TRUMP’S WITCH HUNT

     The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, looked at the appalling events of the witch hysteria in Salem but it was actually analogous to the times in which he wrote it. The Crucible was shining a light on the Red Scare, the communist hysteria that was being promoted by Senator Joe McCarthy and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover.

     My newly released novel (also based on historical events during the witch-hunting craze), HEXENHAUS, is similarly drawing a sharp parallel between the Early European witch burnings and the situation we find ourselves in today with government-endorsed racism and Islamaphobia sweeping across the globe. The Trump rhetoric that encourages a fear of ‘the other’ is encouraging another wave of hysteria. Policies that exclude minorities or persecute refugees are burning torches of hate stirring up the bonfire of fear and we are all poorer for it.

     This is history repeating itself. Wave after wave, the fear sweeps people up in hysteria, causing them to indulge in crazy behaviour that simply feeds the powerful and enslaves the common man and woman. The Inquisition, the burning of 100,000 witches across the globe for crimes, tried in courts of law, such as ‘riding to a coven on a flying black dog’ was a brutal reaction to an epidemic of fear. Eminent, intelligent, university-trained judges convicted people of such crimes because they had become so blinded by fear and hysteria that the ludicrous became real to them.

     We can look at this and say ‘how ridiculous that superstition ran riot’ but it happened again in Nazi Germany, it happened during the McCarthy-driven terror of ‘the reds’, the communists who were going to destroy the world as we know it. It is happening again in the Western world and like the frog in the boiling water, it is creeping up so insidiously that many don’t see it for what it is and can’t comprehend that they are being played by those in power.

     Fear, such as that seen in the witch hunts, the Jewish Holocaust, the Red Scare and the current Islamaphobia, sets off a chain of nasty behaviour, crushes civil liberties underfoot and limits everyone’s freedom. Lives of innocent people get turned upside down. False accusations. Blacklists. Political repression. Torture. Murder.

     Mark my words. There certainly is climate change going on. The climate of fear is hotting up.

     The anti-witch, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic fervour shrinks us as human beings.

My book Hexenhaus tells the story of three young women caught up in the hysteria of their times. They are persecuted for outlandish and dangerously absurd accusations of witchcraft. While researching those dark burning times, it seemed incredible to me that such a horror could be perpetrated again and yet it goes on and on, only the words change.      Witch. Jew. Muslim. Refugee. Mexican. Feminist.

Fear-mongers are hungry beasts and in their greed for power they destroy us all and rob us of the many freedoms those before us fought so bitterly for, throughout history.

My book Hexenhaus shows how it happens. Please world, don’t let it happen again!

RIGHT HERE, WRITE NOW

I am thrilled to pieces to be heading off to the wonderful Somerset Celebration of Literature in March on the Gold Coast. It is one of the most exciting events on the literary calendar and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I know a couple of the other authors attending but am really looking forward to meeting some new friends. I am setting myself a huge challenge. I am going to try very hard to read books by all the authors attending. That may be impossible but I will do my very best. I’ve read all of Ben Law’s books so I can tick him off my list. The Family Law still ranks as one of my all-time favourite reads. I’ve also read books by Karen Foxlee and Nova Weetman and can’t wait to tell them how much I love their writing. I am currently reading Elizabeth Kasmer’s Becoming Aurora and am absolutely entranced by it.

Sophie Hardcastle’s ‘Breathing Under Water’ is on the bedside table waiting. ‘Yassmin’s Story’ by Yassmin Abdel-Magied looks great and will follow Sophie’s. Oh this is going to be grand!

I’ve just finished writing a follow on from HEXENHAUS and that was an epic undertaking because there was a lot of historical research to delve into in order to be able to bring the stories of Jeanne Laisne (Jeanne Hachette) and Betsy Gray to life. Jeanne wielded her axe to save her city from being besieged and Betsy fought for freedom in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Gutsy gorgeous characters.

I am working on a new memoir of my life as a struggling single mum and adapting my first memoir into something for the screen so how I will find the time to read. read, read, I do not know. But I love a challenge. And let’s face it, reading books by such a stellar line-up is not exactly hard work, it’s a real pleasure.

Alison Goodman, Robert Newton, Shivaun Plozza, Libby Hathorn, Emily Gale, Rachel Craw (her books look really good and my teenage daughter thinks so too!), Fleur Ferris (really, really looking forward to Black), Zana Fraillon and many more. Jeepers. That’s a lot of reading material to get through!

I am also very excited to hear Rachel Perkins, the film-maker, speaking. I am a big fan!

I hope to meet lots of readers as well and hopefully some will be keen to read HEXENHAUS. I’ll be bringing my special, good luck pen with me to sign copies.

As an old Gold Coast girl (not so old really) I am looking forward to returning to my old stomping ground to talk to students and teachers about my journey as an author.

Somerset College – March 15-17….here I come.

Blabbermouth

I have no filter. Really. I’m one of those women who opens her mouth and says whatever comes into her head, oblivious to the people around me cringing, screaming in their heads Did she just say that!!!???  Yes she did just say that. This disorder of mine has on occasion, gotten me into trouble. But ‘trouble’ is my middle name. I can’t keep a secret. I have always been loud and extremely adept at embarrassing myself, so it really was no surprise to anyone (except maybe my parents) that I would grow up to write a memoir about every freaking embarrassingly naughty/silly/evil/hilarious/tragic/wanton thing I’d ever done up until the time I turned twenty-one. Enter ‘One Way or Another; the story of a girl who loved rock stars.’

How much trouble can a young girl get into by the age of twenty-one, you might ask? Read the book – a lot!

You can buy One Way or Another with just one click and either have the hard-copy posted to you or download it online. Do it. Go read old Blabbermouth air her dirty laundry. Laugh cry and cringe!

 

 

 

HEXENHAUS IS IN THE HOUSE

When I say that Hexenhaus is in the house what I really mean is that she is in book stores. Having this book published is a dream come true for me, one of those biguns from the bucket list crossed off….and don’t it feeeeeel good!!!

This is a tale of three girls whose stories span four hundred years and take us from medieval Germany with its witch hysteria to late seventeenth century Scotland where mysterious things are taking place in a manor house and all fingers point to the young maid and the accusation is leveled at her – WITCH…..and then there is our contemporary girl who just wants to get through her HSC and win the affections of a boy from her local small town but the burning torches start hunting her and her mother  after ludicrous, senseless gossip starts singeing the edges of their quiet lives.

My stories were drawn from family history, the very real and tragic tale of the Renfrewshire witches (sometimes known as the Paisley witches) and a letter that sits in the Hanover University Library, written by a man to his daughter from the Hexenhaus, a torture factory that became the prototype for Nazi concentration camps and the inspiration for the evil cottage in Hansel and Gretel. The modern story was drawn loosely from my own experience of living in a small town.

My characters are brave and courageous and I love them all. They are all drawn a little from myself and my two sisters.

The mass panic and hysteria that saw these girls go through absolute hell and triumph in spirit, one way or another, is a reflection, a mirror, to what is going on in our own sorry world right now. I’ll let you read it and draw your own comparisons!

You can purchase Hexenhaus (GREAT CHRISTMAS GIFT) at most good book stores. Or for your shopping pleasure and without the need to get up from where you are sitting now, you can click on any of these link and order it and it will be delivered to your door (lazy option).

Dymocks

Booktopia

Riverbend Books

Abbey’s Bookshop

Where the Wild Things Are

Potts Point Bookshop

Robinsons Bookshop 

 

 

LIFT-OFF

Well, there you go! HEXENHAUS was officially launched on Monday night with the help of the sensational Bec Mac. Launching a book is really one of the most rewarding aspects of the rather solitary life of a writer. For months and months and MONTHS you sit at your laptop and tap words, sculpt sentences, shuffle paragraphs and excise entire organs from your manuscript while keeping her heart beating and the passion simmering.

When you finally have that book in your hands it is an emotional experience but when you come together with all the people in your life that matter the most, to celebrate the safe arrival of your book, it is tantamount to a spiritual experience. Thank-you to Riverbend Books at Bulimba for your hospitality.

I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity by my publishers at UQP to breathe life into my three very special characters. Veronica, Katherine, Paisley; I salute you and I now send your stories of empowerment, courage under fire and grace in the most difficult of circumstances, into the world.

In The Crucible (which has inevitably been compared to my little book of witch hysteria)….there was the clearly drawn analogy to the hate and fear of McCarthyism, the Red Terror, fear of Communists, during the Cold War! IN HEXENHAUS I have drawn the timely parallel between the Early European witch-hunts and  irrational hysteria of imagined folk devils and the current climate in our world of politically driven ‘terror’ of others, the rife and hateful Islamaphobia that is dangerous and destructive to the inherent goodness of humanity. Love, tolerance and community are under direct attack by the insidious racism that runs, as an undercurrent, through our Western political systems. My novel of three young women facing persecution by scared and small-minded people shines a light on the source of people’s ability to be caught up in baseless hysteria when in a mob led by burning torches.

Perhaps my cautionary tale will help readers to see that historical connection. Let’s make sure that the Burning Times of the witch-hunts and the 20th century Holocaust do not ever happen again. Ever.

Hexenhaus is available in all good book stores – Dymocks, QBD and Booktopia and lots of independents like Where the Wild Things Are, Beachside Bookshop at Avalon Beach, Abbeys, Macleans, Riverbend Books, Love That Book and many, many more. Need I remind you that Christmas is coming up? Buy HEXENHAUS for yourself, a friend, your daughter and your grandmother.

Peace out.

Avalon Market Day

On Sunday, 20th November, I will be going along to the Avalon Market Day. Beachside Bookshop is hosting a wonderful day of bookishness with an Abundance of Australian Author Awesomeness. There will be writing workshops and author signings all day.

Authors appearing include – Kirsty Eagar, Will Kostakis, Sophie Hardcastle, Tara Eglington, Lesley Gibbes, Belinda Murrell, Alice Campion, Cameron Bloom, Helen Thurloe, Harriet Cumming, Jen Trusswell, Helen Chebatte and Louise Park and of course, myself.

I am really looking forward to this. Avalon Beach is a beautiful spot and I look forward to buying up some great Australian literature to fill up my own Christmas present lists.

If you can come along that would be lovely, if not you can contact the Beachside Bookstore (02 99189918) and you can order books (minumum of two) by any of the above authors and still get them personally signed. The bookstore will then ship them to you for free anywhere in Australia. What a mighty good deal that is!

Signed books for Christmas! Won’t the kids love it!!?

Nik x

 

We’ve all lived in the Hexenhaus

‘Hexenhaus’, my new novel, was released today. The 31st October. 2016.

Most people have heard of the witch trials of Salem. They were the destructive outcome of dangerous folklore. But all across Europe, from Sweden to Germany, France, Spain and the UK, the idea of the ‘witch’ became the blame pigeon for epidemics, failed crops, birth defects and any manner of misfortune. The early European obsession with witches illustrated the cultural fear and fascination with women’s innate power which was shadowy and misunderstood. The female body summoned social anxiety because of its very power to give life. Women were viewed with suspicion and wariness.

In today’s world such attitudes and superstitions sound ludicrous but we live in a society that still argues about women’s reproductive rights and the pay gap. Domestic violence is a huge problem and one in three women will be sexually assaulted by a male during their lifetimes. The patriarchal stranglehold has not completely released its grip! When a male politician can stand in front of a placard reading ‘Ditch the Witch’, a reference to the female Prime Minister of his country, the stench of burning flesh and hair still wafts past him on the breeze, all the way from seventeenth century Salem and Europe.

I have been fascinated with witches since childhood (since Samantha Stephens of the television series Bewitched to be precise). In my new novel, Hexenhaus, based on historical characters and events, I aimed to transport readers back to a time when witches were fully believed to be real. It is hard for us looking through a contemporary lens to imagine a world where the sexism was so bad and the fear of the supernatural so intense, that people, even those of great learning, wholeheartedly believed that those accused and burned were actually witches. There were other political and religious motives at play in the later periods of persecution but these were times of which we can barely conceive. Hexenhaus was written to shine a light on those dark times.

Set in Bamberg, Germany in 1626 and Renfrewshire, Scotland 1697, two bookends of the seventeenth century, the historical threads of my narrative introduce Veronica Junius and Katherine Campbell, two young women inadvertently caught up in the witch hysteria of their time. Veronica escapes to a fairy-tale, idyllic existence in the woods which is her sacred and safe place, while Katherine finds herself confronted by a small child tormented by superstition so intensely that she sees her maids flying high in the sky at night, coming to visit her and poke her with pins while demanding that she give her soul over to the grim man in black. The accusations terrify the Renfrewshire community and Katherine must fight for her very life while enduring unspeakable tortures.

The modern thread of my story, the third strand in the braid,  shows how hysteria is not confined to the darkest corners of history but still very much alive and well in our own back-yards. The witch-hunt in Bundanoon, Australia, portrayed in Hexenhaus, is a finely directed spotlight on how the media and politicians, spiritual leaders and neighbourhood-fence gossips can fan and fuel irrational fears into full-blown mass hysteria. Pick your folk devil ‘Muslims’ ‘homosexuals’ ‘single mothers’ ‘welfare recipients’ ‘people with tattoos’ and so on and so forth.. Early Europe had witches, Hitler had Jews, we have…..fill in your greatest fear here!

My brave characters of Veronica, Katherine and Paisley find themselves vulnerable to the bigotry and small-mindedness of those around them who are driven by fear and an intense hatred of things they do not understand.

‘Hexenhaus’ honours my female ancestors whose blood runs through my veins. My great great great great great grandmother was burned for being a witch. If you were to follow your mother-blood back through the ages you would all come across the same charred bones.

We are all sisters standing on the edge of the universe.

Those who suffered before me, persecuted as ‘witches’, bequeathed their strength that flows through my veins, their wisdom which has given me knowledge, their inspiration which has given birth to my new book Hexenhaus and I offer my book to the world as a way of showing my gratitude.

It is dedicated to my grandmother but also to every woman, man and child who lost their life so brutally at the gallows or at the burning stake, at the hands of a world driven mad by irrational fear.

We must be vigilant and never, ever let it happen again.

‘I fly through the candle’s mouth like a singeless moth.’ Sylvia Plath – Witch Burning.

 

Hexenhaus – countdown

We are coming into the home stretch. I can now reveal the front cover of my new novel to you. Thank-you so very much to Kate Forsyth for her lovely endorsement. Nicole Hayes (One True Thing) also has some great words of support for the back cover…but for that, you must wait.

Here’s a little taste of what Hexenhaus is all about –

“A powerful historical novel about three young women caught in the hysteria of their own times.”

In 1628, Veronica Junius flees to the woods of Bamberg, Germany, with her small brother after their parents are condemned as witches by the notoriously sadistic Hexenbischof, and are burnt at the stake.

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Katherine Campbell, a Scottish maid, is drawn into political dissidence with the Jacobites. She is falsely accused of causing the demonic possession of the eleven-year-old daughter of the manor house. Will Katherine pay the ultimate price for her beliefs?

In the present day, Paisley Muller-McLeod, a senior student in an Australian town, lives with her single mother, a practicing Wiccan who runs a New Age shop. When hateful gossip begins to singe her mother, Paisley must navigate her way through the burning torches of small-town prejudice.

Three women, separated by a span of 400 years, find themselves weathering similar crises, all linked to the hysteria that fans an accusation of ‘witch-craft’. Has anything really changed?

The paperback will be available in Australian bookstores on October 31st, published by UQP (University of Queensland Press). It will also be available in e-book format.

Details of the various book launches will be finalised shortly.

Put Hexenhaus on your Christmas shopping list! Everyone knows someone who will love this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Gestational Blues

There is nothing more exciting for a writer than getting that call that tells you a manuscript has made it through the treacherous fertilization process – the acquisitions meeting at a publishing house. Before that time your dream of a book is just that – a dream. You may have the words down and you may have an interested editor but they have to come together and get the endorsement, the fusion, that only a positive vote in the boardroom can provide. The development and arrival of a new book are often likened to the human birth process. While defying all odds to get there, books keep arriving on the shelves. It seems like a smooth factory, a literary conveyor belt, seamless and ceaseless. But if you were to go deep within the body of the publishing industry you would see just how difficult it is for an embryonic seed of story to become a full-blown book with a cover, spine and lots of leaves. For every one that succeeds, thousands fall by the way side, forgotten, discarded, delegated to that cavernous bottom drawer or Amazon kindle.

When I got that call about my upcoming novel ‘Hexenhaus’ I swore and cried, almost like when I’d found out I’d been pregnant in real life. I was full of hope, great expectations and fear. Would it all be okay, would I like the cover, would anyone read it? Because some books, like kids, become disappointments. I jest. No kid, of course, ever becomes a disappointment. Every single one is adorable in their own way. Adolph Hitler’s mother probably liked him. Charles Manson probably made sweet gurgling noises as he suckled from his beloved mother….Not disappointments so much as …some books just don’t make a lot of friends. You know what I’m saying? But when I got the call that I was going to have a new book, I was ecstatic, relieved and overjoyed.

Nine months is a walk in the park. This gestation will take fifteen months from that phone call to delivery. You get the call, you pop the champagne and then the early boredom sets in while nothing, nothing, nothing seems to happen. It took about six weeks for the contracts to be finalised and signed because one person or another involved in the process went on leave, got sick or spent more time tending to more fertile writers’ needs. No bitterness, none. When I’m selling like J.K. Rowling I’m sure things will move more quickly. High hopes! Then I waited, no belly-swelling except for the endless chocolate biscuits and more champagne. Thumbs twirled until they nearly became unscrewed.

Then a month later I got structural edits….big sweeping changes like the order of stories. My book tells the stories of three young women’s adventures through real-life tortures at the hands of witch-hunters. This is, I am sure, much more painful and terrifying than being pulled apart by the hands of editors. At this point your characters put on more flesh and your words get snipped away so that the narrative doesn’t get lost in the detail. All good. Getting smoother. This is where you hear the words ‘story arc’ a lot.

Three or four months after that I started copy edits. This is a big book with a lot of subject matter (and torture and hedgehogs). It was a daunting copy edit made more difficult by my challenging relationship with technology. My new editor was patient and diligent with a wonderful eye for getting my baby into the best health possible for her upcoming ordeal (exposure to the harsh elements of readership). In many ways an editor is like a fairy godmother, turning bits of pumpkin into crystal.

A cover arrived fresh from the designer and with a tweak here and there, we had Hexenhaus looking good. This is like seeing a 3-D ultrasound photo of your baby. It’s very exciting.

Then came the first pages and the proof-reading. It’s amazing how inept an eye can be and even after multiple reads I would find something I’d missed. Done and dusted and ready for the type-setter….

That’s where I am at now. Awaiting a nice endorsement from a peer/literary idol…that doesn’t say….’what a load of codswollop’. Thinking about book launches (baby showers?) Getting invited to writer’s festivals for next year (that’s exciting…they are like those baby pagents where you parade your baby about in public….hmmm…not really). Starting to tell everyone and anyone that I am having a book…a book…a book….on October 31st. People are getting sick of hearing this but I DON”T CARE!

I am already thinking about her sibling and I already have a name. Victorieux. Instead of a book about three witches, this one will be about three warrior girls. You know you are impatient when you are planning your next child while still awaiting the one in your belly (publisher’s office).

I am bristling with excitement. Hexenhaus is wriggling and writhing and cannot wait to get into the fresh air of bookshops with the smell of lovely, woody untouched pages on her breath. I feel her pulsing with longing to be held by gentle, loving reader’s hands, who fall asleep at night with her resting on their chests.

It is a long, fretful, finicky time, this book-cooking caper. But it is labour of love, a magical and miraculous journey.

Write a book. Find the perfect publishing partner. It’s not easy but neither is true love. Nurture your baby and that moment when you hold her in your hands for the first time will be like no other feeling. I can’t wait to hold Hexenhaus. I feel like crying just thinking about it. Soon, my darling, soon.

That time I was a pin cushion…

Donating blood is one of the most important things you can do as a member of the human community. It is the gift of life to a stranger and what could be more wonderful than that? My husband has done it and because it was one of my fifty 2016 challenges, yesterday I fronted up to the vampire van and signed up to hand over my pound of flesh….or a 400ml sack of blood as the case may be.

I wasn’t nervous. Needles don’t phase me. Given the choice between a Tim Tam and a needle, I would always go the biscuit but I’m not one of those people with hypodermic phobia and the sight of blood fascinates me rather than the opposite. I am a fan of Tarantino films. I wanted to be a vampire as a child and also briefly considered being a surgeon so blood and I…we go way back…we are tight…we have no problems with one another.

So after checking my general health, ticking all the boxes to say that I hadn’t had a threesome with a mad cow in Timbuktu any time recently or shot up green caterpillar juice with junkie Oompa Loompas in Loompaland in the last three months, I was good to go.

The whole thing was like plugging into headphones. Lie back, insert mosquito-thin needle into arm, squeeze squishy ball and make small talk with the other people being drained. We chatted about the weather (cold), the mushy brains associated with pregnancy (smushy peas) and general chit-chat. Time went on (minutes). I was cool and chilled out and relaxed thinking this is a piece of cake while thinking about the actual piece of cake I would get as a reward for my altruism.

And then…the nurse-woman-vampire looked at me weirdly and asked if I was alright. A bit dizzy I said. And then……a lot dizzy, a lot cold and a lot passing out.

My blood pressure dropped to something silly and they whipped out the needle and put me in the shock position, lying back with my legs in the air. Feeling somewhat foolish, I waited for the nausea and light-headedness to pass. It took a while.

This happens sometimes apparently.

I hope to be able to try again in a few months. I hope they sapped enough out of me to save the lives of a couple of small people (as I didn’t fill the whole bag).

Giving blood is a worthwhile thing to do. Do it. Just be aware that even if you are fine with it…sometimes…your body isn’t.

I have fifty challenges for this year. I’ve done the silent meditation retreat and now the blood donation (kind of ) and next I’ll be volunteering in a soup kitchen. I may not be totally brilliant yet at being a generous community-member or enlightened person….but at least I’m trying, eh?