Blue Mountains Book Settings

There are many upsides to sorting out your book collection. A definite highlight is being reunited with books that captured my attention and took me on a journey that remains vivid, years after reading them.

Amongst the stacks of books, there were some that I’ve put aside into a cluster of stories featuring the Blue Mountains. Here are a few fictional books that come to mind.

The Service of Clouds, Delia Falconer. Set in the early 1900s, this is the story of cloud photographer Harry Kitchings and Eureka Jones, a pharmacist’s assistant. I read it a couple of years before I moved here and think of it often when I catch myself looking upwards to watch clouds moving across the sky. The mural in Katoomba Street near St Hilda’s in honour of photographer Harry Phillips reminds me of it too; it is based on one of his photographs of the Bridal Veil Falls.

Dear You, Kate Llewellyn. This novel of love letters is set in Leura where the author lived for a few years. I read this when I first moved to the mountains, and remember scanning the entries for mentions of snow falling as that was one of my big concerns, being snowed in. It is a story of lust and longing and the everyday and gardens and being aware of the world in which you live.

Miles Off Course, Sulari Gentill. This is the third book in an excellent mystery series set in Australia in the 1930s featuring Rowland Sinclair. Rowly is an unconventional man from a privileged background who has bohemian friends including fellow artists and musicians. They get involved in all sorts of interesting situations which are historically accurate but with contemporary echoes. The series includes various famous and infamous people of the time in cameo roles. This book starts off in the Hydro Majestic where famous entrepreneur and hotelier Mark Foy is seeking Rowly’s input on the plans for his grand tomb which was to be carved into the grounds. This was true: it was incorporated into Foy’s will but it was ruled as not financially feasible by the court and his executors were released from any obligation to complete it.

Ash Island, Barry Maitland. This is the third installment of a trilogy featuring Harry Belltree, a Sydney detective with a troubled past and a complex network of enemies. In this final book, there is a murder early on in Blackheath, with Harry’s estranged wife Jenny the main suspect. But are things really as they seem?

Beware of the Dog, Peter Corris. My liking for Australian detective stories is apparent, and Corris is fondly regarded as The Godfather of Australian crime writing. His main character, Cliff Hardy, entered the literary scene in the 1970s and has been all over the country, and in various parts of the world, in his role as an old-school private investigator. In this installment, Hardy follows a lead up to a remote property past Mt Victoria, and the essence of this mountain village is well depicted. Hardy makes his final fictional appearance this year.

The Palace of Tears, Julian Leatherdale. This multi-generational fictional drama is based on the life of Mark Foy and his family. The author lives locally and has an extensive background in the arts and hotel management. This novel was a popular choice when it was released in time for summer reading a couple of years back and there is an interesting twist at the end. Julian has an article on the excellent Dictionary of Sydney website about the Hydro Majestic here.

Evergreen Falls, Kimberley Freeman. I came across this book by chance after listening to an interview with author on So You Want To Be A Writer. This story is set in modern times with historical flashbacks to a singular event in the 1920s which changed the course of the lives of several people. I liked the attention to detail, and the references to an old motel undergoing extensive renovations rang true as the Hydro was brought back from disrepair to its much more fashionable state.

Have you come across any books set in your town?

[Photo: detail from the mural in honour of Harry Phillips, Katoomba]

 

Splendid Synchronicity

I have been thinking lately about synchronicity, those surprising instances when something that is on your peripheral comes into sharper focus through a multitude of moments.

This was started when I met up with a friend a month or two ago and we were comparing recent travel stories. Whilst talking of a recent cruise along the coast of Western Australia, Kelly mentioned seeing stromatolites. I nodded politely, not really knowing what they were. She explained how they are one of the oldest forms of life on earth, with three known locations, two of which are in Australia. She had discovered this while reading Down Under by Bill Bryson. I had this book on a shelf at home but hadn’t read it.

Kelly mentioned that Bryson had travelled on the Indian Pacific across the country, and I thought it would be of interest to read of his experience. When I got home I pulled out the book, read the opening pages and was hooked. It was a genuine delight to spend the next month or so reading a little of this book most nights before sleep claimed me. I wanted to savour the chapters and this was enjoyable on several levels. Seeing what is familiar through someone else’s viewpoint, including many of the little quirks that come with being Australian from a different perspective, was pleasurable. There were lots of laugh out loud moments, along with reminiscing about places that I had visited years ago, such as the tall trees in the south of Western Australia.

Whilst reading the book, I was listening to podcasts on my longer drives and this included an episode on books on Let It Be. This podcast, by the incredibly organised and motivated Kelly Exeter and Brooke McAlary, ended with a round-up of their favourite comfort reads. For Kelly, this was Down Under by Bill Bryson. Snap! I could see why it would appeal in this way, and how it was one of those books which probably gives a little more with each read.

Then today I was noodling through my Twitter feed when I should have been doing something else, and came across a link to footage taken by a drone of Uluru. The way Bryson writes about Uluru makes me want to travel to the Northern Territory as soon as possible to see it for myself. As this is logistically not possible in the short-term, it was one of those joyous moments of synchronicity to come across this beautiful footage.

Have you had any moments of synchronicity lately?

[Photo: servants bells in Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta]

Imagine

This is such a powerful word. It immediately conjures up a collection of images, of worlds both real and invented. It can take me to another time or place, and makes me think of a life with less limitations. That place in your head where simply anything is possible.

Imagine doesn’t have to be a fanciful word. It can hold elements of what is possible, even if what is possible is yet to be realised into actual existence. Creativity. Uninhibited possibilities. The abandonment of realism. Reality: who needs it? Imagination offers resourcefulness and inventiveness, the opportunity to delude, to believe, to create, to fantasise and to think.

It also brings to mind early writings and creativity. When does it start, this compulsion to imagine other worlds into existence, to create something out of nothing? Perhaps it is the short creative writing exercises in primary school, those stretches of time when it was just a ballpoint pen, a lined exercise book and a prompt. I had early forays with elaborate tales involving tennis balls and hamburgers. These were separate stories and although the detail is lost to me now, the story where I was somehow metamorphosed into a tennis ball is still vivid to my younger brother, who surprises me with snatches of it occasionally.

There is also the pure joy of losing yourself in someone else’s imagined world as a child, from tales such as Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many places to explore, vivid destinations with memorable characters and some life lessons along the way.

Words have always mattered to me. They have weight and substance when required. I used to tote around a rather large pocket dictionary as a child, and have a collection clustered about me now for dipping into and exploring words and their varied uses. Words are the gateway to my imagination, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What are your early memories of creations from your imagination?

[Photo taken at Mona Vale on the northern beaches of Sydney]

Taking Note

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to keep track of the tendrils of thoughts and ideas that come to the surface when I’m trying to do something else. These snippets seem to arise alongside, despite of and as a consequence of what I am writing, reading and listening to at the time.

Not all of these are recorded and rightly so. They are tenuous at best when I look over them at a later date, and sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when the need to record the essence of whatever it was took hold. These days we are subject to an increasing tide of information and stimulation. It can sometimes feel like grabbing handfuls of sand whilst being tossed on a thundering incoming wave. Recording snippets helps me to feel a modicum of control, as well as providing prompts and ideas for future writing.

I wish I could write that I have perfected the art of keeping track of these moments, but that would be a fib. I scribble bits and pieces in an A5 lined notebook. The pages include motley collections of lists including things I want to do when I have time (optimist!), musicians that I’ve heard and want to explore further, the name of a subject matter expert that a friend mentioned, a word that I hadn’t come across before (senescence, if you must know) and other miscellany.

Other pages contain prose relating to a short story where I was working on an ending, and some paragraphs where I was playing with a character’s viewpoint. There are to-do items along with song titles or lyric lines that have captured my attention for future use as writing prompts or just because I like them. There are a myriad of apps that also help with capturing the flotsam and jetsam. I like to use Evernote because I can group thoughts and images and links into journals, but I’m sure there are lots of other options out there.

This consideration of the compulsion to take notes was inspired by an article written by Joan Didion called ‘On Keeping a Notebook’. I’m quite sure this was referred to by Annabel Crabb or Leigh Sales in one of the early Chat 10, Looks 3 podcasts. There is a link to the article here. I found it encouraging to read that someone else feels the need capture these moments, such as they are. Didion writes about the necessity to record things, the mix of truth and fiction, the snatches of conversation, the need to capture how something felt.

How do you keep track of the flotsam and jetsam in your life?

[Photo: View from Mt Tomah Botanical Gardens]