Monday, July 30, 2012


I came across this quote today:

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
E.L. Doctorow

It perfectly describes my writing process at the moment. I thought I had a plan, instead I'm finding I have a destination and I'm driving there in the dark. And I have to say that the full-beam function on my literary car is behaving erratically. 

I'm moving along - well under the speed limit - from scene to scene. Every hill and corner discovered moments before I approach them.

Is it scary? You betcha!

Am I enjoying myself? Yes!

How's your writing going at the moment?

Friday, July 27, 2012


I think I've all ready mentioned that lately I've been drawn to historical mysteries. It's a new genre for me and I really am enjoying myself. I have two new Lady Emily novels by Tasha Alexander and the second Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley on my shelves, thanks to a recent birthday. I'll tell you more about those as I finish them.

Recently I discovered another author: Deanna Raybourn and her Lady Julia books.  I found this at a second hand bookstore. It was the cover that drew me first.

Isn't it striking?

This is the second lady Julia book, but it's a stand alone.  Here's the blurb from the back cover:

Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends - but dark deeds are afoot at the deconsecrated abbey, and a murderer roams the ancient cloisters.

This had me hooked from the first page. Her writing is superb. I found myself reading out sentences to my family, just for the sheer enjoyment of hearing them. Here's an example:

I was alone with the slow ticking of the mantel clock and the crisp, rustling taffeta sounds of the fire as it burned down to ash.

Her characters are quirky, yet well defined and the mystery had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Strangely it took me awhile to read this book. It is hefty at over 400 pages, but I enjoyed every minute of them.

I forgot to mention, it is set in the 1880s - a favourite decade of mine for both reading and writing!

I'll certainly be reading more Lady Julia novels.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Congrats to Kura for guessing correctly. The photo in my last post was taken inside the Dunedin Railway Station.

I've been snooping around town for old buildings that would've been here in the time of Amelia's novel - set in the 1880s. Alas the Railway Station is Edwardian rather than Victorian, but as it's my favourite building in Dunedin it deserves a post all of its own.

It's only in recent years that it has come to my attention. I think it was a case of growing up with it and really not noticing what a gorgeous building it is. And in the last couple of years, with the destruction of so many precious buildings in the Christchurch earthquakes I started to look at my city in quite a different light. I remember in the days following the February quake, when we were all reeling from the tragic loss of life, every trip through town had me gazing at all our old buildings and trying to imagine them turned to rubble. It was a sobering exercise.

Construction on the station began in 1903 and was completed in 1906, giving Dunedin its fourth station building. (So far I've been unable to unearth photos of the earlier stations.) Back then it was the busiest  in New Zealand with up to 100 trains passing through per day. Which seems a staggering amount considering that these days we only have freight trains and tourists runs.

The architect was George Troup and his elaborate design, using dark basalt and white Oamaru stone, earned him the nickname "Gingerbread George".

The main entrance.

These days the station is not only used for trains. The Otago Art Society and the Sports Hall of Fame are situated on the first floor, the Otago Farmers market is held every Saturday morning, using part of the platform and a car park and every year the ID Fashion parade turns the platform into a cat walk.

The longest railway platform in New Zealand.

But it's not just the exterior that is beautiful. The inside is an absolute treat. Mosaic tiled floors, stained windows and an intricately worked balcony.

The mosaic floor of the main foyer, taken from the balcony.

I hope you've enjoyed your tour of Dunedin's Railway Station.

Now it's back to the writing for me.  Amelia's been left in a rather awkward situation and I'm looking forward to seeing how she extricates herself.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Another new week begins. This time without sick kids or sick me ... please?

Well, its almost lunchtime on Monday and I have written several pages all ready. Today's a good day, long may it last.

I'm enjoying the process of Amelia's novel immensely. Little surprises at every turn. It seems so long since I've been writing like this. Having that vague idea about where things are going, then page by page the story crystalizes. Characters say and do things without even asking my permission! New characters turn up without invites! And then the character you thought you knew, felt sure you could rely, does something so out of character it sends your head reeling.

Who said being locked in a garrett (well, a room really) with pen and paper (ok, it's a Mac) was boring?

When I come up for air I've got a post planned, featuring the most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here's a wee clue.  Any ideas?

This is a picture from the interior.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Dunedin is blessed with two museums. The Otago Museum, which is located at the north end of town, focuses on natural history, science, early civilizations and Maori heritage. There is an Egyptian mummy, the skeleton of a whale and a fine display of ceramics through the ages. One of my favourite displays is the Victorian Animal Attic, which has just been refurbished.

The oldest section of The Otago Settlers Museum

But it's Dunedin's other museum that I want to talk about. The Otago Settlers Museum. The focus of this museum was originally the settling of Otago which began with the arrival of the John Wickliffe on 23rd March 1848. Wickliffe's sister ship, the Philip Laing arrived three weeks later
In recent years the museum has enlarged its scope to include the Maori people and has extended its coverage back to 1770: the year captain Cook first arrived in southern New Zealand. 

A sponsor sign on a path, in front of our railway station, from a local company named after the first ship.

Displays include a dormitory-like ship's cabin that rolls as if on the high seas, a room with floor to ceiling portraits of Dunedin's settlers, an old steam train named Josephine and many examples of early life, both domestic and at work.

As you can imagine, with my love of history, this is a place I love to haunt. However it is undergoing huge refurbishments which forced a temporary closure. Sometime later this year it will open - bigger and better than before. And yes, I can't wait! In the meantime my eye is always caught by a couple of large posters whenever I pass by. It was these posters that drew me the other day to go walking with my camera ...

The museum also inhabits an old art-deco bus station.

As a child I remember the railways buses driving in at one end of this building then driving out the other. Lately it has been housing an historic transport display.

There's a whole new section being added as well as all the work inside the original buildings.

When it opens again I'll tell you all about it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Day three of the new term and I have to confess I haven't done any writing on my book. Tsk, tsk!

Yesterday I went on a photography expedition; checking out some of the older buildings in Dunedin. More on that in a day or two.  Otherwise I've been attending to some long overdue housework or looking after my youngest, who's home with the 'flu - poor mite.

However, my brain is fair buzzing with activity. I'm working on a new scene and all these ideas keep popping up. Which is wonderful. You see I'm a panster kind of writer, not a planner. I know the beginning and the end and a few spots in the middle, but I like to wait and see how these characters develop and see what they get themselves up to.  And my, they are getting up to all sorts!

We have a shadowy stranger, acts of petty crime, and a certain person is developing a powerful aversion to another particular person. I'm rubbing my hands in glee at these developments.

Well, I'm off to write it all down now.


Monday, July 16, 2012


Today is the first day of the new school term. Not long ago I waved hubby and all three kids good bye and immediately the silence of the house descended upon me. It's been a long time since the house was this empty. Last year my daughter was home schooled and for the first part of this year my oldest was unemployed. Today he starts a half year hospitality course at polytech.

As I drink my morning cuppa, catch up with emails and write this, I'm feeling at a loose end. Oh, there is house work galore and bundles of washing; I need to go for a long overdue walk and then there's the writing. But I think I might just pour anther cup of tea and enjoy the silence for a little longer.

Before I nip down to the kitchen again I have a couple of photos to share. Last week we traveled up to Timaru for the day to visit my aunt. It was a cloudy damp sort of day and the sun never did quite show its face. Just north of Palmerston the road follows close to the ocean along a beautiful yet deserted beach. I busily snapped photos with my phone, fascinated by the lemon light. Don't worry - I wasn't driving!

The little fishing village of Moeraki is on the other side of the headland on the horizon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Just above the old sanatorium, where we recently stayed, is the old gold-mining town of Hamiltons. Gold was discovered there in 1863 on James Hamilton's sheep run. Within a year there were 3000 miners, five bakeries, three doctors, two banks and a newspaper. Today there is no more than a deserted hillside.

Several years ago we made our way over a dry weather road to visit the site of the town. It is set high on a gently sloping hill over looking the Maniototo. The view was beautiful, and a little haunting as I could see no signs of this bustling town.

Early in the 20th Century the buildings were removed to Waipiata and Ranfurly. Waipiata, which means 'clear water' is a small town at the bottom of the hill and is now known for its hotel - a popular stopping point for cyclists on the rail trail. But once it was a busy little town with a canning factory for rabbit meat. In its heyday upwards of 5000 rabbits were processed per day. Which is a fine indicator of the rabbit problem.

In my 'Amelia' novel there are several thousand stoats aboard the ship she arrives on. These were hoped to combat the rabbit problem. Instead they became a problem themselves. While rabbits continued to destroy the land, stoats set about eating our flightless native birds.

To fill in the gaps for those of you who are unfamiliar with our history, when the first British settlers arrived they brought deer and rabbits with them for sport and food. Unfortunately they thrived in our environment and quickly became a problem. The settlers also brought: gorse for hedging, which now runs riot, hedgehogs, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, and willow trees which now line all our rivers. There are many more species to add to that list, I'm sure. One day I plan to look into to it more deeply.

This visit, as we were unable to visit Hamiltons, we travelled up on the other side of the gully to the Hamiltons cemetery. This is beautifully kept and surrounded by a well crafted stone fence. Perched on a hill, it also overlooks the plain below.


I find cemeteries fascinating places to visit. The names of all the inhabitants of a particular town, the relationships, ages and causes of death are both sad and interesting and many a gravestone has inspired me to write a story. There was one gravestone in particular at Hamilton's that piqued my interest.

Edward Barber, 40, was killed in 1871 while carrying the 'nails' between Hamiltons and Linburn.  Was it nails or mails? Mails makes more sense but it looks like an 'N'. The inscription is one of the most touching I've come across. For the more visually challenged I'll rewrite it here.

"This simple stone is placed here by his beloved and sorrowing wife to mark the grave of a kind husband and affectionate father."

This shot is looking out of the cemetery between what must have been two huge pines or macracarpas.

Looking back to the hills with the cemetery behind me. I just love the brown and barren hills in this part of the world.

*In writing this post I used two books:
         'Down The Years In Maniototo' by Janet C. Cowan - 1948.
         'Ghost Towns of New Zealand' by David McGill - 1980

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I've spent the last few days in Central Otago - the Maniototo basin to be precise. Being inland, winter, and of a reasonably high elevation, the temperature was rather cold. On Wednesday and Thursday the night time temperatures plummeted to -12. Now those sorts of temperatures are rather foreign to this coast dwelling Dunedinite. Did you know that water can come out of the tap so cold it makes your hands ache, or that simply clutching a woollen top, that has sat in the drawer overnight, can chill your fingers until they tingle?

Ah, but even these troublesome events are fodder for the writer. You see, totally without plan, I have travelled the same roads as Amelia is about to travel (in the next chapter of my book) and at the same time of the year.

Here's a couple of shots of the views on the way to Strath Taieri.

Having crossed over a mountain range we descended into Strath Taieri, where Middlemarch is the main town.

Then, leaving Amelia to her own devices, we travelled on around the the northern end of another mountain range until we reached the Maniototo basin.

On the side of a hill not far from the old gold mining town of Hamiltons is our destination: An old TB sanatorium converted into a Christian community named En Hakkore. A few families farm here and there are several houses available for families if they need a break or a holiday. They have also converted the nursing home into accomodation for conferences and turned the old Laundry into a hall. We spent many holidays here when the children were younger, but it became less attractive as the kids moved into their teens. Now, it seems, they are over that and off we went, minus our eldest.

The complete break from television, the internet and phones was a real blessing. I feel like I have had a complete rest and now I'm rearing to go again.

Nor far from where we were staying

Firewood stacked up in front of an unused dormitory. Essential for heating and hot water.

Some of the residents!
The eggs were yummy.

The view from just below En Hakkore looking out over the Maniototo.
More of my holiday coming soon!