Motherhood was very much idealised in the nineteenth century. It was confirmation that a woman had entered the world of ‘womanly virtue and female fulfilment’. Yet, however flawless, a mother – as a married woman – had no legal rights to her children or any other property. Henrietta’s suffering as a wife and mother was one of the catalysts that drove her to advocate for change. Henrietta fought long and hard on behalf of her sex. Undoubtedly her years as an early colonist and dairywoman empowered her with exceptional personal qualities of courage, strength and resilience, as well as a close appreciation of Mother Nature and motherhood in its natural state.  This short excerpt was taken from Part 1 of STEP UP, MRS DUGDALE, during her time at Queenscliff.

But now it was well past midnight and she had barely slept. Eiderdown pulled up over his whiskers, William was dead to the world. She trudged out to the holding yards, lantern in hand, to see splinters of light igniting a heaving loin, the roll of a dark liquid eye, tongue frothing silver in the pitch of night. As a mother, she knew what to expect. To witness such stoicism, hour after hour of what must have been agony, and the poor beast uttering little more than a single pathetic moo. It took her breath away, the mucousy blood and the slippery balloon-like capsule wriggling forth the marvel of new life. Gripped by the intensity of nature’s beauty, she stayed put, watching the little darling being licked dry before it was allowed to suckle. All senses alert, she held the lantern aloft, to find an audience gathering. The mother’s instincts had triggered a licking response among the herd. Through the darkness, she could make out their movements, the nodding of heads in approval.



Up until recently, my thoughts have been pretty much centred upon finishing my latest novel, Step Up, Mrs Dugdale and getting it published. But when my friend, Amanda Curtin kindly invited me to do a guest post on her blog looking up, looking down, I jumped at the opportunity. Amanda is the author of KATHLEEN O’CONNOR OF PARIS (narrative non-fiction), ELEMENTAL and THE SINKINGS (novels) and INHERITED (short story collection), and her writing has won much acclaim.

On Amanda’s 2, 2 and 2 series, I talk about Step Up, Mrs Dugdale and reflect on 2 things that inspired the book, 2 places connected with the book, and 2 influences on the book. 


Small Justice

In desperate need of exercise after so many weeks of bad weather, the sedentary writer finally ventured down to the beach this morning. Nothing like a few good storms for beach-combing, I thought. You never know, a bit of flotsam might provide some good writing material. I didn’t have to look very hard. All kinds of goodies presented themselves as I made my way along the shore. Lots of dumped seaweed, as you’d expect, cuttlefish, sponges, half-opened shellfish and some unusually large starfish all waiting for Mother Nature to come and wash them back out again. But what stood out in all of this was the amount of manmade debris: empty bottles, their missing caps, pieces of gladwrap and plastic bags, a number of fishing baskets, a children’s broken spade and bucket, a very heavy coloured buoy and what looked like endless numbers of deflated blue balloons with strings still attached. Someone had obviously had a party.

I stood looking dimly down through my sunnies at these objects of mass destruction, incensed that people could be so stupid and thoughtless to our precious marine environment. Eventually I trod on one of the balloons, squashed it and with great satisfaction made it pop. It was only then that I noticed that there appeared to be a lot more of these balloons along the beach. Something must have clicked. I picked up what was left of what I’d trodden on and squinted at the blue translucent mess. Having taken off my sunnies for a closer inspection I then picked up another, then another, to see if my suspicions were correct.  Oh my God! What had I done? I can only blame my aging eyesight. These balloons were actually jellyfish! Poor little bluebottles, if you don’t mind.  What I thought were strings were the very finest, most delicate of tentacles.

Knowing that this little creature could well have been the one that caused me grief last summer (the one I nearly swallowed!) didn’t help at all. I felt so stupid, thoughtless and destructive.  


A Little Bit of Orange Goes a Long Way

It’s that time of the year when I slip into marmalade mode. Normally I would have already made umpteen batches by now, but this year I’m running late. Over the past month, the Seville orange tree at the back of my garden has been steadily offloading its crop onto the lawn in an attempt to shame me into honouring my part of the bargain. Meanwhile the fruit-flies have been have been having a field-day. Finally, last Saturday, election day, of all days, I got to it. Perhaps it was those slogan words, “conserve” and “preserve”, prompting me into action.

Seville oranges, as some of you would know, are bitter, and so only good for cooking. But it is their tartness that balances the sugar and adds to the richness of their full-fruit flavour when the oranges are made into jam. Seville oranges, in my opinion, make the best marmalade of all. Their peel is thick and dimpled and with the pips and fluffy pith and pulp provides an abundance of pectin, that essential carbohydrate ingredient that causes a jam to gel.


So, with my favourite cerated knife in hand, and six clean oranges on the chopping board, I began to cut, cut, cut! It wasn’t until the following day that the rewards were to be enjoyed, the slow cooking process bringing forth the most wonderful aroma. Having added the necessary sugar to the bubbling pot, I continued to hover over it, occasionally testing the consistency and flavour of my beautiful bittersweet brew. O for an Orange! I cried, waving my wooden spoon before giving it another lick. The zest of human life!

Oranges are the real fruit of Paradise, I always think, piped up a voice from nowhere. Matisse was the first to understand orange, don’t you agree? Orange in light, orange in shade, orange on blue, orange on green, orange in black –  *


What about orange in jars? I replied, standing back admiring the translucence of my handiwork. Look, my marmalade’s captured the shades of topaz and old stained glass?


Not only is marmalade-making an immensely satisfying activity, it conjures up memories of home. In my child’s eye, I see a grove of citrus trees lining a gravel driveway, foliage that is constant and shiny, and the vibrancy of winter fruit offsetting the rest of the orchard in its long annual sleep. Not surprising then that I normally start the day with an orange  (a Naval or a Valencia, whichever’s in season), even before I so much as look at a cup of tea or piece of toast. It immediately raises the blood-sugar level, cleanses the system, and its upbeat color awakens the soul.

Looking around, I'm reminded how much I have unconsciously invested in that colour over the years.  All those cliveas and nasturtians coming into the fold. Nearby, clusters of orange blossom are already opening their buds against the green leaves, snow white and waxen, and dusted in pollen. As for the fragrance, it is simply divine. Orange blossom has long been an emblem of happiness and good fortune, of romance and fecundity. Its essence is prized and is still, in some parts of the world, reputed to be an aphrodisiac.


An orange will gratify (almost) all of the senses. Remember, a little bit of orange goes a long way.


To add extra vim to fresh strawberries, try tossing them liberally in Seville orange marmalade, chill for a couple of hours before serving with cream or vanilla ice-cream or simply enjoy them on their own. Yum!

Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe

  • you will need 1 kilo Seville oranges (approx. 6)
  • 2 kilos sugar 
  • cut the oranges finely, cover with water and allow to soak overnight. Reserve the pips for the pectin. These can be soaked separately or tied in muslin/ handkerchief and added to the soaking oranges.  
  • simmer the fruit and added pip water until the rinds are tender (approx. 1 hour)
  • add the sugar slowly maintaining the boil, stirring until dissolved. 
  • boil until the mixture reaches gel point, stirring occasional as you test. The easiest way is to place a teaspoonful on a cold plate. Wait a minute and then run the tip of the spoon through the mixture. If it starts to crinkle it is ready. 
  • pour into hot sterile jars, sealing while hot.

The Latest Q & A

Here is the latest book and author Q & A doing the rounds. I tried to worm my way out of it but two writers, Amanda Curtin and Louise Allan tagged me so I ended up having to play the game! (the ‘rules’ are pasted at the end of the post). 

What are you reading right now? Middlemarch by George Eliot. 

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?It’ll be a return to my ever-growing pile of Australian fiction ‘to-reads’.  First on the list is Carrie Tiffany's Mateship with Birds . because it's won so many awards.

What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?
 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead, Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson, Stasiland, by Anna Funder, Goonardoo, by Katherine Susannah Prichard.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now? I don’t read magazines. Having said that there are a number of old back issues of Gourmet Traveller floating around which were passed on to me. I love cooking but rarely follow recipes; just collect ideas and make things up on the spot and cross my fingers that they turn out. 



What’s the worst book you’ve ever read? I would never bother reading a bad book. If a book doesn’t grab me, I give up very early in the piece, after the first chapter, sometimes the first page. It wouldn’t be fair to compare my discards.

What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?
 Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I got up to about page 150 but couldn’t continue. It was just too long and sad and perhaps not the right book for me to read at the time.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
 The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.

What are your three favourite poems?  I don't think of poems in terms of favourites. I probably prefer Australian poetry on the whole and have great admiration for Judith Wright. For me, “Old House”, “The Child”, and “Wedding Photograph 1919”, stand out as part of the narrative of her very moving autobiography, Half a Lifetime. 

Where do you usually get your books?
 A number of local independent bookshops in Perth, and two very trusty ones in Margaret River, when I’m down that way.

Where do you usually read your books? Sitting in my comfy wingback with my legs resting on the ottoman, or out on my front verandah curled up in a sea-grass chair, or, (and definitely not until after dark) lying in bed.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

My idea of bliss was school holidays spent lying on my bed in the prone position, reading one of Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong  Series while simultaneously sucking on a choo-choo bar. Double addiction!

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down? It’s something I try and refrain from doing. Amanda Curtin’s Elemental  had me well and truly hooked.  From the start, I could feel myself being drawn in opposite directions. There was that constant battle between being compelled to linger over the beauty of the prose and being pulled forward by the momentum of the plot. (see below my review entitled “The Wanderers” in an earlier posting 13 June 2013.) 

Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?
 I openly admit to having been a “cherry-picker” as a student, quoting from texts I had no intention of reading in full, (I think that’s pretty standard) but I can’t recall ever having “faked” reading a book. 

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
 No. Design can draw me to a book, but it would never be a deciding factor in whether I would buy it.

What book changed your life? I did a guest blog post on this back in March for expat Aussie journalist, Kim Forrester in London as part of her 'Tuesday Triple Choice', so here’s the link. 

What is your favourite passage from a book? Nothing beautiful but rather funny. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen


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Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing his second daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:

“I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy.”

“We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes,” said her mother resentfully, “since we are not to visit.”

“But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long promised to introduce him.”

“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.

“No more have I,” said Mr. Bennet; “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.”

Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.

“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.”

“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father; “she times them ill.”

“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully.

“When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”

Who are your top five favourite authors? Oh dear!  I’m going to cheat and confine that  to “five favourite contemporary writers”. Nothing new or surprising: A. S. Byatt, Barbara Kingsolver, Gillian Mears, Geoffrey Euginides, Margaret Atwood.

What book has no one heard about but should read?
 Some people may have heard of James Hilton’s vintage novel, The Lost Horizon, but it’s so remote and mysterious, I think it must have nearly gone off the radar by now. It ‘is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet. I only came upon this fascinating book by chance six years ago in a hotel-room while travelling through the provinces of western China.

What 3 books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?

That word! Let’s just say that I could ‘wax lyrical’ about Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour (read on for my reviewKate Grenville’s The Secret River, and A. S. Byatt’s Possession, which I reviewed as a guest writer on Annabel Smith's 'Friday Faves'

What are your favourite books by a first-time author?


The Nature of Ice by Robyn Mundy
 The Good Wife by Emma Chapman
 Traitor  by Stephen Daisley

What is your favourite classic book?

Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Five other notable mentions?

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 
 Villette  by Charlotte Bronte, 
 The Magus by John Fowles, 
 Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov, 
 Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, 
 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields


1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
. Answer the questions above
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them

 6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!

I’m tagging Anne Morgan, Deborah Burrows, Marlish Glorie (without obligation, of course!)—but everyone’s free to join in, so please don’t wait to be tagged.

Celebrating a Character

I was somewhat taken aback last week at my presentation at the Royal WA Historical Society. Just as I was about to speak, a member of the audience came rushing up to the podium waving a mysterious looking envelope in front of me.

On opening it I discovered, to my utter delight and bemusement, that it was a card. The card is not for you, the presenter was quick to explain, for the benefit of the audience, but would you please pass it on. 

Gin, as some of you might know, is the main character of Finding Jasper.

It is indeed her 69th birthday this month, and it would be nice if you could spare her a thought, wherever she is.  What I’d really ask you to consider is this glorious gesture of remembrance.

Only someone with a wonderfully creative mind and an eye for detail, and the most generous of natures could have come up with such a lovely and (excuse the pun) novel idea. Thank you both, Helen and Peter Edmonds, I will treasure that card forever!

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is when a reader implies that one of my characters is in some way ‘real’ or that they know, or once knew, someone just like that character. To be believed, or have any of your characters thought of as believable, is always a great compliment, for it means that the reader has, related personally in some way to that character.

There is nothing new, of course, in celebrating the birthdays of authors, dead and alive, or the special anniversaries of their various publications, but how often do we remember or stop to celebrate the birthdays of our literary characters? Ever?

I deliberately googled to try and find out. Up popped some neat little workshop idea, something about having each character of a text write a birthday card to each of the others, but that’s just a short exercise in creative writing, nothing more.

Look at this card, chosen no doubt because of its pretty assortment of bags and tags.

As the custodian of this card, I’d like to ask: 

Have certain characters ever stayed with you as ongoing concerns? Do you ever ponder what they’ve been doing since you last left off, what age they’d be now, and what baggage they might be carrying on their unknown destinations?

Or do you think of them only within the limits of the timeframe in which they’re written?


Last weekend I returned to my birthplace, the no-longer-little town of Donnybrook, to talk about my book, Finding Jasper. Much has changed and, not surprisingly, there were far more new faces at my talk than old.

While wandering around my host’s beautiful property the following day, I ran into a medley of butterflies milling around the garden. They were immediately recognisable, their black, white and orange patterned wings striking against the surrounding greenery. They were, of course, those fellow 'wanderers', the Monarchs, I had been reading about recently and they were playing hard-to-get. They couldn’t seem to make up their minds what they were supposed to be doing. Basking for a few seconds on a blossom or a leaf, then flitting here and there in all directions as if half-drunk. Perhaps they were confused, the sudden onset of winter being disguised by the warmth of the sun and the strong Autumn colours yet to fall.

At last one was captured, photographed and then duly freed.  Always one for making connections, I was reminded of two great novels I had the privilege of reading this year. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, which I wrote about in March, and Amanda Curtin’s recently released Elemental both feature live Monarchs as a subject of biological observation as well as a metaphor for human behaviour.

Whereas the Monarchs are, from the very first page, the dominating issue in Flight Behaviour, they appear only fleetingly as a motif inElemental, with the author saving her focus until their final release at the end.   

There are more parallels yet to come. Both novels revolve around impoverished young women who live in the confinement of small, uneducated communities where old customs, rituals and insularity prevail. Both protagonists are redheaded; both predictably are social outcasts. In the case of Curtin’s young fisher girl, Meggie Tulloch, just the colour of her hair is, by some weird local superstition, cause enough to have her cursed.

It is not just their red hair that distinguishes these young women in their grim and wretched lives; there is an inner fire and intelligence that energizes them in their daily struggle, fueling a desire to escape to a better world beyond.

     I kiss the air. It spins around me with the rush of something new, something that is          white and clean and so real that I can touch it with my fingertips, feel it on my lips, on the skin of my face. It gusts through my hair, pulling it at the roots, and I am breathing it into me, this wondrous something new. And suddenly I know that I will never be the same again because I have felt freedom in my lungs.

But as Ginger Meggie quickly discovers, this new world, the world of herring, is almost as confining and defining as the last.

     Soon it is all I am: red, wet, salted gutted, blood in my eyes, scales on my skin.  Fish     hauled from water into air and struggling to find a way to breathe …

The more pages that we turn, the more our hearts go out to Meggie, feeling her pain, her unrelenting anguish and oppression; always urging her on.

The years pass and life continues to turn its innumerable cycles despite the changes in Meggie’s life. Even when she marries and lands safely on her feet in Fremantle on the other side of the world, still she finds that love and happiness are as elusive as any common butterfly.

The stories and settings of these two 'butterfly books' are vastly different but certain similarities can be noted when you place them spine-to-spine.

Amanda Curtin writes exquisitely. Now that Elemental is on the shelves, she will soon be up there with Kingsolver. Curtin’s strength lies in the power and music of her language, her various evocations of time and place. Just as rich and convincing is the author’s ability to create a character, and the unforgettable voice and resilience of Meggie Tulloch drawing in her family and the reader hook, line and sinker.


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