Tag Archives: Elise McCune

Best Books I’ve Read in 2019

Best Books I’ve read in 2019

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

THE REBECCA NOTEBOOK by Daphne Du Maurier

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

RISING GROUND by Philip Marsden 

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

THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN by Tim Smit

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

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING BY Delia Owens 

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

ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan 

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

TOBY’S ROOM by Pat Barker

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

THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kate Morton

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

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by J. L. Carr

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

Happy Reading! 

Elise 

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Writing a Novel – the First Draft

I’m half-way through writing my new book and it’s the one I’ve been waiting to write for a long time. I am lost in the world of story and I can imagine no other place I’d rather be.  I’m enjoying the process of bringing my characters to life one page at a time.  I have a basic outline but I feel free to change it as I go along to suit the direction of the story. I write about 90,000 to 100,000 words for my first draft. I aim for 1000 words per day but if that doesn’t happen that’s fine and sometimes I write more. When I finish a 3000 word chapter it’s one that I have worked hard over. I cannot fly through a first draft and leave behind spelling mistakes and rambling dialogue. Every writer is different.

My new story has a working title of Bright Spirit and before I began writing this book I visited the various  areas where much of the story is set and read a few books on the subject matter which of course led to more research. However, research is a long piece of string and writers need to know when to stop. So I don’t do a lot of research in the beginning but I do know enough about the characters and setting to start writing. By the time I start the first draft I know who my main characters are and also some of the minor ones. My main characters don’t change but minor ones are sometimes deleted or I add new ones.  

I read somewhere that writing a first draft is like pushing a pea uphill with your nose and I agree!  For me, it’s a time of hard work and struggle, and I am heartily pleased when I put that last full stop on the page. When I finished writing my last book I can honestly say if my characters had stepped through my front door at that moment I’d have known them because they had become part of my family. But it’s then I let go of them.

Like most writers I have a notebook, for my last novel I had five, but this time I only have one, and I don’t read them again. I disposed of about ten old (large) notebooks earlier this year plus about 100,000 words from a ‘might be used file’.  A notebook is very handy. 

I always know the ending of a story (although it can change). Bright Spirit is a straight narrative written in first person so it is easy to jump from an earlier chapter to a later one.

I was asked recently about my writing day. I write most days for three to four hours in the morning. I am very methodical in backing up my files on a memory stick and/or emailing them to myself. I work in Pages, the Apple version of Word, and then convert the file to Word when needed. Most of the publishing houses, editors and agents  work in Word. 

A writer doesn’t produce a book all by themselves. It takes multiple input from many people to get a manuscript ready for publication. It’s something worth working hard to achieve. 

Good writing,

Elise 

 

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Books I Have Loved

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

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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

Cross Creek  by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

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

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley 

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

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

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

Elise 

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The Lost Gardens of Heligan – Cornwall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Tradescant the Elder

I first read about John Tradescant the Elder in Phillipa Gregory’s novel Earthly Joys a novel that I reread at least once a year. I love reading about the history of gardens and the people who lived their lives creating and collecting botanical treasures.

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John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s to April 1638)

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John Tradescant the Elder, the father of John Tradescant the Younger, was an English naturalist, gardener, collector and traveller, born in Suffolk, England. He began his career as head gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House. Cecil sent Tradescant to the Low Countries for fruit trees  which was the start of his travelling to collect rare and beautiful plants and trees. He made gardens at Salisbury House in London and he designed gardens on the site of St Augustine’s Abbey for Edward Lord Wotton in 1615-23. In 1630, he was engaged by King Charles 1 to be Keeper of his Majesty’s Gardens, Vines and Silkworms at his queen’s small palace, Oatlands Palace in Surrey.

On all his trips he collected seeds and bulbs and assembled a collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography which he housed in a large house, ‘The Ark’, in Lambeth, London. The Ark was the prototypical Cabinet of Curiosity, a collection of rare and strange objects, that became the first museum open to the public in England, the Musaeum Tradescantianum.

He was buried in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth, as was his son; the churchyard is now established as the Garden Museum.

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Gardens are the thread that binds all my novels together and I can think of nothing more beautiful.

Have a wonderful day,

Elise x

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The Road of a Naturalist

There is nothing more helpful to a writer than to walk in nature.

The Road of a Naturalist, by Donald Culross Peattie, published in 1948.

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It was then that I discovered that the desert dandelions and Mojave asters and many other flowers close up at night. And other flora, nocturnal, steals into bloom. All day long one lax and weedy plant had looked dead, its flowers withered. But by twilight this wild four-o-clock secretly opened its rose-pink calyces and emitted a faint odour.

The West is a kingdom of evening primroses; though I knew many species, still I was unprepared for the dune primrose I found in the desert dusks. Its crepuscular flowers are like as those of a wild rose when they open, but insubstantial as spider floss, great moth like petals languidly expanding as if still oppressed with the long siesta of the day.

Naturalist  is a favourite book of mine. How can one not love the words written by Donald Peattie, I read a page or two when I feel the need to be absorbed by this quiet American voice that speaks so eloquently of nature’s beauty.

Enjoy a week of reading, walking and writing.

Elise

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Persian Gardens: Meanings, Symbolism and Design

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It is very quite in my garden other than a group of magpies singing their early morning song. In my WIP I am writing about a small herb garden in 19th century Australia while in previous works I have written about different types of gardens so I thought I’d share some of my research with you.

My novel Castle of Dreams featured a rainfores and a walled garden. Often, by serendipity I am guided to what I am to write next, and it happened with my WIP and recently Iran won awards for a film called Castle of Dreams (I keep getting Google alerts about this) at the Shanghai Film Festival and I am reading a book that features a castle. Gardens and castles are connected.


Persian Garden

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Textures and shapes are important in the overall structual design in Persian Gardens so as to harness the light. Iran’s dry heat makes shade important where  trees and trellises feature as shade and pavilions and walls block the sun.

Persian Violets

Greenhouses, glasshouses

The Persian garden integrates indoors with outdoors through the connection of a  surrounding garden with an inner courtyard. And often architectural elements such as vaulted arches are added between the outer and interior areas to open up the divide between them.

Persian Garden Layout on Carpet

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Culture and identity in a society can be represented in the architecture and the meanings intertwined with it. In this sense, the architecture and design are the interface for transferring meaning and identity to the nation and future generations. Persian gardens have been evolved through the history of Persian Empire in regard to the culture and beliefs of the society. the patterns of design and architecture in Persian gardens and the meanings intertwined with their patterns and significant elements such as water and trees. Persian gardens are not only about geometries and shapes; but also manifest different design elements, each representing a specific symbol and its significance among the society. 

Garden has been defined as ‘the purest of human pleasures and the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man’ (Bacon 1883). According to Hunt, gardens are “concentrated or perfected forms of place-making’ (Hunt 2000). Garden is also perceived as a symbolic site, resulting from the human’s attempts to materialize Eden on the earth (Alon- Mozes 2004). In the Greek text of the Bible, a garden has been expressed as a “paradise”. In Hebrew “Eden” is translated to an unidentified region or country. In Persian literature, the word garden “pardis” derives from the word “paridaiza” which literally means “walled garden“ and it has been summed up as a luminous and perfumed place, populated by a number of angelical and beautiful creatures (Babaie 1997).

 A mystical feeling for flowers and a love of gardens are integral parts of ancient Persian gardens. The Persian garden is a manifestation of supreme values and concepts and is well-known as a bridge connecting the two worlds of matter and meaning.

The philosophical design concept of Persian gardens is believed to be rooted in the four sacred elements of water, wind, fire and soil. The geometrical design of Persian gardens has been reflected in Persian carpets, potteries and visual arts. The other distinctive feature of Persian gardens, which contributes to the introspective characteristics of ancient Persian people, is the wide application of thick brick walls, which surround the entire rectangular plan of the garden. Other traits of Persian gardens include: the application of perpendicular angles and straight lines, ponds and pools to supply the water and highlight the scenic landscape view, simultaneous use of evergreen and deciduous trees, planting of various types of plants and consideration of focal a pavilion known as Kooshk.

I’m so glad I discovered, serendipity definitely,  this very enlightening, well-written, and researched article. If you have an interest in the gardens it’s well worth reading.

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I like to weave a little magic through my stories. Writing a novel is rather like taking a magic carpet ride for who knows where you’ll end up? Most times lately it’s in a garden.

 

Reference: Leila Mahmoudi Farahani, Bahareh Motamed and Elmira Jamei.

Deakin University, School of Architecture and Built Environment, 1 Gheringhap St, Geelong; 3220, Australia

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution on License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Enjoy your week, reading, writing, dreaming and working in or creating a garden.

Elise 

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Persephone Books-Publisher and Bookseller

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Persephone Books is my favourite bookshop in the world. I live in Australia and discovered this bookshop online. Since then the people at Persphone Books have kindly sent me The Persephone Biannually. The first one I received (I have kept them all) was No. 9 Spring/Summer 2011 and the most recent No. 25 Spring/Summer 2019. I also have two catalogues, 1999-2011 and 1999-2017 these can now be found online

The people at Persphone Books are charming and when I was in London last year (I took the photo above) I visited the shop in Bloomsbury for the first time. I was fortunate to meet Nicola Beauman and Lydia. I bought Nicola’s book, A Very Great Profession which I enjoyed very much.

And, they stop for tea and cake at 4 o’clock.

If you are in London make sure to visit this wonderful bookshop, it’s just around the corner from the Charles Dickens Museum. We loved wandering around this lovely part of London with the past all around us. I keep seeing, in my minds eye, Persephone Books at 4 o’clock on a rainy London afternoon, the kettle on the heat, and slices of cake, Victoria sponge perhaps, on flower-covered plates.

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From Persephone Books website:

The Persephone shop and office is in Lamb’s Conduit Street.  Our Grade II Listed building was built in 1702–3 and for some years was on the northern edge of London. The street was developed by Nicholas Barbon, an economist, quoted by Marx on the second page of Das Kapital, who invented fire insurance after the Great Fire of London. Formerly called Red Lion Street, the present name derives from the conduit provided by a William Lamb, from which water ran through open wooden pipes down to the city. ‘Plenty of panelling and staircases of this date remain behind some of the later re-fronting (eg. No. 59)’ comments the modern Pevsner, praising ‘a lively local shoppping street, a rarity now in inner London, with enjoyable C19 shopfronts’.

The basement remains virtually unchanged (even the beautiful twisted balusters so typical of Barbon’s buildings are still in place) and, for reasons of cost, will remain so. The ground floor is now the office of Persephone Books, with the wooden tables and bentwood chairs in place, the mangle in the west-facing york-paved yard, the shop front painted Persephone grey.

The nearest tube stations are Russell Square and Holborn. Here is a map of where we are.

All our books are available in the shop (although very occasionally a title goes out of print for a few weeks while we reprint).

59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB
Tel: 020 7242 9292

Opening hours 10–6 Monday to Friday, 11–5 Saturday, 12–4 Sunday

Warm wishes for a joyful week,

Elise 

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Gothic Literature

Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic

I first read Daphne du Maurier when I found old hardback copies of her books with their beautiful wrap around covers on my mother’s bookshelf and these books were the start of my obsession with all things Gothic. Having an interest in Australian Gothic it’s on my ‘to be read’ list to read more of our 19th century Australian writers who wrote in the Gothic genre.

I wrote a post on 29 th October, 2016 called ‘Gothic Literature’ in which I spoke about Australian Gothic Literature and listed some of my favourite books in the Gothic genre.

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Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) used traditional Gothic motifs. Her motifs are: dark romances, a fascination with the past, the supernatural, and the magical intermingled with the realistic. And contain psychological insight through characterisation and representation of fear and the sinister and macabre .

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Her short stories, such as ‘The Birds, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘The Apple Tree’, take Gothic themes and add new twists. ‘The Apple Tree’can be read as the story of a woman haunting her husband from beyond the grave but it can also be viewed as a chilling meditation upon mental disintegration.

Daphne du Maurier was foremost a storyteller and that’s what I love about her novels and short stories. They draw you in and you can’t let go of the characters, ever!

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Rebecca herself  is dead when the novel starts and is the perfect example of a character and not a ghost, who makes not a single living appearance, but haunts the imaginations of the living protagonists. Favourite characters all.

I read all Daphne du Maurier’s novels and short stories, often found preloved in second hand bookshops, before I left school, The mystery and magic of her story telling and the haunting darkness and complexity of her work makes me return to them often.

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Other favourite characters are Phillip and Rachel in My Cousin Rachel and Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn.

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In the same way as Thomas Hardy is forever associated with Wessex, and Charles Dickens with London, so Daphne du Maurier is forever associated with Cornwall. Cornwall gave du Maurier the freedom to write free from the distractions of London life. I have several books about Cornwall on my bookshelf including Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier.

Daphne and her two sisters

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Have a wonderful week and include storytelling, writing and reading.

Elise

Thanks to Greg Buzwell, Curator for Printed Literary Sources, 1801 – 1914 at the British Library. His research focuses primarily on the Gothic literature of the Victorian fin de siècle. He is also editing a collection of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ghost stories, The Face in the Glass and Other Gothic Tales, for publication. The text in Greg’s article is available under the Creative Commons License.

 

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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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