On the street where I live

The last few days in Brisbane have been heavenly following last week’s onslaught of storms. Without a doubt it’s my favourite time of year in the river city. The lilac jacarandas are in their last fluttering days, frangipanis of every variety are flourishing, poincianas flare across the bright skies and the scent of orange jasmine on the evening breeze is just intoxicating.

It’s such a stark contrast to the white and grey of winter in Newfoundland or the drab despair of life on the Western Front, nearly 100 years ago, as revealed in this letter from one my characters in Seldom Come By:

Today I found myself walking through the ruins of a small French town, now just crumbling facades. Here, you are reminded that war kills much more than just human lives. All the vegetation – trees, grass and plants – is completely destroyed. The roads and other infrastructure have become totally non-existent.

Mom, it reminds me of a painting you have in that book from the Hudson River School – the one of Monument Valley. I saw a solitary stairwell, still intact, leading skyward like a timeworn tower of Arizona rock.

My memory of that collection is that the power and beauty of nature was manifest. Here it is the power and destruction of man and machine. Those artists with their rich pallets brought the colours of the distinctly American landscape to life. Here the colours are all muted spliced with the sanguine of blood. How I long to see a garden bursting into bloom.

Your faraway Matthew x

Dear Matthew,
This is for you…

Poinciana and frangipani small

A little unknown fact about icebergs


Antarctic iceberg


Ever since I heard the story of the Titanic when I was a little girl I have been fascinated with icebergs.

And in 1993 – three years before my first visit to Canada – I went on a trip to the Himalalyas, to Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. And there, no matter how hard you tried, you could never capture in a single photograph, the scale or grandeur of those formidable peaks. Imagine, I thought, just imagine that, as an iceberg, as a floating glacial giant, submerged in icy blue green waters. It is quite astounding to think that when you look at an iceberg, when you look at its mountains and plateaus and valleys, you are looking at something that is largely hidden from sight.

In writing Seldom Come By, I did quite a lot of research on icebergs; quite a lot that I never ended up using, such was my thrall. However all my research did not reveal to me this startling, obvious fact:

that icebergs emanate cold, like fires emanate heat

It was my good friend Leah, a native Newfoundlander, who apprised me of this point. She grew up in St Johns, the capital of Newfoundland, where many a time her world was so fogged in she couldn’t read a street sign just a few metres in front of her. But even on the foggiest of days, even if you couldn’t see a thing through your clouded surrounds, if you were close enough to the coast, you could tell the approach of an iceberg simply because of its halo of cold air.

And from that pivotal conversation, came my opening to Seldom Come By. Thank you, Leah!

Some days she knew they were there, just by a drop in the temperature, if they were close enough, but not today. Today she saw them first, not one but two towering spectacles. In the space of one hour they had come drifting casually into sight, carried along on unseen currents, their presence more than anything marking the shift in seasons. And had she had her head down or her back to the ocean she would have missed them. These floating, breakaway giants calved from the glacial north. Frozen formations that enthralled her with their crystal palaces, soaring peaks and mythical creatures revealed in icy magnitude. How they made the seascape come alive.

The poetry of Seldom Come By

Poetry is a writer’s best friend.  It’s a breathtaking art form where a writer’s thoughts are crystalised into the most explicit and sentient form, conveying the intense emotion and sublime imagery of an experience. I’ve found when writing, that reading poetry is a great way to ignite my imagination.

I remember the first time I was in awe of poetry. It was in Grade 11, studying the poems of young Australian poet, Michael Dransfield, when I read his description of the arm of a heroin user:

Needle craters of old hallucinations

And then his frustration with his own inarticulateness.

You realise that what you taste now in the mornings is not so much blood as the failure of language.

From poetry, we learn about rhythm and rhyme, metaphor and eloquence. And at times we learn that try as we might, we simply can not say it better than the piece we read for inspiration. And so we bow to greatness.

Think of Four Weddings and a Funeral and W H Auden:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone

And in A River Runs Through It – when the Maclean family, trying to come to terms with Paul’s death, turns to Wordsworth:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;

 Right there is one of the key’s to great poetry. Aside from being timeless and universal is its immeasurable source of solace.

Like the McLeans in a River Runs Through It, the Daltons in Seldom Come By were a family that read and enjoyed  and talked about poetry, art and music. Fortunately, for them, they had the means. And so through Seldom Come By I wanted to includes elements of some of the poems, they loved – and incidentally so do I.

So you will see snippets of:

The English Romantic poet, Wordsworth:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused

The Latin poet, Catullus:

unless I love you to distraction and hereafter
am prepared to love you continually throughout the years
as much as he who can love you most,

 America’s father of free verse, Walt Whitman (pictured):

We two boys together clinging,


The world below the brine

And more, but I don’t want to spoil things for you.

And of course, famous Canadian war poet, John McCrae who is a minor character, a friend of Samuel’s brother Matthew, in Seldom Come By,

I hope you enjoy the odd sprinkling of poetry in Seldom Come By and that you too find solace in it, if you need it.

Coming up with a title

I have a friend who from the get go was never enamoured with the title of my first book, Seldom Come By.  Her advice: ‘Go back to the drawing board.’ She was a published author with two novels under her belt. Reluctantly, her advice was not to be scoffed at. But try as we might – and I say we as there are two other people I always involve in the creative process when it comes to the big questions – we couldn’t seem to come up with a few mere words that said it better. Over a few years we came up with hundreds and in the end only two other sets of titles came close, but they didn’t eclipse the ones we had. (Yes, I will tell you more about the alternatives another time. 😉 )

Part of this complication was, naturally, I wanted the three titles to work together.

  • Seldom Come By
  • Come What May
  • Come Full Circle

I also wanted them to be apt for each individual story.

And I wanted the first one to have a strong connection to Newfoundland and, if possible, icebergs, because the sighting of icebergs was so exhilarating for Rebecca and hopefully for my readers as well.

If you spend any time looking through the history and geography of Newfoundland, you will find many charming and quirky names begging for an explanation — and these in themselves add to the personality of the country and no doubt the character of Newfoundlanders. Places such as:

  • Black Duck Siding
  • Halfway Tucks
  • Stepaside
  • Blow Me Down
  • Tilting
  • Jerry’s Nose
  • Lushes Bight
  • Heart’s Content

There was even a Come By Chance. But in the end I settled on Seldom Come By: in honour of Rebecca’s majestic icebergs; in honour of Samuel drifting by in his tender and the unlikelihood of Rebecca finding him; and by no means least, in honour of the original and striking young woman that was Rebecca.


 “As each mile on his voyage brought him closer and closer to Deception, Samuel could feel his excitement building. It was bursting through his veins like the boat’s bow ploughing through the water. Who was it that he was really coming here to see? He knew the answer to that right enough. And for what? So he could go away and spend another two or three years thinking about her, dreaming about her. So he could know for sure that what he felt for this girl was real. To know for certain that she still held his heart captive with her longing and her melancholy, with her beauty and her joyful, youthful delight. He knew it would only take a moment, a breathless fatal moment, and yesterday it had. In three years he had not been able to get this girl out of his head and now he was overjoyed that he had failed.”


So what do you think of the title, Seldom Come By?

Day 1 + Queries re Availability

I wanted to say a BIG THANKS to everyone for visiting this website and liking my Facebook page on Day 1 of their respective launches. You made my day yesterday. 🙂   A few answers to queries about availability of my books:

I have written 3 books as follows:
Book 1, SELDOM COME BY, will be available this December as an ebook on 12 December and a paperback book hopefully a week or so before that date.

The paperback  will be available through Amazon in America. I will post a link on this website and on Facebook when it is available for you to order. Naturally I am working towards you being able to order it for yourself for Christmas and as a gift for others. I’m sorry I cannot be more specific than that. I will confirm as soon as I am able, along with pricing details.

On the 12 December 2013, SELDOM COME BY will be available for US$4.95 in all digital ebook formats, including PDFs which you can read on a PC or Mac, from Smashwords.

Around the same time, you will be able to order it directly from Amazon in Kindle format and from other major ebook retailers who provide it in Kobo, ePUB and Nook format (i.e Kobo, IBooks and Barnes and Noble and the like). Pricing will be around the same as through Smashwords.

However, right now you can download a free digital copy of the first 1/4 of Seldom Come By in a special novella I am calling LITTLE SELDOM. Simply go here to sign up to receive your FREE copy.

Book 2, COME WHAT MAY, will be available in the second quarter of 2014. Date and price to be confirmed.

Book 3, COME FULL CIRCLE, will be available in the fourth quarter of 2014. Date and price to be confirmed.

If you have any queries, please drop me a line. There is a contact form on my website.

A time for celebration

On the 12 November, the day after Remembrance Day, my dear Dad, Syd, turns 75. On that day or shortly thereafter, this website will go live, the culmination of months of work, in reality,  years of work in the writing of my first series, The Iceberg Trilogy.

It has been a difficult labour of love – not the writing or any of the creative aspects – but getting it out there into the hands of new readers. Thwarted by conventional publishing avenues – after some promising associations – but urged on by my early readers, I have followed my heart’s desire. The kids need to leave home, go out in the world and have their own life. There are other stories crying to be told.

It is heartening that this is happening around my father’s big day, for my father is a risk taker — you should play 500 with him!  He likes to dream big, and I like to think a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.

Young farmer SydIn the late 1960s he  (and my mother) was a pioneer in dairy farming, planting new grass varieties, irrigating, fertilising and slashing long into the night, to encourage verdant growth which saw an Australian record for buttermilk in our jersey cows. His experiments were a resounding success. He featured in a major promotional campaign for the Department of Primary Industries and our farm was visited by agro-academics from all over Australia. The next year, he went large scale, ploughing up all our fields and planting a new tropical legume plant called Siratro. And then before it could barely take off, the unimaginable happened. Drought struck. For three years, it barely rained. We had to resort to pulling out old bean plants from neighbouring farms to feed the cows; my mother returned to nursing. Eventually my parents had to walk off the farm, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

But one thing my parents knew how to do well was to work hard and save money. Five years later they purchased another farm  – this one outright  – at the junction of two creeks and a lagoon at the head of Cedar Pocket, jut over a mile away from where my father grew up.cows in lab lab 1981

This farm had two deep, clean-flowing rock pools that were always cold, even in the height of summer. It had wide open pastures full of kikuyu for me to gallop across on my spirited new horse. And when you walked outside at night and gazed at the stars you knew you were in nature’s cinema.

There were stars like the ones that enthralled Samuel in my novel Seldom Come By. Yet at other times, you had this sense that the world was out there and you were missing out on some  kind of wonderful — like how Rebecca felt when she gazed out onto her chameleon sea longing for the sighting of a single iceberg to light up her indifferent world.

So on the eve of my Dad’s three-quarter of a century celebration I have decided to take a risk, dream big and back myself. In formation behind me are some amazing family and friends who believe in me.

Happy birthday Dad. Thanks for going the distance! Let’s hope I do too.

From Gone Girl to The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife, a novel about a disintegrating marriage, just optioned by Nicole Kidman, has been billed as this year’s Gone Girl, a breakway publishing hit of 2012.

I haven’t read The Silent Wife as yet — Harrison’s road to publishing is not unike Stieg Larsson — tragically she died whilst it was doing the rounds with prospective agents and publishers. It’s on my To Be Read List. However I did read Gone Girl on the strength of some people saying they simply could not put it down. It is a bit of a pressure cooker, and surprisingly a difficult novel to write about without giving it away. I’ll do my best.

We join Nick and Amy Dunne on the day they are about to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in Mississippi where they have been living for the last two years. In the opening chapter as Nick enters the bar he co-owns with his sister he has a sense he is being watched by a man half-hidden across the road. Soon after Nick receives a phone call from a neighbour reporting that his front door is open and the cat is outside. Nick returns home to find the house disturbed and his wife missing under what looks like suspicious circumstances.

Then we meet Amy five years earlier who in alternative chapters retells the story of her life and her relationship with Nick starting when they first met in New York. As we travel through five years with Amy we walk beside Nick through the minutes, hours and days he spends with the police and in secret uncovering one clue that leads to another and another, surrounding Amy’s disappearance.

See right there I may have given it away with the word “in secret”.

Through both characters Flynn reveals interesting observations on familial duty, coupledom and individuality post the cathectic stage that Scott M Peck writes about in The Road Less Travelled.

Midway through the book, Amy’s chapters, revealed through her diary entries, catch up to the present day.

On the surface, Flynn has created two very real, ordinary, imperfect and likeable characters and then she takes you on a journey into a much darker world, one which will evoke strong emotional responses – and not of the usual variety. On page 35 after Nick has had his first interview with the police he discloses to us, the reader, that he had just told 5 lies to the police. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate technique, but by his simple act of admission I warmed to Nick and never really left his camp after that. I sure wanted to know what those 5 lies were. And there’s another BUT – unfortunately at this point I thought the whodunit factor of the book was given away – and I was right – dang, I don’t like it when that happens.

Despite that, Gone Girl is quite the page turner with prose that occasionally gives you reason to pause – a coathanger collarbone – isn’t that simple, beautiful? What really takes this read up a notch is the way you, the reader, become omnipresent in the story and how frustrated you become in your powerlessness to change the situation. Telling the story in two first person points of view added to the drama and tension in this book. Jodie Picoult often uses this technique for all her characters and it doesn’t work for me. I find it confusing and disorientating, constantly having to work out which character’s head I am in. Here it is used to stunning effect. My partner read this book as soon as I had finished it as I was desperate to talk to someone about it. The perfect way to read Gone Girl would be together, chapter by chapter. It’s like an episode of The Mentalist – you want to chat about what just happened during the commercial break.

So have you read it? What did you think? And what about The Silent Wife?

Rating / 5 :  3.5