Novitiate notes

I am a lifelong learner and therefore a beginner in many respects.


Sea view from Tintagel Castle. A photography neophyte’s self portrait of sorts.


An interest in medieval manuscripts and the tales of King Arthur have taken this novitiate over the oceans from Sydney to the British Library in London.

No photography is allowed in the reading room. With my bag stored in a locker and my winter coat in the cloak room I made my way to the blissfully quiet reading room.

No photography is allowed is the reading room. With my bag stored in a locker and my winter coat in the cloak room I made my way to the blissfully quiet reading room.


I had the privilege of viewing the drawings in a number of illuminated manuscripts there earlier this year. Here are some of the notes I jotted down to remember the beauty and physicality of manuscripts (mss). I am slowly improving my language skills and hope to one day read these texts in a way that more closely approaches how a contemporary medieval reader might have read them.


An amateur’s of the moment thoughts on some of the British Library’s priceless mss (transcribed from my notebook):

Tuesday 3rd February 2015

Arrived at the British Library shortly after it opened this morning. Having obtained my reader registration card and ordering three of the four mss I wish to look at on this trip I now sit here in the mss reading room awaiting delivery at 12.25pm.

My seat here is reader number 1071 with a head of George Bernard Shaw smiling down on me.
Harley 4389 (Le Roman du Roi Marc fils du Roi Felis) …
Notes on Add MS 59678 …

Thursday 5th February
Royal MS 20 D II (Helie de Borron’s Roman de Tristan)

24: Initial 1st column bottom half
knight is enormous compared to horse + has elongated torso
Stylised helmet like a window

The feel of this ms is very grainy and much more pliable than …

Friday 6th February

Sitting down with Add MS 59678 (Thomas Malory’s Morte)
Very thick and well bound cover of ivory tinged with yellows and browns from handling.
The smell of the manuscript is distinct – woody and maybe a little smoky.
The text is much smaller than I expected for some reason (despite seeing a very good facsimile).
There is a spicy forest smell.

180 – Isode echoes down RHS of [can’t read my own handwriting] … leads on.

[referring to folio design composition] Draws eye >>>>>into text …

The manuscript smelled the way a man should: mossy, well-travelled, [and] of the forest.

My notebook.

My notebook.


The staff of the British Library were exceptionally helpful. I cannot thank them enough for this experience as it underpins my current project.


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Capturing the castle

I’ve now been back in Australia for longer than I was away on my recent research trip and have established a rhythm of writing, work and play. The challenge for me as a writer is to keep past experience fresh and uppermost in my mind and to prevent (or at least reduce) the dampening effect of time. I’ve spent many days categorising, backing up and enjoying the thousands of photographs taken.

This week I’m finishing an article about one of the locations I visited. The photographs I took on location are proving invaluable in mentally transporting me back to the picturesque episcopal castle. I’ll be including some of the best shots in the article to share the experience with readers. Out of necessity I had to be jack of all trades on the trip: location scout, navigator, driver, photographer, translator, porter, and writer. This was not the optimal approach and there were many shots I just couldn’t take because I didn’t have my photography partner (or even a willing assistant) with me. For someone of my build, lugging a lot of camera equipment around every single day is not practical. On the days when I had to rest my shoulders, I was still seeing crucial objects, buildings, and landscapes and needing to document them. So I did the best I could given the circumstances!

A camera phone image, while not nearly as detailed or effective in capturing ambience, is still helpful in triggering memory. The picture below brings a still sharper image into my mind and, if I concentrate, I can hear the sounds of the dining room and remember the tastes that I enjoyed there:


I am glad that I took most of the photographs on the digital SLR. I’ll be sharing those images with you in future posts. I’m developing my photographic skills and I have a number of people in my life who are much better at consistently taking good photos. I would have liked to pack them into my suitcase, so to speak, however our timing (and finances!) just didn’t line up for this trip.

Travelling solo did have an advantage: you could wake, move, and sleep according to your own flow. Rising early, before the morning light, allowed me to capture the impressive nature of the castle’s curtain wall without disturbing a soul.


I was happy with that shot.

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Postcard from London (MMXV)

This is my last night based in London. I’m squeezing in one more session of archival research before I return to Sydney. To borrow from De Flores: “I’m up to my chin in heaven.”

Today began in Bloomsbury with breakfast, a walk and my first “flat white” order of the trip (which served as a reminder of how soon I’ll be back in Australia). I got so engrossed in the manuscript I was working on at the British Library that I missed my window for lunch. Fortunately I had purchased a cinnamon scroll with that morning coffee. After taking care of errands, I hopped in a taxi and made it to Shakespeare’s Globe just as the doors were about to close on the performance I had a ticket to. I only managed a bite of the scroll before darkness silenced the audience.
I completely forgot my hunger for the duration of The Changeling.
As I moved across the bridge towards St Paul’s snow flakes glided down and a chill entered with each breath. I should have switched my brogues for boots and wished that the lace beaded sleeveless top beneath the trench coat I picked up in Paris was thermal.
Stepping from tube to platform hunger returned. I noticed a mother and daughter walking towards me. The young girl held her mother’s hand reluctantly and outstretched the other. As we passed she ran her mauve mitted hand over the body and buckle of the navy handbag I had done the same thing to before buying it from a boutique near the Campo de’ Fiori.
Travel is reaching out to experience the world.


Journeys end Twelth Night card

This journey is almost at an end. Another is only just beginning.

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Postcard from Paris (MMXV)

I’m about to take a fast train across the channel and leave my beloved Paris. Research here has progressed well (more on that later). There’s been time for a handful of gastronomic indulgences: bread, cheese, and frites; chocolate and soufflé.



Soufflé with a hint of Grand Marnier.

The taste of tome fraîche folded into mashed potato, the sight of curls of foliage in an illuminated manuscript, the feel of a fifteenth century wooden handrail as I climbed a staircase into the past; these memories and more board this train with me.


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Postcard from Rome (MMXV)

Buon Anno!

I’ve spent an intense and unforgettable few weeks researching in the “Eternal” city of Rome. I’ve devoured mountains of pasta and enjoyed the company of new friends. I feel fortunate to have had another chance to explore Rome’s cultural riches.


Arrivederci, Roma!

I’m off to the next city on this non-stop itinerary. I’ll be sure to write more once I’m home.

May we all make the most of 2015,

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The first leaf

Welcome to my Chronicle.

I hope you enjoy the following glimpses into the research and writing towards my first historical novel. Here are some tidbits about me:

– I have a soft spot for craftsmanship including (but not limited to) woodwork, metalwork, period embroidery, and of course the craft of writing. I don’t claim to be any good at any craft other than the latter.

– I adore fine stationery. I was the person who wrote to their foreign penpal on delicate paper rather than chat with them online. I am the person who already has the next journal to seamlessly move to once the pages of the current (embossed) journal are full of ink.

– I have experienced as much of life as possible. In hindsight I’ve been filing away compelling characters, locations, humorous incidents and foreign experiences in the recesses of my mind for years. I’ve had ample opportunity to observe blossoming relationships and family dramas while working in retail during the senior years of high school and then in hospitality as an undergraduate. The banter at the barista’s bench, the scenes playing out beyond the waiter’s tray and the machinations of the corridors of corporations are all grist for a writer.

– I maintain my Russian Caravan tea habit through freelance copywriting, research and teaching.

This is not a diary. That, dear reader, is somewhere on my bedside table (typically two or three deep beneath volumes of fiction and non-fiction). This chronicle will chart inspiration, tastes, and other writing related experiences.

Happy reading,

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