From the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Set in Australia in the 1840s, A Fringe of Leaves combines dramatic action with a finely distilled moral vision.

Returning home to England from Van Diemen’s land, the Bristol Maid is shipwrecked on the Queensland coast and Mrs Roxburgh is taken prisoner by a tribe of Australian Aboriginals, along with the rest of the passengers and crew. In the course of her escape, she is torn by conflicting loyalties – to her dead husband, to her rescuer, to her own and to her adoptive class.

Penguin Books

I don’t think I’ve ever read a character arc that is more full, that roams physically wider and psychologically deeper than that of Mrs Roxburgh in A Fringe of Leaves.

For it’s placement in upper class colonial history, this book surprised me by pulling me into some of the most raw of human experiences. I found myself tossed and dragged right alongside Mrs Roxburgh’s incredible life path, leaving me as shell-shocked, disoriented and profoundly moved as the character herself (and just as unable to articulate exactly why) .

Originally published in 1976, I went retro with my bookshelf for this one, to catch myself up on Patrick White after reading The Aunt’s Story and being reminded why literature can be so powerful. In the hands of Patrick White it becomes a tool for searing, perceptive observation of human behaviour; not just what we do, but why we do it and what it means to us.

Every little action or statement is loaded with reason or question, where another author might simply give it a dialogue tag. His character descriptions, too, are among my favourites alongside Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie:

“Mr Courtney was so solidly built, anything overwrought or inessential could only expect to be skittled. It was unlikely that the [ship’s] mate’s own mind would ever wander out of bounds, except perhaps during sleep, heaving in those more incalculable waters like one of the whales it delighted him to watch.”

Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

I suspect he may have been rather a searing character in his own right. From his work, his eyes must have been like diamond-tipped drill bits, and I would not want to be under that gaze. As a reader, however, I am awed and more than happy to reap the benefits of his work.

I will say that I find Patrick White better as a writer than a storyteller. By this I mean that at times I find the story labouring to move forward; the book begins slowly, dense with description and characters; and ends similarly so that I’m not sure exactly where I’ve been left off, or why there. There was a neat tie-back to that laboured beginning which gave me the ah-ha I’d waited the whole book for, but it kept going beyond where I’d felt satisfied, and left me a little lost again. I suspect Patrick White intended to do exactly that though I’m not entirely sure I comprehended his full meaning.

The middle bit, however, was fantastic. As soon as the first shock came, I was hooked, and found myself thoroughly enjoying a book that I was unable to predict and had to work at fully comprehending, but that I knew somehow was completely worth it.

It is in October that the tale of the three priestesses in Fire and Sacrifice begins, so this October 2133 years later my monthly post goes back to the beginning.

It is 114BC Rome: 114 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, before Caesar, before Antony and Cleopatra, the emperors, the Colosseum, and before Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash.

It is mid Autumn. As the days shorten and the evenings cool, the priestesses’ sacred fire takes on greater import as Romans and their slaves and servants are drawn to her warmth.

Before there was a temple in this little corner of the bustling and famous Roman Forum, there was a campfire. From even before the time Romulus and his men made camp and built a fire for warmth and to cook the spoils of a hunt, this fire was survival.

In the coming Winter where the nights can drop to zero degrees, it would keep them alive.

Very quickly they came to cherish it.

Very quickly it became vital to be able to keep it aflame, and to use it to revive the fires of the new camps and clans growing around them should they be in need.

The new Romans protected their fire from wind and rain, with walls and a roof. Archaeological excavations have found the remains of wooden postholes at the Temple of Vesta that date back to 600 or 700BC.

They protected it later with stone. They named the fire a goddess, Vesta, and the shelter her temple. They raised an alter, and used the fire to cleanse their sacrifices to other gods, too.

The fire came to represent the beating heart of Rome itself. And, just as the campfire signals to the soldier, explorer, hunter, nomad that home has survived and waits safely, so the hearth in the Temple of Vesta in the centre of Rome symbolised no less that the very survival of the Roman empire.

And they would kill their most beloved, to protect that.

Here, in October 2133 years later, begins the story of the princess-priestess Aemilia and her servant Secunda.

Click here to get a copy of Fire and Sacrifice.

Night of the Living Deed (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery Book 1)
by E.J. Copperman (2010)

night of the living deed book cover

Newly divorced Alison Kerby wants a second chance for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, so she’s returned to her home town on the Jersey Shore to transform a fixer-upper into a charming—and hopefully profitable—guest house. But when a bump on the head leaves her seeing not only stars but spirits, Alison realizes the real challenge she’s facing is out of this world.

The two residing ghosts are Maxie Malone, the foul-tempered former owner of the house (who has definite opinions about Alison’s design plans), and Paul Harrison, a private eye who’d been working for Maxie—both died in the house on the same night. The official cause of death was suicide, but the ghosts insist they were murdered, and they need Alison to find out who killed them—or the next ghost in the guest house will be Alison herself…

It was such a joy to discover a very confident narrative voice in a book, matched with a sassy, self-aware main character who you can visualise turning to the camera for a little quip about her own quirks and mess-ups. (Respect, Alison.)

I bought this book looking for a ghostly thrill and got an unexpected new take on the haunted house. I missed out on the scare, but had a whole lot of fun instead and wound up thoroughly satisfied with friendly ghosts that I’m keen to see more of as the series unfolds. Even the slightly-bratty Maxie showed a vulnerable side by the end… a bit.

It’s light enough to be YA but sassy enough to charm any age. Hoping for slightly meatier mysteries in the next books but yeah, I’m going there for sure.

I am a little disappointed that PI-Paul is a ghost, it’s messing with my fantasies but I admit it is the perfect writerly rouse for an ongoing sexual tension that can’t be resolved (and thus ruined).

Did you realise that connecting with you, my readers, is the whole reason I write?

I’m thrilled to see that 50 people have marked Fire and Sacrifice ‘to read’ on Goodreads and another 10 are reading right now.

Okay so they’re not Dan Brown or Philippa Gregory numbers, but they are ours – yours and mine – and this is where it all begins.

If you’re one of those, or one of the hundreds who have already purchased on Amazon or in bookstores, I would love to hear how you enjoyed the read.

Please, take a few minutes to leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or where ever else you like to review – or connect with me right here. And/or spread the word! I’m all for passing books around – go ahead!

And thank you. Really truly. V

Bookshops across Australia are throwing a party and we are invited! Love Your Bookshop Day is a chance to celebrate what makes your local bookshop great. Whether it’s for their amazing staff, their carefully curated range or specialisation or a must-see events program, visit your favourite bookshop on 10 August 2019 and share the love.

My top five reasons to love bookshops

  1. Where forgotten stories are breathed life
  2. Where new creations are shared and futures inspired (okay that’s two)
  3. A place you can enjoy being alone and simultaneously among a community of like-minded people (even better in bookstores with armchairs and/or cafe)
  4. Lucky dip books in brown paper packages at Harry Hartog, Woden (brown paper packages AND books… sigh)
  5. A repository of thousands of portals to thousands of worlds

My top five bookstores to date

  1. Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London: seriously, FIVE floors and a wine bar to sit back and digest all the inspiration
  2. Booktique Merimbula, NSW: water’s edge over aqua blue Merimbula inlet + coffee and cake + books (+ loads of loved ones locally AND they stock my work, so extra points)
  3. Australian National Gallery Bookshop: my love of art combined with my love of books + unique and gorgeous gifts (sometimes just for myself)
  4. Berkelouw’s Book Barn, Berrima NSW: it even feels medieval, and its huge, and there’s coffee, and books with carved covers and bronze latches…)
  5. Harry Hartog, Woden, ACT: for putting old leather arm chairs and an overflowing second-hand section in the centre of a shopping mall, aaaahhh (and thanks for stocking my books, too!)

Tag #loveyourbookshopday and #LYBD19 and share why your bookshop is special using the hashtag #whyIlovemybookshop

Michelle Moran is one of my favourite historical fiction authors!

Cleopatra’s Daughter goes down as my absolute fave of Michelle’s, so this one just had to be shared! This book takes you right into a very natural, convincing ancient Rome (yes Rome, not Egypt for this part of the daughter’s story) and an insightful look at the real people behind names we’ve all heard – and some we may not have.

I thoroughly enjoyed the complex and contradictory relationships of this jigsaw family of half-siblings and enemy’s children. And I may have to admit to maybe falling in love just a little bit with he-who-wont-be-named-until-the-end!

I don’t think I put it down for one whole day, and the ending was sooo worth it!

Find more of Michelle Moran’s work at her website.

Happy to share another reader review, this time from Olga Walker, a PhD candidate and herself a historical fiction/non-fiction writer. Big thanks, Olga!

Based on rigorous research, author Victoria Collins has written a book that encapsulates a story about women in Rome 114BC. The main characters in this historical fiction novel are the priestesses of Vesta. Collins takes the reader on a journey through the lives of these women in the lead-up to an event which will be life-changing for them.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time.

Of note is Collins’s Foreword where she highlights that the story of the Vestal Virgins,

can only be told in fragments, because fragments are all we find, and fragments are all we remember. (Collins, 2018: Foreword, p. 5).

The novel is structured in nine chapters, consisting of short and long passages and includes reference to research by scholars of Roman history which Collins has entitled, ‘Fragments’. These fragments of history act as interventions and help contextualise the incompleteness of the story that remains about the Vestal Virgins. More importantly, they highlight how fragmented the nature of history writing can be. Collins is a great writer and her use of language complements this notion of fragmented history writing when it occasionally sits outside the story, for example,

Ever killed anything but kittens before, junior? (Collins, p. 9).

The notion of fragments has been used to form the structure of the novel and is sustained within a dimension of connectedness to nature’s elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air as the reader follows the actions of the main characters, Secunda and Amelia. Collins’s approach keeps the story focused and the reader engaged as she builds a picture of what might have been daily rituals in the lives of the Priestesses of Vesta.

In her research of the history of the Vestal Virgins Collins visited the location in search of a sense of connection to the area where the story takes place. This has enabled her to give the reader vivid descriptions of the temple where we can visualise the interactions of the priestesses with the powerful elite of Rome, the people whom the Vestal Virgins serve, and how they bring together the principal elements of nature to their sacred hearth. Collins writes in a final note to the reader that,

it was a time when the sacred included connection to the earth, air, wind and fire. (Collins, p. 256).

The significance of a work like Fire and Sacrifice is that in telling a story about women’s history that has almost been lost, it also raises the issues of politics, power, class, and gender equality in relation to how women were chosen for the role of a Vestal Virgin.

Collins has an awareness of the fragmented nature of researching and writing history and her work is a good example of how this can be used to write a story set in the past. The direct linking of the creative writing in the novel to the research done by scholars provides a platform where history and historical fiction can work together. When stories are written with a perception of the incompleteness of what is remembered and how history has been written in the past, the reader benefits by being left to draw their own conclusions on the author’s stance when writing a story such as Fire and Sacrifice.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time. Maybe more could have been written about the families from whence these vestal virgins came, but there is enough in the novel about the division between master/mistress and slave and the politics of the day to satisfy the reader. Nor, does she romanticise the position that the Vestal Virgins held in Rome at that time.

This is Collins’s first historical novel and I hope it won’t be her last. Her other work includes Fast Effective News Writing for Nonprofits, and I believe she is working on a contemporary fictional novel. It is for the reader to decide, but I recommend that a journey through Fire and Sacrifice be taken.

Delighted to be included in the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s reviews and the May 2019 edition of their print magazine, Historical Novels Review. It’s an honour to have been chosen for reading, and a bit of a personal goal, so if I can have a little moment: ‘woohoo!’.

Big thanks to the Society’s reviewer J Lynn Else for her comments.

“The author does a great job bringing the setting and political atmosphere to life. Exploring the inner workings of the vestal virgins is a delight.”

I always value feedback from readers and reviewers: it’s forever interesting to see how different people react to the story and the storytelling style! Always a rife creative decision whether to write using the ancient historical phrasing, or provide a modernisation to try make the time period feel more accessible to readers. I went with the latter and had loads of fun playing around with pushing the boundaries on dialogue in historical fiction. Would love to hear what others thought of that!

Please share your views, I’d love to hear them.

Historical fiction lovers can check out the Historical Novel Society on Facebook here.

Very excited to work with the fab ladies at Biddy Tarot, appearing on their blog this month. Writing this was a fun and fascinating journey into the goddess Vesta as well as Minerva and Venus: three gals with helluva punch!

Rider Waite Queen of Swords

As personifications of female archetypes, the Tarot Queens can be much like the goddesses. Relating a Tarot Queen to a goddess with the same traits can be a very effective way to deepen your understanding of these cards.

Get to know these multi-faceted goddesses, and you can uncover insights and connections with the Tarot Queens in easy and exciting ways.

As earthly beings of the minor arcana, I look upon a Tarot Queen as a priestess of the chosen goddess; one who walks with the goddess in her everyday mortal work (just like you can!).

Rider Waite Queen of Cups

Read the full blog for

Queen of Swords (Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war – not particularly in touch with her emotions but gets the job done!)

Queen of Cups (Venus, goddess of love and beauty – unashamedly feminine and in-touch with her feelings and desires but totally in control of them!)

Queen of Pentacles (Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire – an ultimate Earth Mother, pragmatist and provider)

Queen of Wands (the hotter side of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire – magnetic, passionate and charismatic).

Not since Indiana and Poirot have I got so much enjoyment from historical mystery set in this time period. I have discovered Lady Hardcastle and Armstrong a little late, after their 2016 release but I am as excited at the new reader’s adventure as if the series were released yesterday.

These are exceptionally well developed characters with strong voice, wit and personality plus clever hints at a detailed backstory that convincingly makes them who they are, as well as promising many more adventures to be revealed in their past and future. The range of secondary characters were as clearly defined, entertaining bunch as in any Agatha Christie, and the mystery plot detailed and convincing enough for a great fun read.

If any of my own readers get as much enjoyment from strong female protagonists in close friendships as I have from this book, I would be a very satisfied author. I’m going online now to buy more in the series and sign up for alerts from Kinsey!

There are 5 books so far in the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series. Check out Kinsey here on Goodreads.