Tag Archives: art

The Lady Novelist is menaced by a cow on Dartmoor

I’m on my travels once more – back to the UK where I’ve been doing a spot of research at the British Library, visiting a friend up in Kendal and doing the Beatrix Potter/Windemere Lake thing and now spending time with my talented friend, Janet Anderton, as we throw ideas around for a potential book collaboration or six in the future.

As part of our brainstorming for creative collaboration, Janet and I went on a road trip to Dartmoor. I’m also working on a story which is partly set on the moor and I wanted especially to see a strange little wood I’d read about in the middle of the national park.

Wistman’s Wood has a reputation for wizardry and occult happenings. Lying just to the east of West Dart River, the wood is an area of twisted oaks, shadows and lichen-covered boulders. It’s unlike any other place on the moor and is associated with legends of druids, demonic hunts and, I expect, many twisted ankles.

My little guide book said the walk to Wistman’s Wood from Two Bridges and back via a couple of tors was ‘undemanding’ and would take about two and a half hours.

It mentioned that the walk shouldn’t be done in poor visibility. It mentioned the care that should be taken on some of the rougher, rock-strewn paths.

It did not mention cows.

As an Australian, I am used to certain activities while walking country paths. I have played the ‘is that a stick or a snake?’ game, and the ‘oh my god I’ve walked into a spider web, is there a spider in my hair?? oh god, oh god, get it off me, oh god‘ dance.

What I’m not used to is seeing three cows in the distance, standing in a solemn, unmoving row like they were about to ask Janet and I three riddles before we’d be allowed to climb the stile and enter the wood.  Three black cows that looked as big as Paul Bunyan’s blue ox but twice as mean, even from the opposite hill.

The weirdest thing was how they got smaller as we approached. In fact, by the time we got there, instead of the three of them towering over our heads and glaring judgementally at us, they were all about our shoulder height and two had lost interest. The third maintained an expression of sinister displeasure, but we tiptoed past, climbed the stile and made it without incident to Wistman’s Wood.

It was worth the clamber, the urgent need for a sneaky yet careful outdoor pee among the gorse bushes (reminiscent of that time in Canada with the bears) and the cow fright to sit on a boulder and look into that cool green light under the twisted oaks.  The intermittent call of a cuckoo and the chirps of songbirds punctated the hush. Down the hill, the West Dart burbled, and the complaints of querelous sheep filtered through to us.

The wood was eerie and compelling, but I was content to sit and watch rather than enter its rocky heart. I’m no mountain goat. Observation was enough to flesh out the story I currently have set in its interior.

In the shade of hill and oak, I also recorded a brief account of my response to Australia achieving marriage equality for the upcoming Irish of New York podcast. Afterwards, I shared and traded ideas with Janet (who among other things designed the IoNY logo) about how we might use the wood and it’s strange atmosphere to best effect for this book we hope to do together.

Rested from our travails, we decided to avoid the Scary Evil Eyed Cows by going to the top of the hill, skipping the tors and taking the grassy path back to the farmhouse at the start of our walk.

Hey, reader! Do you remember all those cartoons with big snorting bulls that puff steam from their nostrils and paw the earth with giant hoofs? Cos Janet and I sure do!

We were very forcefully reminded of all those animated characters tossed over fences by territorial bulls as we realised the big cow ahead of us wasn’t shrinking like the mysterious ones further down the hill. No.

THIS cow was enormous and getting larger.

THIS cow had a pair of balls that Janet described as ‘like two footballs in a pillow case’.

THIS cow was a big black bull, pawing at a dusty hollow in the hillside and tossing its horned head about in said hollow like it had personally affronted him.

He hadn’t even seen us yet.

Running was out of the question. I can’t. I’d be trampled to death and Janet, who is fleeter of foot than I, would have to sing epic songs of my heroic death so that my name lived on. She happily agreed that she would run like blazes and save herself if necessary.

Still, we thought. While people DO get killed by cows, we might be able to slide past this one if we played our cards right.

I immediately adopted the only strategy I knew, which was the one I was taught in Canada about Never Surprising A Bear. Janet opted for the Music Soothes the Savage Beast protocol. We didn’t want this bull – who was either enjoying a dust bath or rehearsing his badass Murder the Rambling Tourist moves – to be suprised. Nope nope nope nope.

Janet sang a little song which may have been ‘please don’t kill us, Mr Bull’. I softly called out in a wispy voice. “Hey cow. Hey cow. Vegetarian here. Good cow. Bull. Sir. Hey cow.”

We skirted well beyond its back legs. We walked slowly but steadily (do bulls chase running people the way dogs chase running cats? Who knew, but we were taking no chances).

The bull snorted into his dust bowl and ignored us.

We sang and hey-cowed and walked on until we couldn’t see the Bull of the Baskervilles any more.

The rest of our walk was without incident, but I did cast a backward glance from time to time, to ensure the Terrifying Cow hadn’t taken an interest.

That night, the lovely Jane from our delightful B&B, Dartfordleigh, cheerfully told us in her gorgeous Scots burr, “Oh yes, the cows can get quite touchy when they’re pregnant”. She may have mentioned a previous accidental death-by-cow but I may have been too busy hyperventilating to hear that bit.

But all’s well that ends in not being killed by a cow. Our afternoon on the moor had been filled with beauty, mystery, inspiration and adventure! Our hostess made everything sound charming with her accent, and our lodgings in the middle of Dartmoor were comfortable, picturesque and restful.

Janet and I had walked across a medieval clapper bridge and eaten a fine cream tea at the Two Bridges hotel. We’d delighted in English wildflowers and played pooh sticks at a stone bridge in a sweet little dell. We explored the House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey and met a kindred spirit at Pixie Corner (a story which I may share later).

We may not have committted to further rambles, but with Postbridge being in the centre of the national park, every drive to any spot was a visual feast. We had a marvellous time in Dartmoor and alarming bovines notwithstanding, 10/10, would go out on the wily, windy moors again.

And as a bonus, Janet has been producing some gorgeous sketches!

Another Scar Tissue Art sneak peek

Last month I shared a sneak peak of some photo art that will appear in Scar Tissue and Other Stories, which I’ll be releasing when my Patreon reaches $100 a month. (Only $20 a month to go, guys!)

I only have three more stories to write for that collection, too! One will be set in the Kitty and Cadaver universe, another in the Ravenfall universe, and the third will be a take on the Orpheus legend.

These images, however, belong to the flash fiction series Lost and Found, based on photographs of lost/found objects I’ve taken on my wanderings. I won’t give you titles this time, though I encourage you to post your guesses about where the photos come from. 🙂

As with the previous images, these embellished photographs are from pictures I’ve taken myself and then fiddled with in the Enlight program on my iPad.

If you’re considering supporting me on Patreon, I already have SO MUCH there for you to read and enjoy, whatever your support level. Every supporter gets an e-copy of the re-release of Duo Ex Machina Book 1: Fly By Night and in due course, every supporter will get the e-book of Scar Tissue and Other Stories.

Supporters at the $1 ‘Fly By Nighters’ level will see posts on my research (books, Melbourne, locations) as well as poems and lyrics (many of the latter will be used in the third Duo Ex Machina book, Number One Fan.)

Supporters at the $3 ‘Backstage Pass’ level can read all the Fly By Nighter level post, as well as all the chapters of the edited, re-released Duo Ex Machina Book 2: Sacrifice that have been posted to date, sneak peaks of works in progress or stories about to be released (including the recently released ‘The Problem  of the Three Journals’ in Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot) and the upcomiong Holmes♥Watson romance A Dream to Build a Kiss On.

‘Class Act’ supporters ($5 a month) get all of those two tiers plus bi-monthly writing tutorials – two are currently there for the reading, with a third due at the end of May.

And if you’re a ‘Name that Tune’ supporter at $10 a month, you get naming rights within one story a year, and an ebook when it’s available!

So if the mood takes you to support my writing via Patreon, you have a lot of reading to get on with from the start! And of course my eternal thanks! Not to mention other rewards, which are listed for each tier.

Sneak Peek: Photo Art for Scar Tissue and Other Stories

In 2018, I’m planning on releasing a collection of short stories, both previously published and brand new, once my Patreon reaches its firstly monthly income goal. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m busy writing new stories for inclusion.

The collection will be called Scar Tissue and Other Stories. Some of the stories are flash fiction based on lost and found things I’ve discovered (and photographed) in my wanderings. I’ve previously blogged some of these flash fictions on Mortal Words, but I’m editing those and writing new ones, as well as zhuzhing up the photographs on which they’re based using the fabulous Enlight app.

The artified photos will appear in the book next to their relevant flash fics. Above is a sneak peek of the image for the story ‘Bouquet’ – inspired by a bedraggled bouquet I found on the beach in St Kilda. This is a new story for the collection about mermaids and maidens and love and compromise.

This art is for a flash fiction story called ‘Journey’, which was originally published here on my blog.

I’m aiming to make Scar Tissue at least 50,000 words long. New stories include ‘Faithful’, a canon-era Holmes♥Watson adventure in which John is a werewolf, and ‘Bad Night at Bite Club’, a story about Gary the vampire (from The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows) and the son of an old frenemy.

I’m hoping to have a Ravenfall short story and an origin story from Kitty and Cadaver among the stories as well.

If you want to help me achieve my monthly goal (and the get a copy of the collection for your support) you can support my Patreon (for as little as a dollar a month)and get hold of the collection at least a week before it goes on general sale.

Review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

Real life is often an inspiration for fiction. Some real events resonate so strongly they inspire a lot of different ways to filter and explore the event, its social context and its repercussions.

The 1930 Melbourne murder of schoolteacher and aspiring writer, Mary “Molly” Dean, is one such event. It’s referenced in George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, in the memoir of Betty Roland, who knew Dean, and in the 2002 play Solitude in Blue.

Poignancy and a mysterious fascination were lent to Dean’s grisly death by the fact that it remains unsolved, and that she was in a relationship with local artist, Colin Calahan, and had been the subject of two of his paintings.

I knew none of this when Echo Publishing sent me a copy of Katherine Kovacic’s The Portrait of Molly Dean, except for the fact it was based on a true event. I resisted any research in favour of just taking in the story as presented.

Kovacic’s debut novel is a marvellous blend of history and invention and uses the notions of art restoration as an effective narrative device to reveal her invented version of the truth.

It begins in 1999 when art dealer, Alex Clayton, buys the Colahan portrait of Molly Dean at an auction. Clayton specialises in finding artworks that have been obscured or underappreciated, buying them cheap, restoring them and proving their provenance, and re-selling at a considerable profit.

Her initial aim to research a little about Molly Dean’s death to make the picture more attractive to buyers (everyone loves a good murder mystery) becomes almost a compulsion. Shocked to learn the trial for the only suspect was abandoned on the day it was due to begin, she starts to investigate the 70 year old mystery herself.

While her friend John Porter begins to slowly clean the portrait and bring long-lost Molly back into the light, an unknown person is trying to obtain the painting from her.

Clayton’s investigation, told in the present tense, is interleaved with the story set in the 1930s, of Molly’s constrained life at home with her mother, her ambitions to become a journalist and novelist, and the night of her murder.

This 1930s story is, like the portrait in 1999, is slowly revealed, with care and attention to detail.  As Alex explores the case and potential killers, the details of Molly’s life are slowly revealed. It’s an elegant little leapfrog progress, where each woman’s narrative reveals just enough to fuel the next act.

Modern Alex’s independence, backed by John and her dog Hogarth, is a complement to and a contrast with doomed Molly’s determination to break free from her awful mother’s house and assert her own independence.

The two women are very different but they have a kinship, and it’s easy to get emotionally connected to them both. While there’s nothing to be done about Molly’s fate, Kovacic cleverly entangles the reader into concern for Alex, whose investigations are of clear concern to someone from the past.

Kovacic’s style is clean and well-paced, and she manages to give the 1930s and the 1990s each a different feel without being jarring or sacrificing clarity or pace. There’s texture and pathos in this story, as well as courage and surprises.

Kovacic is careful to point out in the afterword of The Portrait of Molly Dean that her resolution to the mystery is her own invention. But it’s a good one, in a well-told story, and a very satisfying read.

Buy The Portrait of Molly Dean

Read more about Molly Dean