Sunday, August 13, 2017

Interview with Elise McCune


Elise McCune is a Melbourne based Australian author. She was born in Cronulla, New South Wales, Australia. In 1973, she moved to Perth, Western Australia and raised her two children, Lisa and Brett. She worked for ten years in the Western Australian Museum and after this she lived on a 5000-acre farm, two hundred kilometres north of Perth. In 2016, she gained a Certificate of Completion, the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program on fiction writing, centered on female authorial voices and female literary characters. The type of story she likes to read has passion and intrigue and a family secret at its heart.  Exactly the type of story she likes to write. 

What is the inspiration for your current book?

Some years ago, I was staying in Mission Beach and I visited the castle ruins at Paronella Park in the north Queensland rainforest. It is a beautiful, fantastical place, and became the inspiration for Castillo de Suenos in my novel. So it came about by chance that I chose Queensland and the sense of place was one I tried to convey to my readers.Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?
In Castle of Dreams, a dual narrative story, I explore how war impacts not only on those who go to war but those left behind on the home front. When I was researching I found that in WW2 American servicemen were stationed in far north Queensland where the 1940’s storyline is set. I already had the idea for two sisters, Vivien and Rose, growing up in a castle in the rainforest and when Robert Shine, an American soldier, found his way into my story, their love triangle echoed the triangle of the American and Australia allies fighting the Japanese in the Pacific War.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I have always been interested in military history so it was natural that I set my stories against a backdrop of WW1 or WW2 as these periods of war had a great impact on people around the world.

What resources do you use to research your book?

For my research, I read primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper reports (Trove is wonderful!). I read books written about and of the period I am researching. I use Google but online information can be inaccurate so be careful and check more than one source. I use my wonderful local library and inter-library loans for books I don’t necessarily want to keep on my bookshelf, and also, I always read bibliographies carefully in each book as they are a source of more information on the subject you are researching.

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?

I don’t think you can have a good story unless it is historically accurate. If it is necessary to move, say a battle scene, by a year to suit the plot and the author makes a note of this in the acknowledgements that’s fine (occasionally). Otherwise the book should be labeled ‘faction’.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?


Vivien Blake, a photographer who was a woman of her time (1940’s) and she came alive for me when I was writing her. Women have had an active role in photography since its inception. While researching I found that in 1900 British and American censuses women made up almost 20 percent of the profession at a time when it was unusual for women to have a profession. Many Australian women photographers worked before the Great War and more did hand colouring and darkroom work. At that time it was thought that ‘lady operators’ should only photograph women and families. By WW2 women photographers were working in advertising and portraiture and the worlds of fashion and theatre. I made Vivien a photographer because I wanted to have a motif of light through the story. The American soldier is named Robert Shine and the rainforest is lit with filtered light and the sparkling glitter ball that hangs from the ceiling in the castle’s ballroom showers the dancers with light. There are many references to light in the story.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?

I would like to say I’m a plotter as it would save so much time. I do start off with a detailed outline and I know the ending of the story before I start writing but inevitably it changes along the way. I write to find out what happens along the way and once I know my characters it all starts to fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle. I can then write the chapters in any order if I wish. It takes me about eighteen months to write a book.

Which authors have influenced you?

Katherine Mansfield. Pat Barker, Vladimir Nabokov, the Brontes, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wesley.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Never give up. I have three books in the bottom drawer, my apprentice books, and every one of them taught me something about writing. If you don’t have time to write a novel then write short stories, or a blog, or write reviews of  books. Writing should not be at the bottom of a long list of ‘to do’ things, it should be at the top. Treat it like a job, even a part-time job, and not a hobby. Set goals. Those first words are the hardest part. Then rewrite.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

It is a time split novel set during WW1 and in 2015. The earlier narrative thread is set in the southwest of Western Australia where I lived for several years on a vineyard, with detours to other parts of the world and finally, and most importantly, for this is where the heart of the story is, in the Tumut Valley where the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people lived for thousands of years prior to European settlement. My story is about abandoned gardens and love and romance, betrayal, and of course big family secrets and what more beautiful place to write about than the lovely valley that sits on the north-west foothills of the Snowy Mountains.


Castle of Dreams, published by Allen & Unwin, is a poignant, luminous novel about two sisters, about a mother and daughter, a loved granddaughter, the past that separates them and the healing that comes with forgiveness. Norwegian publisher, Cappelen Damm, published Castle of Dreams in translation in April 2017.

You can buy a copy of Castle of Dreams via AmazonKobo, Booktopia, and the Book Depository.

Elise McCune will be taking part in a panel on Worlds at War: the appeal of 20th Century Historical Fiction with Paddy Richardson, Justin Sheedy and Julian Leatherdale at the HNSA conference in September. She is also appearing in our Meet the Author satellite event on 20 August at the Mail Exchange Hotel, 688 Bourke St, Melbourne from 2.30-4.30pm discussing War and Romance Historical Fiction with Gabrielle Gardner, Alison Stuart, and Sylvia Karakaltsas. More information and tickets are available from the HNSA website

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University. This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.


Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!




Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

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