not forgotten in the true sense of the word, unless one has an interest in the history of the theatre it is likely she is not known to you. My introduction to Ellen was many years ago when I found a nineteenth century edition of Shakespeare in a second hand bookshop for a few dollars. Inside I discovered wonderful photographs of Ellen and Henry Irving and other actors as they appeared in various stage roles. The Shakespeare now resides on my daughter’s bookshelf.


  1. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
  2. Choosing a painting of Ellen Terry by George Frederick Watts
  3. A photograph (1864) of Ellen Terry by Julia Margaret Cameron

Alice Ellen Terry (she reversed her given names) was born in Coventry, England, the third surviving child born into a theatrical family. Her parents, Benjamin of Irish descent, and Sarah (née Ballard,) of Scottish ancestry, were comic actors in a Portsmouth-based touring company,and had 11 children. With two actors as parents who had already made a reputation for the name Terry and an older sister Kate also on the stage it was ineveritable Ellen became an actress. At least five of her siblings became actors: Kate, Ellen, Marion, Florence, and Fred.Two other children, George and Charles, were connected with theatre management. Kate (the grandmother of John Gielgud) and Marion were particularly successful on stage.  Ellen made her first stage appearance at age nine, as Mamillius, opposite Charles Kean as Leontes, in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at London’s Princess’s Theatre in 1856.

Between 1861 and 1862, Ellen was engaged by the Royalty Theatre in London, managed by Madame Albina de Rhona, where she acted with W. H. Kendal, Charles Wyndham and other famous actors. In 1863  15-year-old Ellen appeared at the opening of the Theatre Royal, Bath, as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then returned to London to join J. B. Buckstone’s company at the Haymarket Theatre in Shakespearean roles as well as in  modern comedies.

n 1878 she joined Henry Irving’s company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. Two of her most famous roles were Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She and Irving also toured with great success in America and Britain.

Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century, George Bernard Shaw wrote of the Dame Ellen when she was at the height of her career. Their correspondence was a love affair in words.

On Ellen’s death, through her nephew, the famed actor Sir John Gielgud, the family tradition of connection to the theatre continued.

Good writing and have a wonderful week,



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A Writer’s Notebook – Social Media

I have been thinking lately about my online presence and while I enjoy writing a blog post each week (and will continue to do so) when I’m online for too long I find my creative energy is stalled. I am not sure how many other writers feel this way but it must be quite a lot for many well known authors are not online presences. Some writers have two computers one for writing and one for internet searches and social media which is a great idea. Now that I am starting a new novel it is simply more important to me to concentrate on my outline which will save me many hours of unnecessary detours along the way. I realise that social media is a way of promoting my work but I have to weigh that up against the time I spend and the value I get from it. I’d rather be reading for research, plotting my story, and getting to know my characters. As an artist I want my story to be the very best it can be.

Good writing,







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A Writer’s Notebook-Rochelle Hudson

This is the first post on a series about forgotten women.


I have found the perfect person in Rochelle Hudson to be my inspiration for the protagonist in my next novel. Once again, as in Castle of Dreams,  my novel will be a duel narrative story and I can see Rochelle in the earlier narrative. And she was a family friend of Edgar Rice Burroughs the creator of Tarzan. I love Tarzan stories!

Rochelle Hudson (born Rochelle Elizabeth Hudson, March 6, 1916 – January 17, 1972) was an American film actress from the 1930s through the 1960s.

The Oklahoma City-born actress may be best remembered today for costarring in Wild Boys of the Road (1933), playing Cosette in Les Misérables (1935), playing Mary Blair, the older sister of Shirley Temple’s character in Curly Top, and for playing Natalie Wood’s mother in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

During her peak years in the 1930s, notable roles for Hudson included: Richard Cromwell’s love interest in the Will Rogers showcase Life Begins at Forty (1935), the daughter of carnival barker W.C. Fields in Poppy (1936) and Claudette Colbert’s adult daughter in Imitation of Life (1934).

She also played Sally Glynn, the fallen ingenue to whom Mae West imparts the immortal wisdom, ‘When a girl goes wrong, men go right after her!’ in the 1933 Paramount film, She Done Him Wrong.

Rochelle was married four times. Her first husband was Charles Brust. Little is known of the marriage other than it ended in divorce.

Espionage work during World War Two.

Rochelle remarried in 1939 to Harold Thompson, who was the head of the Storyline Department at Disney Studios. She assisted Thompson, who was doing espionage work in Mexico as a civilian during World War II. They posed as a vacationing couple to various parts of Mexico, to detect if there was any German activity in these areas. One of their more successful vacations uncovered a supply of high test aviation gas hidden by German agents in Baja California. There is a story in this! 

After their divorce in 1947, Rochelle married a third time the following year to Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Dick Irving Hyland. The marriage lasted two years before the couple divorced. Her final marriage was to Robert Mindell, a hotel executive. The two remained together for eight years before they divorced in 1971.

Rochelle died in 1972 of a heart attack.

A beautiful tribute to Rochelle

youtube tribute: sebasj1978


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A Writer’s Notebook-Memoirs of a Geisha



A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

My Thoughts:

What I found striking about ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ is that it was a novel written by a man, Arthur Golden, and he has created a convincing female narrator. Written in beautiful prose and historical detail the heroine, Chiyo, as she is called at the start of the novel is a spirited young girl who is a product of an archaic, traditional Japan.

To me the novel starts like a fairytale in a remote village by the sea. My favourite books are often based on fairytales so the story had me hooked from the first pages. Chiyo is sent to a geisha house in Kyoto, but not so lucky is her sister, who, not as pretty, is sent to a house of prostitution.
‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a book I reread every couple of years and find the same enjoyment in turning the pages as I did the first time I read it.

In a way it is a coming of age story of one young girl that spans nearly a hundred years and one world war. It is exotic and portrays the lost world of the Kyoto geisha in historical detail which adds and does not detract from this character driven novel. In my recent reread I loved this story as much as ever. It is a classic in the sense of a Dickens novel. Highly recommended.

Now I must get back to reading the last proofpages of my novel, Castle of Dreams which will be published in April by Allen & Unwin. After I mail the pages back to my editor I will take a few days to think about my proposed new novel. I will then start to outline it and while I have written some pages I will make sure that my outline has tied up any plot holes before I start. I will have maps, floorplans of houses, garden outlays etc, so I don’t waste time in sorting these things out while writing the novel. I am very fond of flowers and the language of flowers in particular. I am sure this language will be woven through my new novel. Other than that I doubt I will say much about the plot as I prefer not to discuss it before the novel is finished, after all it might change along the way!

For the moment, though my thoughts are firmly centred on Castle of Dreams. If you want to see images of the castle ruins that I based Castillo de Suenos on just google Paronella Park in far north Queensland. I will write more about the park in the coming weeks.

Good writing,




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A Writer’s Notebook – Castle of Dreams




An image of how I imagine Vivien, a main character in my novel Castle of Dreams. Vivien has a sister called Rose and they grew up in a castle in the far north Queensland rainforest. A dual narrative novel it is about love and betrayal and dark family secrets.

This week I received the ‘master’ proofread set of page proofs of Castle of Dreams from my publisher Allen & Unwin. I will be spending the next week reading through them carefully and making any necessary corrections. I am loath to use too many commas in my writing. I am grateful the proofreader has added them where necessary. I wrote lightening instead of lightning several times (and I do know the difference!) it shows how helpful a fresh pair of eyes are. I have struck gold with the team at Allen & Unwin, from my publisher, Louise Thurtell, who through her innovative Friday Pitch (which is now everyday) picked up my novel, to my editors and now a proofreader with an eagle eye. Everyone I have had contact with at with Allen and Unwin has been thoughtful and considerate. They are the rockstars of the publishing industry!  I am ready to start at page 200 this morning so I am more than halfway through the proofreading process and should be finished in a few days. I will then, of course reread it. In early February the pages will wing their way back to Allen & Unwin’s Sydney office and Castle of Dreams will be published in late April.

Good writing and reading,

Elise x


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A Writer’s Notebook – Christina Rossetti



“My heart is like a singing bird.”

Painting by Florence Hamilton to illustrate:  A Birthday by Christina Rossetti.

I have used Florence Hamilton’s painting The Lady of Shalott for the background of this blog.

I have always loved Christina Rossetti’s poems. In my novel Castle of Dreams to be released in April of this year I referenced her poem: A Birthday.

Part of a scene in Castle of Dreams:

‘She opened the wrapping; inside was an anthology of Christina Rossetti’s poems. The antique book, bound in green crushed levant, mirror-polished, hand-tooled, was so beautiful she was almost afraid to touch it.

“My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

Because my love is come to me.”

It’s a secret for the moment who gives this beautiful book of poetry to Rose, one of my characters in Castle of Dreams, but after all it is a novel of secrets. There is another verse to the poem that is truly beautiful too that I didn’t use in this scene. I’ll  post it another day with a few verses from the very long poem: Goblin Market also by Christina Rossetti.

I have long had an interest in fairytales and throughout Castle of Dreams you will find an occassional reference to magic and the otherworldly.

Have a great day . . . good writing . . .

Elise x



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A Writer’s Notebook – Paronella Park

Photos taken at Paronella Park. The ruins of the castle were the inspiration for Castillo de Suenos the castle in my novel Castillo de Suenos, Castle of Dreams, to be published in April, 2016.



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A bright star in the firmament.

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