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Category: Slices of Life

Sydney and The Marble Bar

I’m just back from Sydney where I attended the Australian Romance Readers annual awards dinner. I’ll post more about that later. I went up to Sydney a few days early as I wanted to catch up with some friends. One of them took me to The Marble Bar, a heritage-listed and very ornate Victorian-era bar in the heart of Sydney (in the basement of the Hilton).


Originally built in 1893 by George Adams (of Tattersalls sweepstakes fame) and costing a massive 30,000 pounds, from the amazingly ornate ceiling, to the massive arched columns and  the carved and gleaming bars,  every surface is lushly decorated either with marble, stained glass panels, mirrored surfaces, carved mahogany, or large, elegant paintings.





The site faced demolition in the 1970’s, but sanity ruled, so piece by marble piece, the entire interior of the bar was painstakingly taken apart, and reassembled in the Hilton Hotel in 1973. 











That’s me having a drink in a quiet corner, surrounded by Victorian-era gorgeousness.

If you ever get to Sydney, drop in and visit this remarkable place. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Author Friends

Yesterday I headed out to meet up in the city for lunch with some author friends. We meet on Southbank, on the banks of the Yarra River, in Melbourne. It was a perfect sunny summer day, warm but not too hot, and with a lovely breeze.

 A lot of people assume that authors must be quite competitive and that that there’s a fair bit of rivalry between us. That’s not at all the case in my experience. Maybe it’s the nature of romance writers — we do, after all write the literature of hope — or maybe it’s that most of us are women, and women tend to be more cooperative and helpful, but whatever the reason, I’m blessed in my writing friends.

I belong to a number of writers’ organizations, and a number of informal groups. Yesterday’s  group is from Melbourne and surrounds, and we meet several times a year for lunch, always at the same place, which has a wonderful smorgasbord and yummy desserts. First there’s a bit of personal catching up, because we’ve known each other for a few years now, and then, inevitably the talk turns to books and writing. 

Pic: from left: Sarah Mayberry, Alison Stuart, Melanie Scott, Michelle Conder, me. On other side of table, from rear: Carol Marinelli, Keri Arthur, Marion Lennox, Joan Kilby

We talk about what we’re writing and what we’re reading, we do “show and tell” showing our books and new covers, and sharing things around. Most of the talk is about business — because we’re all professional authors and make our living by writing. We started as all traditionally published authors (ie published with large international publishers) but several in the group have now become fully self-published, and are doing very well. And the business is always changing, so that’s  always fascinating. And a little bit unsettling — for me, anyway.

Another informal group I meet up with is a little “historical” group. There are just four of us, and three of us write historical romance and one is the official biographer of Georgette Heyer, Jennifer Kloester. Julia Byrne and Stephanie Laurens started out writing for Mills and Boon Historicals at the same time. Julia then left writing for many years for family reasons and has only recently recommenced her writing career, but they have remained friends and each others’ crit partners for all that time. Isn’t that wonderful?

Pic: from left me, Julia Byrne, Jennifer Kloester (standing) Stephanie Laurens. 

Another of my writers groups is called the Word Wenches, a group of mainly historical romance writers, mostly from the USA, but with one Canadian, one Brit and one Australian (me.) Being so far flung, we rarely meet face to face, but most days we chat on email, and even though I can count on my fingers the number of times we’ve met, we know each other pretty well. I’m going to the USA this year for the Romance Writers of American conference, where the Word Wenches will be presenting on a panel, and afterwards, we’re heading off to go on a small writing retreat. I can’t wait!

Speaking of retreats, I attend a writing retreat every year with another group of writers. It started around twelve years ago as a way of breaking down isolation between romance writers — we come from four different Australian states, and one is from NZ (and now lives in France) The first time we came together, we were relative strangers — some had never met — but now, with daily email conversations and annual retreats, we’re all very close.

Pic: From left: Carol Marinelli, Trish Morey, Marion Lennox, Kelly Hunter, me, then on the right from the rear: Barbara Hannay, Fiona McArthur, Meredith Webber. Missing: Alison Roberts.

We help each other all the time — we brainstorm plots, talk over scenes, share information and advice, and offer feedback and encouragement, especially  when times are tough.  And of course, since most of our communication happens on line, when we finally do meet up face to face, what better thing to do than share a meal? 

I’ve only shown you the tip of the iceberg of my romance writing friends here. When I first started writing, I never imagined I’d make so many friends — and some are the best friends I’ve made anywhere. And I haven’t even touched on the readers who’ve become friends —I’ll save that for another post.

My Pearls

Before Christmas, in a rush of blood to the head I ordered some pearls on line from China. My little treat to myself. And they arrived on my birthday which I took to signal the universe’s approval of my extravagance. Here they are in the photo. They’re mostly the color they call “lavender” which is a slightly pinky mauve, and one of cream pearls.

It was a bit silly, I know — I already have plenty of pearls, but pearls are my weakness. It’s not as if I need these new ones, but they’re so pretty, and were very affordable and it was so easy to go “click” on the website. (I know, excuses, excuses . . . )

I don’t make jewelry to sell, though occasionally I will foist something on a friend as a gift. It’s my hobby, to make jewelry from all kinds of beads — from cheap little wooden beads, to semi precious gemstones and pearls. Often when I’m trying to nut out a scene, or solve a plot problem, I pick up some beads and start making something, and while I’m concentrating on that, suddenly the solution comes to me.  (Yes, another excuse — and I’m sticking to it.)

Below is the first pearl necklace I even made, with black stone beads in various sizes. I was never much of an admirer of the simple strand of perfect pearls — I like them mixed up with other things. And I’m quite fond of black and white. You’ll often see me wearing these pearls  in pics on line. 

The pearls I use are mostly freshwater cultured pearls. Cultured pearls are just as real as “wild” or natural pearls — in fact the only way you can tell the difference between a natural or ‘wild’ pearl and a cultured one is by x-ray. The main difference is that with ‘wild’ pearls the small irritant that the mollusc (oyster or other nacreous shellfish) covers with layers of pearly nacre gets there accidentally, randomly and rarely. With cultured pearls the irritant is placed in the mollusc by human hands, and so the harvest of pearls is relatively predictable — and that’s what makes cultured pearls  affordable. I buy them on line, mostly from China where the freshwater pearl industry flourishes.

Want to know how to tell a real pearl from a fake one?
A good fake pearl and a genuine pearl will both feel and look very much the same. But gently rub them along the top of your teeth and you’ll find that a genuine pearl will feel slightly gritty against your teeth, whereas the fake one will still feel perfectly smooth.

Here’s another early necklace I made, with pearls, black beads and red coral. Probably a few too many metal beads now for my taste, but I still wear it from time to time. The nice thing about making your own jewelry is that when you get bored with a piece or decide you don’t like it, you can pull it apart and make something new.

As well as the creamy white pearls, you can get pink (called lavender, because they have pinky-lilac overtones.) Pearls are rarely one color — they have a kind of rainbow sheen, and change slightly with the light and the background. You can see a lot of lavender pearls in the picture at the top of this blog. Here’s a necklace I made with lavender pearls and rose quartz.  I wove the little bracelet out of pearls, too.

Another color is “peacock” so called because of the rainbow iridescence of blue/green and other colors. This is one of my favorite necklace sets,  baroque pearls in a peacock blue color. A baroque pearl is an oddly shaped one. They used to be regarded as faulty, but these days jewelers love them for their unique shapes and often design unique pieces around them. I think they’re gorgeous — so much more interesting than plain round ones.

“Black” pearls are rarely pure black — they can range from blackish to dark grey to “peacock” deep bluey-green and dark greeny-black. I love these dark green ones. You can see I’m not yet an expert on knotting — there are a few uneven knots in there.

Another sort of pearl that was once regarded as a dud but now is very popular is the keshi (or cornflake” pearl. Very delicate and pretty. 

I made this “wrap” bracelet out of lavender pearls and various other bits and pieces. I love it to bits. 

Now, apart from a pearl-knotting course I once did, I learned how to make all these things on line. And these days you can learn pearl-knotting quicker and more cheaply on youtube. Youtube is a positive feast of all kinds of craft lessons. The pearls — all the supplies, in fact — can be ordered on line, and honestly, the pleasure I get from making these things is worth it. So if you’re  at all tempted, have a go.