Sunday, April 17, 2011


'Kept' is definitely the most intriguing book I've ever read. Written in authentic Victorian vernacular, and teeming with life, Kept takes you from egg collecting in the Scottish Highlands, the aristocracy and slums of Victorian London, and a brief interlude into the wilds of North America.

Peopled by a huge cast of finely wrought characters, the story moves in a convoluted way through the years 1863 to 1866. There are letters, journal entries, excerpts from magazines and a glossary to help with some of the more obscure Victorianisms.

Written predominantly by a narrator, there is always a distance to the characters, but the story doesn't suffer from this distance. In fact it adds to the mystery. The narrator choses to impart quite intimate details, yet will pull back at moments, leaving you wondering just what is in that letter, or what did that person say.

At first the widely strewn characters seem to have little in common. There is poor Mrs Ireland (brought to us in 1st person POV) who has gone mad at the loss of her baby and husband. Dewar and Dunbar, who open the novel with an egg snatching foray into Scotland. Rev Josiah Crawley (the journal writer), who befriends Mr Dixey (an egg collector) and Mr Pardew, who is almost faceless, yet is central to the story.

It took me a while to read this. Each section was superbly written and intense, for want of a better word. It left me wanting to pause and roll the words around in my mind before I continued and yet, there was a strong compulsion to keep reading. Where does that character fit in to the overall story arc, how will they  execute that train robbery, will the lost lady be found, and ...

If you like mysteries, or if you like things Victorian, then I urge you to get your hands on a copy of Kept and lose yourself for a week or two.

This is an entry for the 2011 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The school term finishes on Friday and we get two lovely weeks of holidays. Because of New Zealand hosting the Rugby World Cup the whole school year has been tampered with, and the first three terms are longer. So our house is a tired house! With hubby being a teacher and me home schooling, we all are involved in school.

I'm looking forward to sleeping in, going for walks and drives, and watching movies. And in the second week, with my youngest away at camp, I'm hoping to get lots of writing done. I have an idea for a short story for our national Katherine Mansfield competition run by the BNZ.  Then the next Dunedin Writer's Workshop competition, due in June, is for Crime or Mystery stories. I have a few ideas with an historical twist.

Then of course there is my novel. I'm toying with a title at the moment. How about, 'A Convenient Arrangement'? Sometimes I like it, and sometimes I don't. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Soon I'm going to be tackling the characters of five young folk - siblings - who form the background to the main story and also I need to write out the back story in great depth. You see there is a mystery and I want to slowly divulge it, but of course I need to know it inside out and upside down first.

The same thing happened when I was immersed in the beginning stages of 'Blackbird'. Once I'd got the first few chapters down and had a basic idea of who and what the story was about, I spent hours writing character studies, plot points, back story, etc. until the place and the people became bricks and mortar  and flesh and blood.

And when that happens with my new novel, the writing will flow, motivation will be at an all time high, and in a couple of months or so I should have the first draft - complete!

A Dunedin beach. I hope I get to see lots of views like this over the holidays.


Monday, April 11, 2011


Although I am still reading KEPT, I picked this up the other day and found I couldn't put it down. Immediately I identified with the main character, who, after suffering burns from an accident ends up in hospital.

Ruth is eleven and the year is 1973. Back then New Zealand hospitals were regimented institutions where the Doctors and Matron were one step away from God and visitors, including parents, were allowed in for one strict hour, twice a day.

The story moves between Ruth as a nineteen year old, and her experiences in hospital. Long hidden emotions emerge, bringing with them unanswered questions: Why didn't her mother visit her? Why was Dad mad? And why did everyone get sick?

I had a long stay in hospital myself when I was eleven, and Tania's writing took me right back to the wards. As Ruth fell in love, faced her past and learnt to live with her scars, I was pulled along with her, feeling her pain, her joy and frustration. It's a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Friday, April 8, 2011


This last week we've had a taste of winter. Rain, rain and more rain and a bitter wind, which sent me digging out winter woollies and remembering I need to get my coat to the dry cleaners. The leaves on our silver birch trees have turned gold and my flower garden has turned up its toes. It has been great weather however for reading, watching movies and writing. I've also found a replacement car: later today I will be the proud owner of a dark green Rav4!

I've been chipping away at another chapter of my Catlin's novel and discovered Amelia is really quite fiery and speaks her mind when necessary. As for Theodore, both Amelia and myself are having a love/hate relationship with him. What sort of person is he really? Handsome - yes, polite - sometimes, genuine - hmmm, not sure!

The next chapters will see her settling into her new home. But is everything as it would seem, or are there dark secrets prowling in the undergrowth of the Catlin's forest?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I've had one of those weeks where everything is happening yet little is achieved. It's been over a week since I blogged and I haven't written one word of my novel or started on a short story as I had meant to. So, what has been happening?

Last weekend my car died. Although expected, I had hoped it would last a little longer. But when both oil and water start squirting out of the engine, it's a very bad sign! So hubby and I have been touring the car sales yards, squizzing the classifieds in the paper and stalking our national internet trader - Trade Me. So far we have come up with nothing - which has left me just a little house bound.

Of course we never get plagued with just one thing to deal with - do we? My daughter came down with a nasty tummy bug and hubby pulled the ligaments in his shoulder at our sons hockey practice. I wonder what will be next?

On a lighter note, our eldest had a school trip to Mt Cook where he visited a glacier, a sanctuary for Black Stilts and the Benmore power station. He came home last night, exhausted but happy.

And a mild achievement for me: having spent the last 2 - 3 months growing Basil plants from seed, I harvested them yesterday and made one precious jar of Basil Pesto - yum! And with the unseasonably warm weather we have been having, I'm hoping to harvest another batch in a month. Fingers crossed.

On a literary note, I am reading Kept, by D. J. Taylor - there's a picture of it on the left. It is described as a Victorian mystery and is proving to be an absorbing read. I am enjoying the many threads that are slowly entwining into one intriguing story. I'm looking forward to reviewing it.

Next post I hope to share news of my new car and copious amounts of writing.

Not quite what I'm looking for ... but ain't she grand?