Initiation – Book Review

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Initiation’ is a blisteringly raw autobiography that reflects not only on a personal journey but a fascinating social history of occult Australia.

Ly de Angeles is many things but readers of her books (or those for whom she has read the tarot) will know her as a witch and psychic, and a magical veteran of the antipodean witchcraft scene.

In print Ly comes across as smart and fierce and more than a little wild, with a disarming frankness whether speaking of politics or personal relationships. She’s a champion of Celtic history, a swordswoman and martial arts practitioner, and so much more. Forget the ‘Renaissance man’, Ly offers up an alternative portrait – one of a curious mind twinned with a strong and determined spirit, a scholar, a poet and a modern-day gypsy with a feverish passion for myth and life.

And life for Ly has been a series of initiations from girl to woman, woman to witch, witch to mother, mother to warrior, warrior to scholar – not that all of these passages have been mutually exclusive.

Underneath this story is a steady thrumming, an undeniable and potent energy pouring from the pages. There are many lessons to be learned here, and knowledge to be shared about birth, life, death and everything between and beyond. Predictions manifest, frequently. As do challenges. But Ly’s human too; making the same mistakes we all do, but learning from them as she finds and breaks with destructive patterns and partnerships.

Ly dispenses with the blinkers of convention and deftly explores the world’s liminal spaces and places, guided by intuition, ancestry and an animistic kinship to the natural world. ‘Initiation’ makes for an engaging memoir, certainly the best I have read in a long time.

* Did I mention she’s a Charles de Lint fan? She can do no wrong!

My Monday-Friday writing day

Can’t find time to write? Snatching at the coat-tails of the day? Me too.

I start early and finish late, but there’s no writing studio like the quiet carriage in the Blue Mountains train. A couple of hours snatched at either end of the working day is better than nothing. That would be between 6.30am-8.30am and 5.30pm-7.30pm!

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November: Book readings, Grammarly, novels and NANOWRIMO

 

 

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I don’t normally write by candlelight on an old typewriter – but when I do it’s with a wine glass balanced on top! Not a bad way to spend an evening. Pic: Tim Hartridge

 

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November was action-packed. And hot! I attended the Sydney Storytellers event at the Stoneleigh Hotel, an immersive installation set up in a historic building in Kensington Street, Sydney (renamed ‘Spice Alley’, for those in the know, and bursting with tasty, colourful eateries).

New Zealand-based Stoneleigh Wines was behind the venture and ensured the vino was flowing all night, complemented by a giant cheese platter. It was one of the hottest evenings I’ve spent in Sydney and there were many shiny faces as we tried to compensate for the humidity by drinking more chilled sauvignon blanc (perhaps not the wisest move, there was a slight hangover the next day). All in all, it was a brilliant night. Wine and writing, the ultimate pairing!

 

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Authors Anna Westbrook, Sulari Gentill, Alexandra Joel and Josephine Pennicott read pieces from their latest work while the audience waited to have books signed. Pic: Rebecca Lang

 

Writing

November means Nanowrimo, but despite my best effort, I didn’t quite nail those 50,000 elusive words. I blame work. And stuff. General tiredness. Sunshine and flowers. Distractions. Food. But it was still a pretty productive time. I was still writing and progressing my urban fantasy piece.

I’ve also been trialling Grammarly’s free Grammar Checker app. Occasionally it’s distracting, particularly when it tells me to change my words to American spellings (sorry American friends, for us it’s colour not color). On the whole, though, it’s a neat little tool that, I’m pleased to say, I don’t have to rely on too often – only when I type too fast and leave a litany of typos in my wake.

 

Reading

Some great books found me in November.

Superfluous Murder by Hazel Holt (Macmillan London) – I’d previously never heard of Hazel, mother of novelist Tom Holt, who wrote a series of books based around a village detective character not unlike Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. Holt’s Sheila Malory is a slightly more modern, and younger, take on the elderly single female sleuth. The style is engaging and the twist/murderer reveal, while I picked it, would have been a pretty fresh take in 1995 when this was first published. I found this book up at my local train station book exchange for free, so I’ll be chasing up Holt’s other books online.

The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman (Harlequin Mira) – This is a story that spans generations and families with plenty of romance and history, not to mention a mystery! (Some unintentional rhyming going on there.) The book is set in one of my favourite time periods, the 1930s, and follows Roma Harris in the present-day as she moves to the small town of Remarkable Bay in South Australia. Roma runs into her distant cousin Addy who, like her, is bunkering down and taking time out from life. When the pair discover an old guest book with a family name they don’t recognise, they set out to solve a family mystery.

Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch (Thomas & Mercer) – It’s hard to convey just how much I enjoyed this series. As thrillers go, it certainly was a heart-pounding read. I actually had to put one of the books down as I was reading it in bed and knew with my heart rate skyrocketing the way it was,  I’d never go to sleep! I devoured the books in the space of 10 days, fitting in readings on train journeys and before bed. I’d recommend writers seeking to improve their pacing and sense of suspense use these books as a template for manipulating the blood pressure of readers. Now I’m hunting down the new Wayward Pines Fox adaptation starring Matt Dillon and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

 

 

October: Bush sojourns, second-guessing and jambusting

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October was a relatively quiet month – I went camping with some friends, had a friend from interstate come stay, and did some exploring close to home. I love living in a national park, there’s so much to see and do here, it’s never dull. And Spring was springing all over the place – we chanced across some amazing waratahs in bloom. I also had a bit of home time and pawed through boxes of old books, some I’ve been carting around since I was 10 years old! Sadly the rats in the shed also enjoyed some of my books, turning my old paperbacks into true pulp fiction.

Writing

A bit of progress on the writing front with some short stories and a larger story arc. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to keep re-reading your work. Listen to all of those gurus who tell you just to purge the story from your mind before you set about reworking sentences and perfecting dialogue. The muses won’t linger…

Reading

October was a good month for books.

Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh (St Martins) – I love new reads but I compulsively pick up lots of vintage mysteries thanks to my local train station book exchange and the many antique and op shops I haunt on a regular basis. New Zealand-born Ngaio Marsh is one of the four original ‘queens of crime’ – the others being Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. Dead Water starts off with a village miracle (or is it?), which divides the islanders. When a murder occurs, it draws the attention of Inspector Alleyn. A golden age whodunnit, we sort through the red herrings and suspects one by one before our killer gets the collywobbles and…well, you’ll just have to read it.

Pagan Spring by GM Malliet (Minotaur Books) – I am a solid fan of GM Malliet whose wit and beautiful writing make reading her Max Tudor novels such a delight. Max is a priest and ex-MI5 agent who left the grim work of a spy to pursue a spiritual calling. Thankfully Max is an Anglican (potential for wedding bells!) so the books include a bit of romance with the local pagan hippy shop owner Awena Owen. In Pagan Spring, a washed-up actor returns to Nether Monkslip and is later found dead. Max must investigate to restore order to his picture-postcard English village. Malliet is also the author of the St Just mysteries (which I’ve also dipped into) and a writer to follow. The first book in that series, Death of a Cozy Writer (we’ll forgive the American spelling just this once), picked up an Agatha Award. Let me quote the New York Times here because this pretty much sums up the author and her writing: “There are certain things you really want to have in a village mystery: a pretty setting, a tasteful murder, an appealing sleuth, a festive event, some eccentric locals, a dash of humor and maybe a nice map. G. M. Malliet delivers…” She sure does!

Jambusters: The story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers (Simon & Schuster) – For historians, historical re-enactors, feminists and Home Fires fans, this book is a must! Julie Summers’ history of the Women’s Institute and its amazing work during the war years in Britain is absolutely fascinating. There was nothing this army of women couldn’t do to keep those proverbial home fires burning while their menfolk were away fighting in the trenches. I can see why the book was the springboard for the equally engaging TV series Home Fires (sadly axed after two seasons). Julie is the author of many books including Fashion on the Ration, which is my next on my history reading list.

September: Spring, gardens, and Ben and Elly’s bookageddon!

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Spring in the Blue Mountains is quite the occasion. The European plantings explode into leaf and bloom, creating a riot of colour amid the ever-present blueish haze that inspired the area’s name. I took the opportunity to visit the Leura Gardens Festival and it was…bloody freezing! But beautiful. And, in the case of Blue Vista (pictured above), quite breathtaking. Great weather for bulbs. And hot chocolate, soup, cake and wood fires.

Writing

Not so much. You’ll see why.

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Reading

September was indulgent. A HUGE reading month. Lots of Elly Griffiths and Ben Aaronovitch goodness! Talk about a binge. This is what happens when, in the winter months, the weather is nippy and you’re stuck inside with online access to your bank account and numerous online bookstores. Several weeks later the bounty arrives. Bookageddon!

The Elly Griffiths books – I love the Dr Ruth Galloway series. As a one-time archaeology student and crime novel fan, the series is a delightful fusion of all the things I enjoy in a suspenseful read. There’s even a bit of illicit romance and some pagan hijinks. And the body count is especially high given all of the neolithic remains littering Galloway’s Norfolk neighbourhood. Rather than give a rundown of every title, I’ll just say that as a series, there is a strong ensemble cast, the characters mature nicely as the books progress, and the plots have a wonderful mysterious-verging-on-the-supernatural edge. Fans of Phil Rickman will especially enjoy the series.

The Ben Aaronovitch books – As you get older you can convince yourself that you have found all the good writers there are to find, and you’ll never, ever, ever feel passionately about another writer’s work again. Hah! I had Aaronovitch’s first book in his Rivers of London series on my wishlist for a long time. A really long time. I finally bought it and sat it on the shelf for an equally long time, mostly because my dear friend Erina had read it before me and loathed it (although her sister loved it). Hmmm. I was torn. Eventually one week I ran out of other books to read and Rivers of London made the great train journey east with me on a foggy Monday morning and – shazam – I had a new favourite. The books catalogue the adventures of PC Peter Grant, who stumbles upon a world of wizards and magic sitting cheek-by-jowl with urban London. Peter, and policing, will never be the same again. I quickly snapped up the rest in the series and zipped through them like a packet of Tim-Tams. Ahhhhh.

August: Welsh border, neo-gothic mansions, ghosts and gnomes

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I spent three glorious weeks in the UK from July-August so a bit more of that here, not least because I went on something of a book-buying binge. I also visited a lot of sites along the Welsh border featured in the books of Phil Rickman (thanks John), whose writing I have been reading since I was given a book review copy back in the mid ’90s by a work colleague at my old haunt, The Canberra Times.

I’m an affirmed anglophile and always enjoy my UK trips, crammed as they are with visits to old buildings, museums, bookshops and  wild, out-of-the-way places. Even my UK friends marvel at the catalogue of places I fit into every visit, inspiring them to venture further afield in their own country.

This trip included a spontaneous visit to the set of Broadchurch (thanks Kara and Julian), sojourns to neolithic stone circles including the Nine Ladies (thanks Caitlin), Stanton Drew (thanks Gordon), Arbor Low (thanks Lisa), and the Rollright Stones (thanks Carl and Sue), a trip to the Scottish Highlands (thanks Denis and Tania), a long-awaited visit to Talliston (more on that separately) as well as some of my favourite book haunts: Treadwells, Watkins, Atlantis, and the many shopfronts in book town Hay-on-Wye. My friends were generous with their time and enthusiasm, sharing with me their favourite local destination. And it was lovely to enjoy so many home-cooked meals instead of the usual holiday menu of takeaway food.

Writing

I had the pleasure of spending some writing time in a glorious neo-gothic manor in Dorset, but honestly the views were so distracting it was more fun poking around outside and later inside, exploring all the rooms as I had the whole place to myself. This also meant that it was slightly unnerving as the sun set, especially when I realised all I had for security was a flimsy chain on the door. Eek!

Travelling with the laptop also meant that I forgot to write some postcards. Don’t get me wrong, I bought plenty of them (an old habit in the event a camera malfunctioned or *retro reference* I ran out of film) I just didn’t send any, so I have a nice pile of images – castles, seals, hares and stone circles – for my collection.

Reading

September was another quality month for books. I always read a lot more than what I share on the blog, I just pick out the gems. I don’t see the point in reviewing books I didn’t like – why waste my time and yours?

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (Hachette) – If you haven’t read Alan Bradley’s wonderful Flavia de Luce mystery series then you really have something very special to look forward to. Set in the early 1950s, Flavia is the youngest child of a gentrified family, and an aspiring chemist with an obsessive interest in poisons. The disappearance of Flavia’s mother Harriet when she was a baby looms large for this junior detective who, along with solving murders, discovers tantalising tidbits about her own family mystery as the series progresses. There are some wonderful supporting characters – I particularly love ‘Dogger’, the war veteran and manservant of Flavia’s father whose presence is as much a part of Buckshaw as the memory of Harriet. The Flavia de Luce mysteries are must-reads.

Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon is the second book in the Rivers of London series and as good as the first, and has magician PC Peter Grant tracking an unknown killer stalking jazz musicians in the streets of Soho. Told in a narrative style, the story zips along thanks to witty dialogue and plenty of action. Being a policeman’s hard work, but being an apprentice wizard is a lot harder! There are at least five books so far in this series so plenty more books to enjoy!

Shadows in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope (Allison & Busby) – Rebecca Tope is a favourite author of mine. Her Thea Osborne series follows a young widower and some-time house-sitter as she takes on housesits across the Cotswolds in the UK with her loyal hound Hepzibah. Inevitably Thea or someone she knows stumbles across a dead body, and this book is no different – this time the corpse, a neighbour she met only a few hours earlier, turns up in the garden of a home she is looking after. Dog-lovers, those in the thrall of the Cotswolds, and dedicated cosy mystery fans will enjoy the series (12 books and growing). Thea’s own personal romantic and family relationships ensure character growth, and there are plenty of tricky social situations interwoven with each mystery to keep things interesting.

Ghosts: Mysterious Tales from the National Trust by Sian Evans (Pavilion) – What else do you read when you’re staying alone in a neo-gothic manor house? Although I confess I ended up swapping this for my Rebecca Tope novel, and revisiting the scary stories during daylight hours. Yeah, I know – wimp! But I really needed a good night’s sleep while travelling. Anyway, it’s a lovely read with some suitably atmospheric shots of National Trust properties. It reminded me of Living with Ghosts: Eleven Extraordinary Tales by Prince Michael of Greece, which is full of infrared photographs of lovely old (and ghost-ridden) European castles and buildings.

Gnomes by Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen (Abrams) – I ended the month discovering one of my all-time favourite childhood books (borrowed but never owned) in a secondhand shop. Gnomes is based on Poortvliet and Huygen’s ‘scientific observation’ of their local gnome population in Holland. Beautifully illustrated, it was a book I coveted as a child, so driven by a wave of nostalgia, I snapped it up. It’s as gorgeous as I remember. So gorgeous, and loved, the publishers reissued a collector’s edition in 2011.

July: Midwinter rites in Tasmania, UK trippin’, and a good month for murder

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It was a busy month as I headed 40-degrees south (to Tasmania) for the annual Huon Valley Midwinter Festival sponsored by MONA and held at iconic The Apple Shed. I’ve been going to the event since it kicked off three years ago as an offshoot of the month-long Dark Mofo Festival during June in Hobart. The Midwinter Festival features Morris dancing, wassailing, costumes, brilliant bands and plenty of high-quality locally produced food and drink (my favourites include Willie Smith’s Organic Cider and Moo Brew). It’s a great weekend, and this year I convinced a group of fellow mainlanders to come down. They enjoyed it so much I expect to see them there next year as well.

Of course my Tasmanian sojourn was just the start of a lengthy break I really needed. Next stop, London!

Besides my usual slew of bookshops and some friends to drop in on, my itinerary was pretty much a case of pin the tail on the GPS, and saw me stopping over at places en route to other places. First stop though was Oxfordshire to stay with some good friends and acclimatise to the English summer (ha!). It turned out to be a scorching 35C and the hottest day on the English calendar!

I spent some time exploring some villages in the area including Hanwell and Banbury (well, Banbury is technically a town). Y’know, ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross? Well I didn’t quite do that but I did visit a statue of the lady who apparently did! I also drove to Cheshire and visited Alan Garner’s neighbourhood and walked the beautiful forest of Alderley Edge and had a cider at the Wizard of Edge pub. You’re more likely to see a WAG (wives and girlfriends of rich football players) in the Alderley environs than a wizard or King Arthur himself, but it was fun to walk the landscape that fed Garner’s imagination when writing The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. For the record I can’t quite bring myself to read Boneland, the third in the trilogy…I don’t want to ruin the high the first two books gave me! Then it was off to Edinburgh for the weekend to catch up with more friends and enjoy some nice walks around the city (and some more pubs).

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Writing

Nil writing – at least I’m honest! There was far too much driving and socialising going on to retreat to my keyboard for anything more than proof-of-life emails home and a bit of social media.

Reading

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – Well this is the start of something good. I’m now ridiculously addicted to following PC Peter Grant’s wizarding adventures all over London. And thanks to this music video, I can’t but help picture Peter as being played by the handsome and supremely talented young comedian Ben ‘Doc Brown’ Smith (who, in a nice crossover, for me anyway, had a starring role in the Phil Rickman Midwinter of the Spirit TV adaptation in 2016). Word is some kind of TV series might be in the offing. Let’s hope so! In the meantime, I have several more books to read…

A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad by Del Quentin Wilber – A real life fly-on-the-wall true crime read that follows the threads of 12 separate homicide cases from the perspective of one busy homicide unit in Prince George’s County. It was an eye-opening read for me, even as a former police rounds journalist, and offered a unique perspective. Camaraderie and commitment are the two main themes that are woven through these stories – the mateship of the detectives and their unwavering dedication to solving the crimes on their patch.

I also dove deep into a pile of True Detective mags this month courtesy of my local stationmaster, who happened to be dispensing with his private stash. Freaks, the pair of us. I’ve been a fan of the mag since my early teens, when I bought my first copy in a UK paper shop while on holiday. Disturbing reading!

Speaking of disturbing, I also read this online collection of creepy phone calls – how unsettling! Deliciously so…