Tag Archives: Elise McCune

Roses of the Ancient World

The Rose a publication by the Royal Horticultural Society with Classic Texts and Beautiful Rare Prints was a lovely Christmas gift to receive.  The Rose joins a growing number of books that I have on gardening and ancient myths.

I am writing about gardens and flowers and myths and the Ancient World in my WIP. The story grew from a visit by my daughter to Elizabeth’s Bookshop in Perth, Western Australia. She found pressed flowers between the pages of a book and suggested to me that it was a good premise for a novel. Some of her other suggestions have ended up in my dual narrative story (an artist’s sketchbook is one of them). My story is set in southwestern Australia and also in the Tumut Valley in New South Wales.

Pliny is the major source from antiquity, describing fourteen sorts of roses, while passages from Columella, Palladius and others yield supplementary information.

Rosa damascena or the damask rose is a descendent of Rosa gallica. This particular rose is popular for its fragrance and since its first appearance in 900 B.C., it has been an integral part of the history of roses. Some time around 50 B.C., the Romans were thrilled with a North African rose variety named Rosa damascena semperflorens, also known as the ‘Autumn Damask’, which flowered twice every year. The Romans were not aware of this attribute of the ‘Autumn Damask’ till then. This variety is thought to be a hybrid developed from Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata, also called the musk rose, and said to have its origin in the fifth century B.C.

Roses are also much loved in fairytales.

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Flora was the Roman Goddess of Spring

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The world of gardens is fascinating and in my WIP I am working on bringing an abandoned garden to life. Of course there are also family secrets, romance, and mysteries to be solved.

All the very best for a creative and happy 2017.

Cheers, Elise

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A Scottish Christmas

Christmas is a time for our families to come together. I am blessed with two wonderful children and three grandchildren. My son holds a special place in my heart and my daughter too. They are my best friends. My eldest grandson, is so tall now and runs in marathons, my middle grandson is reading the classics, and my grandaughter is a treasure. I love them all and my happiest times are spent with them.

Here in Australia Christmas Day is often a very hot day with traditional dinners becoming a thing of the past (although some would disagree with this custom) but it is no less special and my favourite time of the holidays is Christmas Eve when we exchange presents.

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Our family has Scottish ancestors so I thought I’d make my last post for 2016 a tribute to them.

Claire and Jamie from Outlander.

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Traditional Scottish Christmas

The Scots word “Yule” comes from the Old Norse “jól, which was a midwinter pagan celebration of the winter soltice. Traditionally, Yule refers not just to Christmas Day but the twelve days of the earlier festival. The Christian Church took over the celebration, but some of the traditions harked back to the pagan roots.

One of the most unusual facts about Scottish Christmas traditions is they haven’t been around very long. For nearly 400 years, the celebration of Christmas as we know it was banned in Scotland. It’s no wonder that the Scottish New Year’s festival, Hogmanay, is a days’ long party.

The Banning of “Christ’s Mass”

The people of the United Kingdom were oppressed by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s. During a period known as the Reformation, Parliament issued the ban in 1647, and upheld it for nearly 15 years.

When Cromwell fell from grace, the ban was lifted in the most of the U.K., but not in Scotland. The Scottish Presbyterian Church continued to discourage Christmas holiday festivities, including formal Mass, and people suffered penalties if caught celebrating. This ban lasted for nearly 400 years.

Finally, in the late 1950s, Christmas and the U.K. tradition of Boxing Day became recognized holidays for the Scottish people.

Many Scots still burn a twig of the rowen tree at Christmas as a way to clear away bad feelings of jealousy or mistrust between family members, friends, or neighbors.

Once the ban on Christmas was lifted, the Scottish adapted many of the Christmas traditions used in England and the U.S. Today, the Scots celebrate with festive Christmas trees and presents for all. Great dinners include mounds of Scottish shortbread, mashed turnips, and roasted turkey or venison stew. In addition to Yule bread, families may also make a Black Bun, or Twelfth Night Cake. Similar to a fruitcake, it has thick pastry and is packed with spices, fruit, nuts…and more than a dash of whiskey!

‘Auld Lang Syne’ is the most famous Scottish holiday music.
Hogmanay: Four Days of Reverie

One thing that a traditional Scottish Christmas has with the rest of the UK is that normally at 3.00pm on the television is the recording of the Queen’s Speech.

Scotland has very short days at the end of December. It is dark until around 8.30 am and again about 3.30pm in the afternoon. The shortest day is the 22nd December. The weather is usually quite cold, but not as bitter as other countries and the lights and warmth of candles in windows and the merrily burning fires in the grates are a welcome sight.

There must be something wonderful about having the native Scots Pine as a traditional Scottish Christmas tree. That lovely fresh smell of the pine against the cosy warmth of the indoors must be delightful.

Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr.

Have a Happy Christmas and all the very best for 2017.

Cheers Elise

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Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani and Damascus

I am researching and writing a novel set against the backdrop of the First World War. It is partly set in Australia: Margaret River and the Tumut Valley and in London and the Middle East. It is a time-split novel and has two casts of characters who are connected across time. And the research is a such joy!

One character is botanist and and another an artist who live a hundred years apart yet are connected by botanicals. The modern day botanist brings abandoned gardens to life and the hundred years ago artist paints images of the wildflowers she has collected.

One of my male characters joins the Light Horse Regiment (conveniently raised in Western Australia where part of the novel is set) and another travels to England and becomes a pilot.

The 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment AIF was the only AIF regiment recuited in Western Australia during the First World War.

My research lead me to the city of Damascus. 

In 1917 the 10th Light Horse Regiment were part of the Desert Column that advanced into Palestine. The regiment participated in the bloody battles to break the Gaza-Beersheba line and helped capture Jerusalem. They participated in the Es Salt Raid in May 1918. In August they were one of the regiments re-equipped with swords and rifle boots, and retrained to take a more orthodox cavalry role. In their new role they took part in the rout of the Ottoman army in the Jordan Valley, a campaign the light horse referred to as ‘The Great Ride’. In September the 10th was the first formed regiment to enter Damascus.

I spent time in Egypt some years ago and felt a connection to the culture and the history of the Middle East so a great joy for me while researching was my discovery of the poet Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani and his exquisite poetry.

Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani (Arabic: نزار توفيق قباني‎‎, Nizār Tawfīq Qabbānī) (21 March 1923 – 30 April 1998) was a Syrian diplomat, poet and publisher. His poetic style combines simplicity and elegance in exploring themes of love, eroticism, feminism, religion, and Arab nationalism. Qabbani is one of the most revered contemporary poets in the Arab world.

Nizar Qabbani was born in the Syrian capital of Damascus to a middle class merchant family. Qabbani was raised in Mi’thnah Al-Shahm, one of the neighborhoods of Old Damascus.

Part of Verse 14: Damascus, What are you Doing to Me.

I put on the jubbah of Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-Arabi
I descend from the peak of Mt. Qassiun
Carrying for the children of the city . . .
Peaches
Pomegranates
And sesame halawa . . .
And for its women . . .
Necklaces of turquoise . . .
And poems of love . . .
I enter . . .
A long tunnel of sparrows
Gillyflowers . . .
Hibiscus . . .
Clustered jasmine . . .
And I enter the questions of perfume . . .

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  2. A Syrian cat sitting behind a jasmine vine

Have a wonderful day (I am spending the afternoon with friends at  a lovely house with a walled garden).

Cheers, Elise.

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Gremlin Special Crash

Readers of  my novel Castle of Dreams often ask me about the Gremlin Special crash which was the inspiration for part of the narrative.  It’s a fascinating story and one I’d like to share with you.

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Excerpts.

Stella, Rose’s granddaughter. 

I scribbled all the details down in my notebook. Nothing I could have imagined about Nan’s past was as fascinating as the true story of her lost love: a soldier who died in a fiery plane crash. No matter how many years had passed since then, her story was tragic. I felt a deep sense of sadness as I watched her squint to pick up a dropped stitch. I could only guess the effort it must have taken to talk about Robert’s death. As if to confirm my thoughts, she finished the row, wrapped her knitting around the needles and put it down in her lap. 

*******

Tom, Robert’s friend who survived the plane crash.

‘I was woken by birdsong. In the dim morning light I unwrapped myself from the tarpaulin slowly and painfully, as if from a shroud, and stood up. I’d heard a search plane during the night and saw what I thought was the light of a flare, but the plane had flown on, not noticing the still-smoking wreckage under the thick jungle canopy. I put if out of my mind. I had to focus on staying alive and not give in to despair.

I bent down and gently shook Robert’s shoulder. He didn’t move, so I knelt and pulled back the canvas. Believing him sleeping soundly, I touched his cold face, shook him harder. He didn’t respond. It was only when I saw the dried blood on his neck where it had trickled down from his ear that I knew he was dead.’

*******

The Gremlin Special was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that crashed during a sightseeing flight for U.S. servicemembers over the Baliem Valley (‘Shangri-La Valley’) in New Guinea in 1945. The recovery of the three survivors from an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, enemy troops, and native inhabitants was incredible.  There were 5 crew and 19 passengers and only 3 people survived the crash.

The New Guinea jungle is the biggest graveyard for crashed planes in the world and the recovery of the three survivors from an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, enemy troops, and native inhabitants made worldwide news at the time.

The three survivors were spotted on the ground during an air search. Two medical paratroopers were deployed to the site, followed by 10 other support troops. A journalist, Alexander Cann was dropped into the site to document the rescue attempt. The high-altitude rescue was performed using Waco CG-4 gliders towed by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Three separate rescues were performed by towing a glider with single pilot into the valley. The glider was then loaded and configured for a live capture by the tow plane which recovered the survivors, towing them back to a base in Hollandia.

This is the original video of the rescue.

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Sergeant Kenneth Decker, Corporal Margaret Hastings, and Lieutenant John McCollom. 

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of the research I did for Castle of Dreams with you.

Cheers, Elise.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

15078865_10153930399541712_887778448076687684_n.jpgDual timeline stories are a favourite of mine and I have discovered the novels of Diana Gabaldon. I am reading Outlander (published in the United Kingdom as Cross Stitch in 1991) the first in a series of eight (so far) historical multi-genre novels.

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The main narrator is Word War II nurse Claire Randall, married to Frank Randall, who steps through a stone portal in Scotland and travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and finds romance with dashing Jamie Fraser.

The Outlander series is several genres: historical fiction, romance and fantasy. Outlander won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991.

It was through the Outlander series on Netflix that I found my way to the books.

Diana Gabaldon is the New York Times bestselling author of the wildly popular Outlander novels—Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (for which she won a Quill Award and the Corine International Book Prize), An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood—as well as the related Lord John Grey books Lord John and the Private Matter, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, Lord John and the Hand of Devils, and The Scottish Prisoner; two works of nonfiction, The Outlandish Companion, Volumes 1 and 2; the Outlander graphic novel The Exile; and The Official Outlander Coloring Book. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband.

Courtesy: Penguin Random House

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Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone is the ninth book in the Outlander series.

It’s an old Celtic custom to talk to your bees.  I wrote about bees in my recently published novel Castle of Dreams:

‘ . . .  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 withing 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.

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

My work-in-progress is another dual timeline story and I am writing about all things botanical. For this reason I’m sure there will be a few bees flying around pollinating all the blooms on Wallcliffe and the yet-to-be-named rambling estate in the Tumut Valley. It’s a story that includes all the things I love: mystery, romance, history and how the past  influences the present.

Good reading and writing,

Elise

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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get ideas for novels?

This is a copy of the Poe I found in a second hand bookshop. I refer to it in my WIP. The other is a copy of a book with pressed flowers.

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I typically find ideas in different ways: old books I come across, stories from family or friends, places I visit, research I do for stories that lead to other interesting facts I can use in a novel, historical events. The inspiration for my WIP came from a book my daughter found in Elizabeth’s Bookstore in Perth, WA. Someone had pressed flowers between its pages and that led me to create a botanist in my story.

Where do you write?

I write at a desk facing the window. I can happily listen to music while I am writing or have complete silence, it makes no difference to my creativity.

Where do your ideas for characters originate?

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They mainly come from my own imagination. I research whatever it is that defines each character: a talent, a hobby, a job. By a character having something that defines them it makes them come to life in the story. One character in my WIP is botanist another a painter another a housekeeper who runs a tight ship. One makes cheeses, another restores antique books, even a minor character is a good seamstress.

What authors do you like to read?

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My reading tastes are a broad church:

I read popular fiction: romance, historical, crime, and literary novels if they tell a good story. To me the essence of a good book is its story.  My books are character driven but I also try to write an intriguing story; one that will keep my readers turning the pages.

A few of my favourite authors.

Australian: Henry Handel Richardson, Kate Morton, Lucy Treloar, Geraldine Brooks.

British: Daphne du Maurier, A. S. Byatt, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Mary Stewart, Nancy Mitford, Sebastian Faulks, Pat Barker.

American: Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pat Conroy, Anais Ninn.

I come from a family of book lovers and have inherited the reading gene. Nothing beats opening a new book, reading the first line and knowing the book will stay on my bookshelf forever.

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Have a great week, reading, writing, and dreaming.

Cheers Elise

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First Day of Spring

Today is also publication day for Castle of Dreams in the UK. September the first is the first day of spring in Australia and the first day of autumn my favourite season in the UK.

Thanks to those of you who have reviewed Castle of Dreams and have written about it on social media and have enjoyed reading it. Writers are a supportive bunch!

Photos taken by my son of the wildflowers on the acreage around our house up north in Western Australia. The house faces the Indian Ocean and the wildflowers in spring are beautiful. 

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Happy First Day of Spring

Elise

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A Paris Apartment Lost in Time

When I was writing my first novel Castle of Dreams I came across an article about a Paris apartment that had been lost in time. I filed the article away knowing I would use parts of the story and some of the images in a future story.

My work-in-progress is a dual narrative story set in World War One and its aftermath and in contemporary times. The story of the Paris apartment easily transposes to early twentieth century Australia where one narrative is set.

The locked Paris apartment has all the things I love: an abandoned home, images of what was left behind, a romantic story, a mystery.

 

In my files I have an unpublished story I wrote some years ago in which one of the characters is an artist so it wasn’t difficult to reread my original research, and use this in my WIP. I always give my characters a particular profession or hobby that defines them throughout a story and in the past narrative of my WIP one of my characters is an artist. So when I looked again at the photos of the Paris apartment and noticed the abandoned paintings I knew I’d have to include these in my story. Perhaps one of the found paintings will be of a young woman as beautiful as Marthe de Florian.

Marthe de Florian, the apartment owner’s grandmother who was a Belle Epoque socialite, theatre actress, and Boldini’s (the artist who painted this picture) muse.

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The Paris apartment has all the elements of a fairytale including another of my favourite things: love letters from the past. They were found in the apartment, wrapped in different colored ribbons and scrawled in the hand of, among others, Boldini and 72nd Prime Minister George Clemenceau.

In the present day narrative my protagonist is a botanist who seeks the secrets of her family’s past. My mother was a keen gardener and loved to be outdoors and my daughter inherited her grandmother’s love of nature and gardens.  I didn’t.  Yet now I have started to research this subject I’m fascinated. Biblical references to plants and flowers is something I will use in my story: the healing properties of herbs, perfume, and more.  Botany is a wide church.

Jasmine Flowers

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Have a wonderful week, dreaming, writing and reading.

Elise x

 

 

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Dual Narrative Stories

My first novel Castle of Dreams is  a dual narrative story set in two time periods. It has  family secrets, love, and betrayal and I explore how the past impacts on the present.  I love to read stories written in two time periods and I like writing them. Castle of Dreams has a present day story set in 2008 and an historical story set against a backdrop of WW2. It has secrets that unfold throughout the novel like a nest of Russian dolls.

My work-in-progress is a dual narrative story of loss and remembrance set against a backdrop of WW1 and its aftermath and the present. I am interested in how war impacts the people on the homefront as well as those who left their homeland to fight in distant lands. A generation was robbed of family members, lovers and in the case of many women the loss of their own future as wives and mothers. I have often wondered how these men and women ever found peace of mind after the war ended. Did they disappear from the fabric of a society which could never be the same again? Did they seek resolution? Did they mourn a lost generation for the rest of their lives? Or did they come to terms with their destiny?

These are the things I will be writing about in my new story. I am progressing slowly: I wrote an outline on three large sheets of butcher paper (it has changed along the way as I write) and I have a timeline for important happenings in my characters lives and also historical events. I am getting to know my characters and the secrets they keep.

I have always loved closed doors and shut gates as I wonder where they will lead to. Yesterday one of my characters from the present opened a gate that will lead her to many secrets from the past. Of course this will impact on her life and change it forever.

It was the sort of day she loved. The sky was blue and the air was drenched with the familiar scent of eucalypt. She had parked her rental car on the public road close to the iron gate that swung open at her touch.

I found the perfect gate in the image below and used it as the inspiration for the gate in my story. This scene is set in Australia while the gate below is in another country so I had to change what my character sees as she walks along the driveway to reflect the Australian countryside: birds, plants, trees, geography.

Image for the gate I used as inspiration for a scene in my story. 

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Last night I went to a friend’s birthday party in a city hotel. I knew most of the other party goers and they moved me as always with their sense of comaraderie and interest and support in each other’s work.

I fell in love with Steampunk which was the theme for the party. Like Alice in Wonderland I ended up in another place. Alice fell down the rabbit hole and I fell into the 19th century!

I had a spider tattooed on my arm (temporary) at the party.

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Have a wonderful week, dreaming, reading and writing.

Cheers Elise

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Telling the Bees-Mythology & Folklore

In my book Castle of Dreams I have a short scene where Vivien and Robert discuss bee folklore. Bees are prelevant in mythology and folklore and in my WIP I have created an eight acre orchard and my working farm has beehives. While researching bees I have become fascinated with these mythical insect that are  often thought of as having a direct route to heaven.

Honey Bee

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St. Gobnait

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The Irish saint is known for her care of the sick.Her name is the Irish equivalent of the Hebrew name Deborah, which means ‘Honey Bee.’ She used the properties of honey in the treatment of illness and healing of woundss.

Winter Bees

Bees prepare for winter by gathering a winter reserve of honey.

Honeybees head to the hive when temperatures drop. They have one main job in the winter — to take care of the queen bee. This means they must keep her safe and warm. As the weather becomes cool, the honeybees gather in a central area of the hive and form a ‘winter cluster’. The worker bees then flutter their wings and shiver. This constant motion and continuous use of energy is how the bees keep the inside temperature of the hive warm.

Bee lore, grounded equally in modern science and ancient tradition, is a fascinating study.

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The telling of the bees is a traditional European custom, in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper’s lives, such as births, marriages, or departures and returns in the household. If the custom was omitted or forgotten and the bees were not “put into mourning” then it was believed a penalty would be paid, such as the bees might leave their hive, stop producing honey, or die.The custom has been most widely noted in England but also recorded in Ireland, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and the United States. (Ref. Wikipedia)

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I admire beautiful book covers and I have sometimes bought a book just for its cover.  Here are a few book covers with images of bees.

Bee Book Covers.

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Have a wonderful week, writing, reading and dreaming.

Cheers Elise

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