When you can’t get past an experience

Boat in the fog copy


I had my first DNF (Did Not Finish) today. The reader couldn’t get past THAT Scene. You know the one that shan’t ever be mentioned here or over on Facebook.

I tried to encourage her to keep reading, to reassure her that life gets better for the people she had taken into her heart. But, no.

I understand why she was upset. Truly I do. I was a MESS writing THAT scene.  I was a MESS editing THAT scene.

Adding to her distress was a lot of physical pain, for which she was on medication. Sadly, it was all too much.

 “Tears fall and I ache,” she wrote to me.  And: “Why?” And: “Reading books isn’t supposed to be…torture.”

I’m sorry for her that she invested so many hours reading my book and didn’t get to experience that satisfying feeling that comes at the end of a book that you so enjoy. For prior to this point she was enjoying it. She messaged me: “I woke up looking forward to reading your book. That’s how good it is!”

I appreciate her writing to me all the same and telling me what she thought. I really do. She was very polite and respectful. I would send her a gentle hug if I could but I’m not sure how welcome that would be. I sense she thinks I’m a tad disturbed or need counselling. For the record: Seldom Come By is not autobiographical.

The description of Seldom Come By reads:

But as the war moves towards its final harrowing days, they both discover that tragedy and terror can strike anywhere, setting their love on an unforeseen path.” 

Harrowing. Tragedy. Terror.

 Now, I’m wondering whether I should have a WARNING label on my book.

You will fall in love with people. At some point, terrible things will happen to them. BEWARE OF LIFE. 

So did you want to throw my book at the proverbial wall?

Have there been other books or films that you’ve read or watched where you’ve gone: “No, I just can’t continue.”

I have walked out of two movies in my life – I should warn you I am a wimp when it comes to horror films. I don’t do scary or horror very well. Just ask my partner, Mark, or my work mate, Alistair.

The first was The Fly with Jeff Goldblum…in the wrestling scene when he snapped his opponent’s wrist and you saw the bone pierce the skin. Gasp! Gulp! Way too graphic for me.

The second was in Cape Fear, which had a great cast and came highly recommended by Melina, a part-time actress, with whom I worked. It was good but it was terrifying. I just wanted the Robert de Niro character to die. Die!  And leave everyone in peace. Please! Near the end when he was riding under the car I just had to get up and walk out. I’d had a stressful week and wanted a relaxing, uplifting movie, not one that was going to give me a heart-attack in my late 20s.

There was another movie that I’m sure I would have walked out of, had I seen it at the cinema, and that was The Piano Teacher. Fortunately, we were at home watching it on video. Still, we had to pause it while I rushed to grab an ice-cold washer to drape over my face while I lay down and willed myself not to faint and willed myself not to think about what that woman had been doing with a razor blade. Some time later we decided we would continue. Surely it would get better. Surely this woman would redeem herself in some way? It was not to be.

So what about you? Have you had any books or movies you’ve had to pass on because the experience was unbearable? Care to share?



Four lives – the price of my Australian heritage

Hello and thank you for stopping by my blog as part of the Australia Day Book Giveway Blog Hop. I recently released my debut novel, Seldom Come By, an epic adventurous love story set on the eve of the great war.

Seldom Come By Hi Res (CMYK)It was described in a recent review as: a great mix of romance, scenery, tragedy and history. 

It’s true. I am attracted to all of the above. In celebration of Australia Day I will be giving away a copy of Seldom Come By – print or ebook – your choice – to someone who leaves a comment here to this blog. You need to comment by midnight AEST Tuesday 28 January. The winner will be announced towards the end of January.

I’m sorry to say, this is a longer than usual blog. How did that happen! I have decided to write about my Australian heritage, how this line of Caulfields came to be in Australia, and the price they paid. It is a story of hope, sacrifice and heartache. I hope you enjoy it. When you have finished reading and commenting hop back on the blog tour of over 50 blogs, where there are more book giveaways to be found. 🙂

Syd and Shez

I was born and raised on a farm east of the gold mining town of Gympie, in a place called Cedar Pocket, once home to large stands of one of Australia’s few native deciduous trees, the Red Cedar. As far back as I can remember, both sides of my family were farmers – small crops and dairy. For many years, what epitomised being Australian to me, were the women and men of the land, summers spent swimming in free-flowing creeks and the odd dunk in the briny sea.

On Sept 11, 2001, when  I was living in New Zealand, I received a life-changing call from my older brother. “This is it,” he said. “I’m walking off the farm.” All Greg had wanted to do with his life was be a farmer. He left school at 16 years of age to pursue his dream, pelting his school shoes at the wall, announcing with certitude that he was never going back. Twenty years later, despite working across three paw-paw farms and capping mineshafts, he was unable to meet his mortgage payments. His news was monumental and heartbreaking. Before I could ask a single question, he said. “I’m off to work in the mines.”

Little did we know at the time he was continuing a lost family tradition. Twelve hours later that date woud be seared in history.

Five years down the line, our father, at our urging decided to write his life story. One thing about our father, when he decides to do something he really does give it his all. Rather than write a simple memoir, he decided to trace the path of his forebears on the Caulfield side to understand how they came to be in Australia. His grandmother had died when he was two years of age; ten years later, his seldom seen grandfather, Charles, passed away. All he knew about his grandfather was he had a bunch of stepbrother and sisters; little more.

In January 2006 while holidayiing in Hervey Bay with my parents I typed the first chapter of my father’s story. In doing so I read the amazing details of the life of his great grandparents, James and Catherine. I was unprepared for the story he uncovered. I know they were not alone in the hardships they bore; yet they weren’t two historical figures to me. They were a young man and a young woman not in the prime of their life but in the promise of their life and this is their Australian story:

My great, great, great Grandfather, James Caulfield, lived near Dungannon, not far from the ruins of Castle Caulfield, the ancient Northern Island seat of King Colla da Crioch, whose descendants were named Caulfield. In the late 1840s he married Easter Canny and their first child, a son, also called James, was born in 1851. That same year, to escape Ireland’s ongoing, crippling, potato famine, they emigrated to Durham County, England.

There, in Tow Law, near Wolsingham, James found employment in the coal and iron ore mines, the extracts of which would be made into cannon balls for the Crimean War. Six short years later he was tragically killed in a mining accident, leaving Easter with three young boys, James (6), John (4) and Charles (a new born).

How she survived the next 15 years as a widow with three boys to rear, we do not know. All we know is that James went on to become an underground miner like his father. It was stated as his occupation on his June 1872 wedding certificate to Catherine McAninally. Their first child, a son born on the 10th May 1873, was also named James, following the family tradition.

Two years later, when their second son, Francis, was born, they took up the Queensland Parliament’s offer of employment in Queensland. Offers to those experienced in mining and related professions had been available in England for over decade and as an enticement included free passage to Queensland for their families.

It was no holiday. These migrant ships became known as Coffin Ships, due to the number of people who perished on the voyages.

The young Caulfield family left London on the 9th December 1875 aboard the Western Monarch, a new vessel launched only a few months earlier. On this crossing, 442 migrants were bound for Australia. On board were a surgeon, a Dr Harricks, and a nurse, Matron Randall. They were certainly needed. A bout of Enterin Fever – typhoid – went through the ship. Catherine and Francis, were two of its victims.

When the Western Monarch anchored at the bar in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, on 15th March 1876, it was boarded by the Qld Health Officer, Doctor Challinor.

Fortunately by this stage Catherine and Francis were recovering, however one remaining case of typhoid fever was found. The entire ship was placed in quarantine. The occupants were deposited on sandfly-infested Peel Island, which had scant facilities to cater for such a large group of people. Outraged and alarmed, the ship’s doctor, Harricks, wrote to the Brisbane Courier Mail warning that passengers would perish as a result. He requested that Catherine and Francis be transferred to the Brisbane Hospital. Sadly his requests went unanswered.

On the 19th March, baby Francis Caulfield died; three days later, his brother, James. They were buried on Peel Island in sight of their new callous country, which their parents had hoped would be a land of golden opportunity for them.

On the 27th March 1876 the Western Monarch was allowed to disembark at the Port of Brisbane. James and Catherine could finally start their longed-for, now grieving, lives in Australia.

They took the railroad to Warwick where they lived on its outskirts in the town of Clifton, while James worked at Elphinstone Colliery. On the 20th August 1878 they welcomed a new, Australian-born son, Charles. Just over a year later, on 4th July 1879, their fourth son, Henry was born.

Around this time tenders were called to extend the railway line 40 miles to the booming tin-mining area of Stanthorpe, a Latinised name meaning ‘tin village’.

James, because of his experience, was employed by a large construction firm, Overend & Co, managing a small team of men preparing the dynamite blasting of cuttings that would blow away the rock on the Stanthorpe to Warwick Rail line. Gangs worked night and day to complete the task.

When not working on the railway line James was busy building a small hut on a freehold 40 acre parcel of land, at Killarney south east of Warwick so his family could move there in 1880.

At ten past eleven on Friday the 2nd April 1880 at Cutting 81, near Mineral Creek, fourteen miles south of Warwick, James along with three of his team were preparing three holes for dynamite. He lit two of the three charges and after they exploded James went back to light the third. When it did not explode he returned to replace it with another when it suddenly exploded shattering his right hand and wrist and tearing away the left part of his face. Michael Considine, one of his employees, raced to his aid, asking him if he could stand up. “Yes,” he replied. Then: “God help my wife and family.”

He was placed on a mattress on a spring cart and frantically transported along the railway line while a runner was sent to Warwick for a doctor. They were met at Rosentahal Creek six miles from Warwick.

Meanwhile, Catherine had just finished packing up their rented home in Clifton to move to Killarney to the hut her husband had finished building. When she arrived in Warwick a day later, she asked about the whereabouts of her husband James.

“That’s him in the funeral coffin in the street,” she was told.

He had died within minutes of seeing the Doctor.James

Somehow, someway, Catherine continued on to the meagre hut and farm her husband had prepared for her. I can’t imagine how she managed to survive those months alone, in the middle of nowhere, with two babies under two, curious aborigines peering through the cracks of her cobbled home, unable to read a single book for company. Six months later, her youngest son, Henry, died, leaving Charles – my great grandfather – the only suriving son of her late husband, James.

In the process of researching James’ history my father discovered his headstone on the Warwick Cemetery Heritage Trail. The column top was broken, not a mark of vandalism but symbolic of his life being cut short; it was lying on the ground having fallen out of its base. His infant son Henry had his inscription on the headstone as well.

This December just passed, as my father and I drove south to Tamworth for his sister’s funeral, we called in to the Warwick cemetery on a hot glaring day to visit the gravestone of my great, great grandfather, whose headstone my father had lovingly restored. James Caulfield, was 27 years old when he died.

Eight months later to the day, Catherine married a bachelor, Thomas Brennan, 20 years her senior, signing her second marriage certificate with an X.

With heartfelt thanks to my father, for his hours of research in documenting our family history.

New groupCharles

Join me for the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop


I’ve signed on to the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop.

“What is this?” I hear you ask.

A collection of Australian authors and bloggers (50 at last count) will publish a new blog post at midday AEST on 25 January. They will also give away an Australian book, ebook or gift certificate of their choice. ( No guesses what I’ll be giving away :-))

So WOW – 50 books by Australian authors up for grabs and many of these comps open to readers anywhere in the world.

(An FYI for you overseas folk <g> we celebrate the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia on 26 January – Australia Day.)

To be eligible to win, you simply have to leave a comment to my post on my blog: Four lives – the price of my Australian heritage: and you will have till midnight on Tuesday 28 January to do so. No problem if you are away for the long week-end; you will still have time. The winner will be announce at the end of January and chosen at my discretion.

It’s the same routine with the other bloggers – you just have to hop on over to their blogs and comment on their posts. To help you with this, there will be an online directory provided by Book’d Out (This is Shelleyrae’s brainwave and she is hosting). It’s a first for me so I’m  trusting the process will all become clear for me and for you.

I’ve been pondering all week what to write about and trying to pinpoint when I first identified as being Australian.

In 1976 I remember being in awe of Nadia Comăneci and her perfect 10s at The Summer Olympics in Montreal. I wanted to be her!  Romanian!

Yet, at the same time, I had a bizarre fixation with a maroon sports bag with the word ‘Queensland’ emblazoned across it. You couldn’t buy such an item. Only an elite few carried them casually over their shoulders. For me it was the pinnacle of sporting achievement – the badge of honour you received for making a Queensland sport’s team. At 11 years of age it was all I wanted.  For me, making a Queensland sport’s team, would be like making it in New York…I’d make it anywhere.

Funny. Not so. Some days I think I peaked too young!

So when did my patriotic Australian pulse flicker on?

I remember Australia winning the America’s cup. That was great, but being a struggling university student, we didn’t even have a television set to watch the champagne popping celebrations. I remember Australia’s Bicentennary. I went to a rooftop party at a friend’s place in Neutral Bay, Sydney. What a day and night it was. The fireworks were spectacular.  It looked like Sydney Harbour Bridge was one giant wax candle, melting in flames. However, if I were honest, I didn’t feel the adrenalin of it in my veins that day either, despite all the magnificent tall ships and they were magnificent – but just imagine a harbour with ONLY  tall ships in it  – hmm, now that would have been something!

Oddly on that day, there was a little bit of: “Oh so now we celebrate the founding of Australia by convicts, when once we didn’t want to know them.” A touch bittersweet don’t you think? And without an apology in sight I doubt it was a great day for our indigenous Australians either.

Ah…Cathy Freeman winning Gold at Sydney’s Olympic Games. Now you’re talking! In my lounge room – in New Zealand, no less – she brought me to my feet. I imagine she brought every Australian to their feet.  A lithe aboriginal woman, a shining Queensland woman  with the weight of the entire nation on her shoulders – you go girl. What a night of tears and elation it was!

Maybe that was the moment.

But as my Kiwi neighbour, Bernie, liked to say to me, and often: “What would you know? You’re from awe–strucking–failure.”

And so I have decided to write about my Australian heritage, how this line of Caulfields came to be in Australia, and the price they paid. Given what I now know, it has great meaning to me. In 2005 my father spent a year researching our family history and recording his own. It was a year very well spent. Come join me on the week-end sometime to read a very personal and true story of hope, sacrifice and heartache.

Bellagrand – Can it be as beautiful and as grand as The Bronze Horseman?

The Bronze Horseman by Russian born, American author, Paullina Simons is my favourite teenage love story; the trilogy, one of my favourite series of all times. And so it was in late 2012 when a prequel was released telling how Alexander Barrington’s parents met and fell in love in Boston in the early 20th century the book could have been called Great Expectations, such was the antipation for this novel.

I carved out a few days to read Children of Liberty and then afterwards I was in a total slump, not because I had a book hang-over but because I had a book blah. Despite the wonderful prose, I could not feel the love between the main characters. I could not understand the attraction. I could not put fingers to keyboard to write about it. So I picked up other books, continued with my own writing, while I waited and hoped that the next one would move me like her other breathtaking books.

I’m pleased to say Bellagrand has – but not for the reasons you might expect. And even though this book did not make me fall in love with Gina and Harry, even though it did not break my heart over them it certainly made me FEEL – which for me is paramount – and what I felt most was the heartbreak of a lone sister. Esther.

It was interesting how that came about. The story is largely told from Gina’s point of view, with only the briefest snippets from Alexander’s as bookends and just a sliver of Esther’s. But that was all it took. In a café in Casuarina, heavy tears coursed down my cheeks as I read her last agonising conversation with her nephew, Alexander.

If you have read The Bronze Horseman you will understand everything. If you have not, then I’m not sure how much you will enjoy this book. Earlier this week I spoke to a friend, also a TBH fan, who was half way through Bellagrand. Her words: ‘Man it’s depressing. Does it get any better? I know they have to go through all this stuff to get to Russia but sheesh!’

That’s it in a nushell. If you haven’t read Bellagrand and want to, then leave this page now. Shoo! Go! <g>

If you have read Bellagrand, please tell me what you thought. I’d love to hear and chat. Here’s my in-depth, spoiler-filled summation.

Bellagrand copy

There was many a time when I was reading Bellagrand when I wanted it to be about a different Gina from Sicily and a different Barrington boy from Boston – not one destined for the depressing, dire mire that was Russia in the 1930s. The reason for this: Gina’s husband, Alexander’s father, Harry, was such a selfish, deceitful character that I wanted to punch his lights out on so many occasions and throw my book at the wall. One of the major downsides – I have since discovered – to having an eReader.

In the opening chapters when we discover that Gina has supported Harry for seven years – seven years! – while they lived in her mother’s meagre home in Lawrence, while he fluffed about ideologising and doing God knows what, I found myself struggling to relate to this woman and this man. I could not relate to how that situation had not worn her down into a resentful, loveless woman who had little, if any, respect for her husband. I could not understand how Harry did not feel the tiniest bit emasculated by their situation, emasculated enough to get off his posterior so his wife did not have to work so tirelessly at three jobs.

The story started to get interesting when Gina falls pregnant for the first time, only to miscarry her baby due to being caught in an industrial riot. At which point Harry finallly finds his caring, protective muscle in a backhanded sort of way – telling her:  “I told you to stay away.”

There are lots of political, union and socialist discussions as well as current event updates throughout the novel that I waded through at times. I understand why they were there. I understand what those people were fighting for and how their struggle has meant better working conditions for almost everyone I know. [Yet sadly, is a struggle still taking place right now in many countries like Cambodia.] I understand how these were core to Harry’s beliefs and dreams for a new world order but I found them a bit dragging. That said, as an Australian who has not studied 20th century American history, the story did send me googling people, places and events and I think how these figures, such as Big Bill Haywood and Anna LoPizzo, were woven into the story was commendable. I just would have preferred less.

Respite comes when Harry is serving one of his longer jail terms and his best friend, Ben, returns from a decade in Panama where he has been building the ground-breaking (pun intended) canal. And in that disheartened world that Gina is living, she finds a new Eden, and Ben’s unrequited feelings for this once-spirited Sicilian beauty become no longer unrequited. Oh, the vicarious thrill of their Christmas lights and their iceskating lake and and their sleepless Saturday nights. Finally, someone who really cherishes her! What I wouldn’t have given to be inside Ben’s head and to read what this must have been like to pine after a woman for 15 years before finally consummating that relationship. Ever since the early days of Children of Liberty when we first met Ben I’ve found him to be the more spirited, interesting character with visionary ideas of his own that were life affirming and exotic.

However in the limbo of their bliss Harry is released from prison and Gina decides to return to him.

He gave up everything to marry me,” she tells Ben.

“Maybe he didn’t value what he had,” Ben said cooly, “Did you ever think of that? Does he value you?” 

Exactly. Ben saw it all.

Harry loved his ideals more than he loved Gina – despite his words arguing to the contrary. And argue they did, not about Harry’s beliefs as much as his irresponsibility, until one brief pause when they make love and their flailing union renders Gina pregnant for the seventh time, as the Spanish Flu arrives and does its best to assail her and half the people around her.

Being ill, unable to work, with Harry back in jail, and anxious of losing her baby, Gina does what Harry has been unable to do. She drags herself out of her sickbed and trains to Barrington to beg for help, for Harry’s baby. Miraculously, the Barringtons do not turn her out. Hermann even admires her. And, despite everything, Esther finds a common cause to side with Gina: new life, a child that she could never bear herself. And, bizarrely, there is clemency for Harry in exchange for house detention in a grand house in Florida bequeathed to him by his mother, which was bequeathed to her by none other than a flamboyant discarding lover.

Bellagrand, their mansion by the sea.

Bellagrand view


One of the hallmark’s of Paullina’s writing that I adore is her lyrical alliteration. We saw it in The Bronze Horseman: Luga, Ladoga, Leningrad, Lazarevo. And in this one too: Belagrand, Belpasso, Boston, Ben.

Bellagrand: their short-lived, sedate version of the roaring twenties; their overdue Lazarevo. And as a curtain raiser, Harry’s lovesick letter to Gina penned before they even married. Now we are finally reading how he truly felt for her way back when.

“I want nothing in my life as much as you…You are the muse to my every insipid utterance.”

I get why Harry loved her. I just wanted to hear him tell us why. He loved her because she was unique, like Susan Sarandon walking down the street. She was his angel who kept house, cooked divine meals, provided for them and was a sex goddess at night. Yet, did he love her enough?

What did she see in him? I kept on searching the pages for the answers. I rationalised that she loved him because he was a passionate and original thinker, highly intelligent, her partner in repartee. She loved his sacrifice, what he gave up for her, she loved that he loved her and, it would appear, that he was a good lover, he certainly made her hit the higher octaves. And I think she loved him because he still had a father, like she had once had a father whom she adored, and what she longed for was the perfect family of three generations of men together.

Certainly Hermann’s coming to Bellagrand was monumental, the happiest of times – aside from the infuriating conversations with Harry, like the widget one where Harry could not concede a single valid opposing point.

But too soon afterwards Hermann dies in Boston and Harry does not attend the funeral. Gina goes as their sole representative. And during the wake, which Ben attends with his new Panamanian wife, Esther at long last perceives Gina and Ben’s secret affair. That night, Esther accuses her sister-in-law of thrice ruining any chance of happiness she could have had with Ben, despite her affections being unreturned. Esther understood exactly what had happened each time, but she did not understand Gina’s motivations, falsely accusing her of being manipulative and plunderous, all the while Gina sat stone-faced, unable to defend herself without incriminating herself.

Gina returns south, to the magnificent comfortable, carefree life she enjoys with her husband and son, except with Harry’s release from house arrest, he wants out. “I want to go back to Boston – to be closer to Esther – she’s the only family I’ve got!”

True, true true, but lies, lies lies. And what about Gina’s brother, Salvo, who had moved across country for them?

Gina from Bellagrand painting

I hated Harry’s deceipt, his lies by omission. Back in Boston I wanted Harry to be trampled in some union riot. I wanted Ben’s innocent wife to be caught up in some Panamanian landslide so Gina and Ben could be united and Alexander would still have a ‘father’ to look up to, a builder and engineer extraordinaire.

Because from thereon their life in Boston starts to dissipate and fracture as Harry’s appalling deceptions slowly surface. It really goes down the sewer and there are a few minor details in this section that don’t entirely synch with The Bronze Horseman series – their citizenship situation being the case in point which really is the penultimate punch in the gut. 

“She was too proud to let him see the heartbreak in her humbled spine.”

As we near the novel’s end Gina makes the irreversible decision to stick with Harry and go to Russia with him and for me it was like the end of the movie Breaking the Waves. In this film, Bess, a young, simple woman (played by a young Emily Watson), returns to a masochistic, torturous sex house – all to please her husband. She ventures into her own death – as does Gina.

At this point I wanted to slap Gina. I wanted to lock Harry far far away on that island in Russia – the one they kept on talking about.

But what did Gina do? She went to bed with him in the middle of the day – sorry? – what?  – that noise you are hearing is the needle scratching across the record.

“Unfed, unquenched, unresolved, Harry and Gina undressed and in bed tried to feed and quench and resolve themselves. They always had that to fall back on, the white rumpled sheets of their mutual ardor.”

I could not get my head round that. Not the day time sex, but the anytime sex. I don’t know how she lay down with him ever again.

Esther had said earlier: “Your charms didn’t work on my brother.”  But his obviously worked on her, and still I could not see it…was it just his whispering to her in Italian? Did she put up with all his crap for that?!

Bellagrand is Gina’s story… We never get inside Harry’s head enough to love him. In The Bronze Horseman we were inside Alexander’s head at various points and those were powerful – Shura washing the blood off Tatiana at Luga, his arrival in Lazarevo, his chats with Dimitri. And then there was The Bridge to Holy Cross. In this book there are no sections that I recall from Harry’s point of view and I think perhaps this was a deliberate move so we were always closer to Gina, always on her side.

For me the most powerful scenes in the book were Esther’s: her venting after her father’s funeral; her plea to Harry and Gina not to leave America, begging for Gina to stay behind with Alexander. Breathtaking!

“Gina I’ve reconsidered all my previous positions. Imagine what a shifting of the sands this is for me. Please forget everything hurtful or hostile I’ve ever said to you, and forgive me. But please – don’t do this. Your son is your ladder to the stars. He deserves better than this.”

(Your son is your ladder to the stars = my favourite line of the entire book!)

Her silent plea to her brother:

You are the only family I have left. You, your wife, my beloved boy. Once you leave, I will have nothing. You’re going to a dreadful place, yes, but your also leaving me and that feels so wrong. How can you not understand that? Do I have to even say it? She didn’t. She couldn’t.

And her final conversation with Alexander in the park across the road:

“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth by noonday, a thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near thee.”

Heartbreaking!  At least we know he memorised it like she asked him to. Bittersweet. I would have liked to have seen more of  just Alexander and Esther.

Even though the last few chapters build to an absorbing climax Bellagrand is not an uplifting story and, I admit, I like a happy ending, or at least an ending that has some degree of implied hope and promise. And I also like my antagonists to redeem themselves in some way.

So although I did not love this book – I did love a lot of the secondary characters and Gina too for most of the time. I hated her agreeing to go to Russia. Yet without that, there would be no Bronze Horseman. Such a bind. Ultimately, I think Bellagrand made me love the TBH series and Alexander even more, because of his mother’s sacrifice. I’m glad he got to live the American dream, because for his rudderless mother it was tragically too short.

Artists Come Alive in Set Me Free

Emma Sheldrake

Above painting and thumbnail by Brisbane artist, Emma Sheldrake 

I have always been enthralled with art – in fact drawings, sculptures, paintings and poetry feature prominently throughout my novel, Seldom Come By, and there’s more to come in The Iceberg Trilogy! <g>

And so it was that while reading Set Me Free, the story of  a young female art gallery owner in Brisbane’s West End fighting a determined and suave property developer, I was also devouring Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s December issue and came across the striking portraits of Brisbane artist, Emma Sheldrake. And before I knew it, the three became entwined, which made for an enchanting read.

In Set Me Free, Brisbane author Jennifer Collin‘s debut novel, we meet Charlotte Evans who some years earlier moved from Melbourne to Brisbane to manage an art gallery to champion her younger sister, Emily, and other local artists. Emily’s paintings tend to be muted cityscapes that have a singular bright focal object – a bike, an umbrella, a geranium pot plant – that draws your eyes in. Emma’s artwork is the opposite, but equally magnetic: stylised colourful portraits yet with pale faces that lure you in due to the intensity of the model’s eyes. (See image above whose eyes incidentally remind me of my heroine’s Rebecca’s)

7090fdd401422e93d17eeffd8d69c9ff07005acb-thumbThe book opens with Charlotte returning from a holiday in Italy and on her first jetlagged night home has – what she hopes will not be – a one night stand with a man who comes into her art gallery just before closing.

The next day she discovers through her best friend, Ben, and Emily that a developer has bought the strip of buildings which houses her gallery, Ben’s coffee shop and their favourite Vietnamese restaurant and intends to tear the lot down to put up a soulless homogenous shopping cum residential block. And the developer in question is none other than Craig Carmichael: one night her ardent lover, the next her guilty, standoffish, silver-tongued enemy. Charlotte’s cringing and regret were palpable and quite a poignant lesson for us all. Would that she had prescience!

Setting this story up so the main characters were intimate before their conflict made for an interesting twist on this developer versus local community narrative which has also been covered by Australian authors, Helene Young, in Halfmoon Bay, and Di Morrissey, in The Plantation, in recent years.Fifties Dress

Charlotte also had a penchant for dancing, ala Dancing with The Stars style, and a love of all things 50s including her wardrobe. Who doesn’t love those fashions? A girlfriend, Andrea, who recently shared this pic said: “I wish I lived in the 50s instead of being about to enter my 50s.”

This was a light, easy read that will dovetail nicely into the sequel which I suspect will focus on Emily’s romance. If you like your local art scene and chick lit romances, give this book a go.

A Modern Country Girl’s Teenage Yearning

Tamworth Billboard Smaller

When I wrote about my Aunty Joan recently I mentioned reading Michelle D Argyle’s coming of age novel, Out of Tune. I  confess I don’t read much in the YA genre – the Twilight series comes to mind but that was also paranormal, however I completely related to the heroine’s creative dreams and desire to pursue them.

Out of Tune took me inside the world of American country music seen through the eyes of a young woman at a crossroads in her life. Twenty year old Maggie Roads has spent years touring the circuit, living under her parents shadow, depressed by her inability to sustain a song, yet so desperately wanting for music to be front and centre of her life.  And into that turmoil comes more hurdles and setbacks and temptations and the realisation that her parents could have been considerably more supportive.

michelle_d_argyle_out_of_tuneWhat I loved about this book is the original storyline and the surprises that kept on coming. I had no idea how the love triangle was going to work itself out – I still would like to read more anon on this Michelle –  if you are reading this <g>.

But ultimately this is a story about a very modern girl who could have made some bad choices for herself but didn’t. The way she was her own best-friend, honest and considered rather than inpulsive and regretful was a wonderful example for others who might be tempted to dive into relationships, ignoring all the waming bells and confusion of their heart. And through testing the waters and being honest with herself, she found her true north along with her true love.

“Nathan you can call me Mags” – just love the acceptance of this line.

And wouldn’t you know it, when I headed south for my Aunty’s funeral last week, on the outskirts of Tamworth, Australia’s country music capital, was the above billboard. Michelle said it took a week to dye her hair!

An Epic Alaskan Adventure


Tomorrow, a friend of ours – a Noosa lad no less – will attempt the first winter crossing of the Brookes Ranges in artic Alaska.

In 2012, after four failed attempts and six years of trying, at 27 years of age, John Cantor, set the record for the fastest traverse of the Brooks range, a 1,600km expedition across the wild and barren northern tundra considered one of the toughest solo expeditions on earth. Last year, I had the privilege of reviewing and providing editorial assistance on his first book that recounts his historic summer journey. It’s a fast read (not unlike Touching the Void) and I’m sure he will land a publishing contract for that in the not too distant future.

But meantime he has an epic and icy adventure to contend with, though fortunately this time he is not alone. A friend, Evan Howard, will be joining him in that punishing cold.

Aside from his extraordinary acommplishments in adventure, I salute John for being an ambassador for Beyond Blue and for speaking out about his battles with anxiety and depression.

Pop over to his Facebook page and wish him well.




An Ode to my Aunt

Aunty Joan caption

I  am not long finished Michelle D Argyle’s heartfelt coming of age, country music romance, Out of Tune, when I find myself about to journey to Australia’s country music capital. Sadly, this trip to Tamworth is not for the Australian Country Music Awards, but for the funeral of my father’s much-loved, much-older sister, Joan.

My aunty was born in the heart of winter in June 1924 when her mother, my Grandma Jessie, was just 20, and her father, my Grandpa Bill, was just shy of 21.

They lived in the gold-town of Gympie where my Grandpa at the time worked for the local shire council as a navvy – a manual labourer who worked on major civil engineering projects. His job was to dig road banks by hand using a crowbar, mallet and other tools – it was hard physical labour,  more so because he would work on the steeper slopes so he could earn extra money for his new family.

At the time of Joan’s birth he was working on The Bruce Highway and camping at Gunalda, 20 miles north of Gympie. In what would seem preposterous today, he walked 20 miles in to town to the hospital to see his young wife and new-born daughter then walked 20 miles back to work the next day.

At age fourteen my aunty left school to look after her mother who was heavily pregnant with her third child, my father. In this we are kindred spirits for we both had the joy and privilege of having a much younger brother to bless our lives, my own brother Jesse being 16 years my junior.

In early 1942, during WWII, Joan met and fell in love with a soldier from Urana who came through Gympie with the Light Horse Brigade. Shortly after, Pat was posted to Labuan Island in the Sumatra Straits near Borneo, in the Pacific (now part of Kinabalu), where he worked a signalman from July 1942 until he was discharged in June 1946. Despite V-day in the Pacific being declared in September 1945, much to his disappointment, Pat was ordered to remain on active duty patrolling the Pacific for another nine months. When I think of Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice, I think of Uncle Pat. He was your archetypal Aussie battler and larrikan, a swarthy smoker and joker.

In August 1946, upon his eager return to Gympie, he and Aunty Joan married. They moved to Sydney and later Tamworth where they raised five sons who were talented musicians, electricians, bankers and card players.

Yesterday when my father rang to tell me his sister had passed away, he said to me: “She never said a harsh word to me. Her whole life she was nothing more than a loving sister.” Everything I knew of her confirmed that. Her voice was light and catchy. Her laugh cheery and close to the surface. Her eyes were brown and warm. Her hands were forever full of love. She would always bring a little bit of my grandparents with her and draw out a side of my father reserved solely for her.

Last night I watched the movie, Pay it Forward. As the end credits rolled and the candles flickered, as Jane Sibery & KD Lang sang Calling All Angels, I thought of my Aunty Joan being serenaded by angels.

With thanks to my father for his input into this article.

Seldom Come By a read like this

SCB on the Shelf


Dec 12, 2013: Brisbane author, Sherryl Caulfield’s debut novel –  Seldom Come By – released today  – is a confronting coming of age story set in Newfoundland and the Western Front during the First World War.

On the eve of the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1, Seldom Come By takes readers to a remote Newfoundland island where, two years after the sinking of the Titanic, young Rebecca’s Crowe’s fascination with icebergs leads her to save shipwreck survivor, Samuel Dalton, the youngest son of a Toronto medical family. Raised in a deeply superstitious and religious family, Rebecca’s life is challenged irrevocably through her growing attachment to Samuel and their unforgettable, iceberg-inspired summer.

The 165 000 word tome, Book 1 of the Iceberg Trilogy, is now available through major ebook retailers in time for Christmas and holiday reading, promises readers an epic novel of immense visual splendour and palpable human emotions.

At a time when commercial fiction is full of paranormal fantasies, upper-class Regency and Victorian liaisons or voyeuristic erotic romances, Seldom Come By is anchored in realism in a period when life was less pretentious though paradoxically, harder and simpler, said Ms Caulfield. “It is an epic adventurous love story in the classical sense, which will appeal to serial readers of The Bronze Horseman, Into the Wilderness and Outlander novels due to its storyline of young love, longing and sacrifice.

‘Rebecca’s story is universal and timeless. She could be any woman who feels trapped in her surroundings and longs to experience more of the world and through the choices she makes has to live with the devastating consequences of her actions. This novel is not just about love. It’s about the great themes of life, about shocking crimes that are possibly the hardest to forgive – ones committed by family members against other family members.

Ms Caulfield has travelled extensively in Canada and was inspired to set her novel in Newfoundland because of its isolation and promixity to Iceberg Alley. “Icebergs are a strong symbolic element in the novel, representing something magical, a sign of lightness in darkness, a sign of hope and endless possibilities,” she said.

Through the eyes of two young Canadian medical officers, Seldom Come By also brings to light many of the chilling aspects of World War 1: the decimation of the Newfoundland regiment, who previously were active with the ANZACs at Gallipolli; the major Canadian battles of WWI; and the bombing in May 1918 of Hospital City by the Germans in the desperate last months of the war, killing and maiming doctors, nurses and patients. It also features John McCrae, revered Canadian surgeon, university professor and author of the iconic poem, In Flanders Fields.

“I wanted to set my story against the backdrop of this harrowing time and in part the connection to World War 1 is because of a Great Uncle who died at Ypres in 1917,” said Ms Caulfield. “War heightens everything. People have far less time for pretenses – life, love and death are so elemental and this is what drives the narrative pulse of the book. Plus, with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One fast approaching, I thought there would be strong interest in books set in this period featuring characters that are modern and adventurous in their own way for that time. And while male cameraderie and loyalty are hallmarks of war, Seldom Come By takes this code of honour to another level through the bond of two brothers working side by side.”

Julie Fison, author of teenage romances in the Hardie Grant  ‘Smitten’ series, said she found the setting of Seldom Come By enthralling. ‘Seldom Come By is a haunting love story set against the windswept coast of Newfoundland. The story draws you in from the opening lines and takes you on a compelling journey across time and continents, through love, loss, heartache and healing. It is a beautiful and memorable story — a great accomplishment and a wonderful read.

The book is available as an ebook from major ebook retailers including Smashwords and a print version will be available through CreateSpace and Amazon. Details on www.sherrylcaulfield.com.

~ ENDS ~

Issued by Action Communications on behalf of Sherryl Caulfield

For Review copies, a synopsis and additional media information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Anita Beasley, Action Communications. Email: anita@actioncommunications.com.au

Two sisters, one stranger

Newfoundland Sset 2

Imagine you are a teenage girl living in a very remote place and you only have one sibling, a sister, who is also your best friend. And then into your banal life comes a stranger with a smile like no other, with tales of adventures you can’t get enough of, and  a way about him that is just breathtaking. You and your older sister are both captivated. What do you do?

This is the beginning of Seldom Come By. My first draft was pushing 230,000 words – way too many – and so to improve pacing I cut the point of view of different characters and in lots of places reduced two pages into one paragraph. One such section explored Rachel and Rebecca’s growing feelings for Samuel.  You can read it below. (Also thanks to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism for the above photograph.)

The summer of her fifteenth year was a summer of many firsts for Rebecca. And for Rachel and Samuel too. In what was undoubtedly the busiest time of the year, the presence of Samuel buoyed and energised Rachel and Rebecca like nothing else. Neither girl had ever spent such time in the presence of a man so clearly different from the one they knew so well. Without even trying, Samuel was warm, friendly and helpful. He was easy to be with – never solemn or withdrawn or grumpy. He was just himself. And at times himself was extremely playful.

Throughout these long summer days, Morna’s ‘keep them busy, keep them apart’ stance had mellowed into a ‘keep them together; there’s safety in numbers’ approach. After all, two’s company, three’s a crowd. But even she in the end was swayed by her growing ease with Samuel, her faith and her belief that his gratefulness towards them would prevent him from doing anything to upset them.

Besides who had time for mischief? That year Newfoundland was a summer wonderland and it did not disappoint with its ample abundance. The earth, the sea and the sky were laden with nature’s bounty And to add to their haul, care packages had started to arrive for Samuel from his mother and brother after he had written advising of his intention to bide out the summer with the Crowes.

Her father had spent a Saturday showing Samuel how to work some of his seldom-used lobster pots so Samuel could bait and check them every day or two in his absence. Rachel had taught him the fine art of jigging for squid in between cooking meals and preparing the smokehouse. Smoked fish made a pleasant change to the salted variety they got from the Deception Coop as part of Silas’s haul. Meanwhile Rebecca and her mother had single-handedly prepared a hay field so they could harvest at the end of the season to feed their stock over winter.

In the midst of their growing friendship with Samuel, neither girl would give voice to the fluttering of her own heart. For Rachel delighted in Samuel’s company. She became more relaxed and flowing and for the first time in her life felt like a woman, ready to be a wSunset walk copyoman. She would lie in bed at night thinking of his bare shoulders and wanting to run her hands across them, wanting to know how that would feel and what changes might happen inside her, inside Samuel if she could do that, if she had permission to do that and to look inside his eyes for meaning there. She would toss and turn trying to settle her imaginings. It seemed to her that Samuel also delighted in drawing her out, in watching her rediscover her own playfulness. Yet Rachel still wore the mantle of maturity and protocol, bound by religious rights and wrongs, hoping and waiting and praying for the day when Samuel would drop the playfulness and share with her the yearnings of his own heart – the yearnings for her heart? For in Samuel she had found a companion and confidant, one she would like to claim for her own, yet it wasn’t her place to do so. She was neither brave nor sure. She was only hopeful and amazed that she could spend so much of her waking day thinking of him and concealing these thoughts from everyone. What had occupied her mind before him, she wondered?

Rebecca’s world was in a spin. She’d oscillate between wanting to gaze upon Samuel’s face, but not wanting to catch his eye, as then the hollow, sickening feeling would start up again in her stomach and she’d barely be able to breathe. To steady herself, she plotted a raft of questions to ask him as his strong sonorous voice would calm her and his replies would always entrance her. How long do you think icebergs last for? Where would you like to travel to next? How many ships does your Uncle have in his fleet? And whenever her interest was piqued she was never afraid to gaze into his animated face, to ask every question, to tap every last ounce of information and experience his body had to offer and his soul too, though she did not know that at the time. She had no notion of possession. And she was no copycat either. She was someone who wanted to live her life fully, as fully as possible. And she saw in Samuel her best opportunity to do that. He was her closest ally in mind and spirit.

But every so often in their conversations, Samuel would pause and stare at Rebecca, almost as if he was wanting to ask her a question, something entirely different to the topic at hand. Unknowingly she would hold her breath, and before long she would part her mouth and breathe through it, then Samuel would swallow before continuing. At times like this she couldn’t handle looking into his eyes. Instead, she would lower her gaze and stare into his mouth, at his teeth and his tongue and watch the words as they came out, listening to the rich deep timbre of his voice. And that was something else about him that stirred her; how someone who was only nineteen could possess the most masculine soothing voice she had ever heard.

No one noticed the subtle changes in Rebecca’s behaviour. Everyone was so preoccupied with their own business and their own version of Samuel that none noticed her ingrained eagerness giving way to teenage tremoring and the wonder of her own awakening.

As time marched on, the girls formed an unspoken pact where neither would talk about Samuel or the time they spent alone with him. Each was stockpiling their own treasured memories, not wanting to know or invade or upset the motives and dreams of the other.