Record Players, Sugar Tongs and Snakes. A year unlike any other…
Christmas greetings everyone – and to those in the southern hemisphere, happy summer days as well. The pandemic has really come between people this year, which makes festive reunions all the more precious. I wish you many special times with your loved ones.
Tasmania hasn’t been locked down during 2021, except for one brief time, but I’ve still had an unusually quiet year, working away in my office, spending time with my family and taking walks on the beach. My beloved dog (and under-the-desk writing comrade) Ms Darcy is now fourteen years old, but she still accompanies me on shorter wanderings. She has a gentle energy now, that feels wise and precious.
Like many people, I took up a new hobby during 2021 – collecting and playing records. I was inspired by listening to music on vinyl at a friend’s beach shack. I noticed how mindful the experience was, when you had to make a conscious decision to turn over the record, or choose something else, or opt for quiet.
Playing records took me back to some childhood memories. This red box was part of my life as far back as I can remember. It travelled with my family from Africa to England and then finally to Tasmania. We never had many records, but in pride of place in our collection was Songs of Wales, which includes the national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau or Land of My Fathers. This song has special significance for our family as ancestors on my father’s side wrote the music and the words. The family tree in the photo was drawn a long time ago by my Welsh great aunt Muriel when she gave me some heirloom sugar tongs. She said I’d been chosen to inherit them, as I was going to become a writer. I was ten years old at the time. I already knew that she had second sight, as many Welsh women do. She had shared her strange stories with me. In ways that I won’t reveal, this heritage plays a part in my new novel.
By coincidence – and nothing to do with Wales – a photo of a classic vintage record player caught my eye recently, in an unusual old memoir that I’ve been reading as part of my research.
The book is about a truly eccentric – and fearless – snake collector and naturalist who lived in East Africa in the 1950s. My father met Ionides (or ‘Iodine’ as he was called) when he came to our village in search of specimens of the extremely dangerous Black Mamba. As kids, we feared these venomous snakes more than any other form of wildlife. Ionides adored them. Those of you who read my novel Lioness will remember the ‘lion man’ (inspired by the late George Adamson). Now, it seems, a ‘snake man’ has slithered into my story...
But back to my new hobby. My lovely husband noticed my interest in records, and when my birthday came around he presented me with a replica retro player. It looks just like the original but has modern tricks including the ability to use Bluetooth! It has its own four legs to stand on, and a carry handle (of course). Believe it or not, I still have the first LP I ever bought (as a teenager). It suits my seaside abode. I’m not sure what our local seagulls think of it. So far, they haven’t lined up to listen…
Now I have an extra reason to visit op shops – to collect more records. I guess because nearly all of my novels are set in the 60s – 70s a big part of me dwells in that era. I love the furnishings, architecture and fashion. Where is all this going? Well, I think I can play with my new retro toy and call it work…
Now to some publishing highlights from the year… Not long ago The Beautiful Mother came out in a new edition – not too heavy to read in bed, and small enough to slip into a beach bag. It has a lovely endorsement on the cover from my dear friend and fellow Tasmanian author Heather Rose. It’s available online and in shops, ready for Christmas. Thank you to all the team at Penguin Random House.
Six months ago, a copy of the French version of The Beautiful Mother (called Cradle of the World) arrived on my desk. Thank you to everyone at Editions Belfond. I loved the fresh and pretty cover straight away. And there was a bookmark! I’ve had some interesting promotional items attached to my novels over the years, including a bandana designed especially for the launch of the original French edition of The Rain Queen. But this is my very first bookmark!
This brings me to the close of my festive season newsletter. I hope you’ve enjoyed the snippets of news and ideas, and the photos.
Whether it’s deep winter where you are, or scorching summer – or half and half, as it seems to be in Tasmania – have a relaxing break, and a bright new year.
Lots of love