JUST WRITE

It’s Monday. I am listless. I feel just a little bit sick. Not urgh sick. Just icky sick. I am a bit flat. I know that writing lifts me up and away from these human distractions. Once I’m in the flow it’s go-go-go and I can be anywhere and anyone. I can create characters and make them brave and daring and sometimes…sometimes I can kill them with one stroke of a pen. Writing makes me feel powerful. I walk around my empty house in my slippers and tattered p’j’s. My back aches. I’m jittery from too much coffee. There is mess. Dishes. Beds to make. But more importantly…there are words to write.

I made myself a promise about five years ago and that was to write something creative every day – no excuses. I’ve kept my promise to myself because writing is my one true thing. It is my life-raft, my safety valve, my very salvation. I am prone to the snarl of the black dog. It bares its teeth and growls at me from time to time. It bites and tears at my flesh and leaves me bleeding and ragged during particularly vicious attacks. But I’ve found that writing is my secret weapon and sends that dog limping away with its tail between its legs, whimpering, afraid.

I write, therefore I am.

Sometimes I feel that I would simply evaporate if I was not wrapped up and defined by the shape of letters and the smooth sleek lines of sentences. I shuffle down into paragraphs like a free-fall into quilted clouds.

Today I will write of laughter and majesty because writing is my magic, my mojo.

I write, therefore I am. What I spin onto the page is Rumplestiltsken straw into gold. I make things happen. I can take an icky day and make it gleam. I can save the world. I can move mountains with a few taps on a keyboard. I paint with words. I can make pictures. Moving, visceral, pulsing worlds of words. I can bring the impossible to life. I can be God.

As a little girl, I found comfort in books. My first love was Heathcliff. I learned to be the person I am from books. Now, I find that words are my breath and words keep me balanced. Someone asked me recently what my favourite word was and I couldn’t think of one. I think now that I shall choose WORDS. WORDS.

Today I am going to create a character that embodies everything I wanted to be when I grew up. I am going to invent my super-self. And maybe….just a little bit of this character will seep into my bones and make me stronger….happier…less icky. More Nikki.

WORDS. Thank-you words for reaching out and pulling me to my feet. I love you.

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SOMERSET WRAP-UP

Well. I am exhausted!

I have just returned from my very first school literary festival and I was ‘literally’ (see what I did there) blown away by the enthusiasm, excitement and energy of the presenters, the organisers, the attendees and the volunteers. It was a huge success and I feel mighty privileged to have been invited. I was in some stellar company and have come away from Somerset College on the Gold Coast with a suitcase full of books to read and so many ideas my head is exploding with rainbow-coloured matter (as opposed to gray matter, you know, get it?).

I had tried to get some under my belt before the festival. And had some success. I read Fleur Ferris’s ‘Black’ while waiting for hours in the airport in Sydney (because I am that worry-wort Aunt Josephine who gets to an airport many, many hours early….just in case). I read it in one sitting and was ‘scared’ WITless. It was such a page-turning thriller. I also just finished Nova Weetman’s ‘Everything is Changed’. It packs a powerful punch to your solar plexus and gives you some tears (tissues essential). Nova and I share a publisher and publicist and we all met up for lunch on Day 1. Beautiful. Lots of laughs and some deep and meaningful conversations were had. And then I went op-shopping with Nova and I found a pair of HARRY POTTER PANTS! WINNER! Literary party pants. Tick.

As a writer who infamously never gets out of bed or her pajamas, this festival gig-thing was growing on me. I was out in the real world talking to real people who read books, some of whom had read/promised to read mine! I found my former Modern History Teacher and English teacher who popped in to my presentations to lend me some very welcome support. I won’t tell you how long ago it was that they taught me…or you would be gob-smacked by how young I look for my age!!!! Hmmmmm.

There was rain on day one and we all got muddy but thanks to things called warm showers at the luxurious Royal Pines Resort (although Benjamin Law had a bath in his room which I found out too late!), I cleaned up my act and so did the weather for the rest of the festival. I met some wonderful students. The girls from Brigidine College were a lovely audience along with the Somerset peeps. First session. First day. And my VERY FIRST SOLO PRESENTATION EVER! EVER!

I was swear-word nervous and just rabbited on about the best thing about being a writer -WRITING IN BED IN YOUR P’J’S OF COURSE … and the worst thing….the countless crushing rejections. But I managed to explain that the more rejections you aim for ….the more successes you’ll get and the better you will become as a writer by submitting and writing and submitting and writing and getting rejected and writing and writing and submitting and …then bingo success!  And then writing and submitting and on and on and on. I’m sitting on a six rejections to one success rate after five years of writing and  really, I’m pretty happy with that.  Because I write a LOT! I once wrote a book in ten days…..I am no J. R. R. Tolkien….I’m no Shakespeare….but I can bang out a book faster than most agents and publishers can read them! Of course then I have to go back and smooth it over and polish it up. I talked about banishing the dreaded ‘writers block’ (man flu for writers) with caffeine and chocolate (in huge quantities). I was asked some thoughtful questions and some randoms like ‘what is my take on pineapple on a pizza?’. I am fine with pineapple just hold the pepperoni because I don’t do meat….that did not go down well….being a vegetarian is apparently ‘lame’. I managed to have a lot of fun talking to them and did not swear once. Not once.

I missed my family…oh who am I kidding. I did not. And I didn’t miss cleaning up after them or making school lunches or cooking gourmet meals. And the reason MOST of all that I did not miss them, was the breakfast buffet by the pool with just the sound of birdsong for company…oh and the hilarious literary gossip over never-ending plates of food and cups of coffee so that there was no need to eat for the rest of the day. And someone made my bed for me! Bonus!

I had old friends come to say hello and pamper me with good food and wine. I saw my parents. Thank-you Dad for being my date to the Prologue Party. and thank-you Mum for the bizarre cookie jar present! The Gold Coast is my home town and she certainly made me feel welcome. I managed to catch some brilliant presentations by some other speakers and I learned so much about the process and the industry from them. Most of all I loved chatting to the students. It was so heartening to see kids fired up about BOOKS!

This was the most fun I’ve had since the Rock n Roll Writer’s Festival this time last year. I could dig a festival sort-of nomadic existence of hotel rooms, buffet breakfasts, stimulating conversations with award-winning writers, illustrators and film makers. (I shared an Uber with Rachel Perkins which had me a little star-struck).

Benjamin Law did the keynote speech at the impressive last-night dinner. A string quartet played. We dined on fine fare and drank champagne and talked books and books and laughed with budding writers, parents and staff from Somerset. It was brilliant. Thanks to all at Somerset. Particularly Desmond and Jack!!!

I came away stimulated to write a novel called THE WRITER’S FESTIVAL. It will be a chick lit tale about three women authors who attend a writer’s festival in a lonely small town in the middle of the red desert of Western Australia. The festival is being organised by a mysterious billionaire and has dashing writers from all over the globe attending ( and a couple of rich and famous John Grisham-types for romantic comedy/spice). None of the local townsfolk are remotely interested in books or literature and are dragged along reluctantly… but find themselves gradually inspired and intrigued by these strange writerly folk. These three lead women’s lives are connected in ways they do not realise. But someone knows. And that someone is at The Writer’s Festival. And they have been invited along for a reason! That’s the premise. It’ll probably be written in a week or three. I won’t be drawing from real writers that I met at Somerset. Or will I?? Nah. Would I do that? Writers NEVER draw fictitious characters from life. Never. Or do they? Mwhahahahaha….. 

 

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.