Friday, March 31, 2017
I want to tell you a story. A story about a story.
Several years ago, I was staying in B&B in Provence when I suddenly realized the engaging hostess I'd been happily chatting to for the past two days was the widow of Pierre Salinger, the well-known politician, journalist, and one-time White House Press Secretary to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. I'd been vaguely aware of the connection before I checked in, but then work and photo shoots took over and I forgot, until I walked into the library one night holding a small aperitif that she'd kindly offered and noticed the photos of John and Jackie Kennedy. It was then that she began telling me a story. About Pierre. And JFK. And what happened the night that Kennedy was assassinated.
As the story unfolded, my overworked brain cleared and I began to realize the significance of what was being discussed. And who my hostess was. And so I listened. I listened for the hour that it took to tell (by which time I had pins and needles and needed to wee!), and as I did so, I realized it was an extraordinary story; the kind of story you hear perhaps three or four times in your life. I was immediately captivated but I was also conscious that it was the kind of story that needed to be saved somehow, so it could be retold to future generations. Of course some stories are not for retelling. And perhaps this was one. But, like most journalists and authors, I am of the firm belief that if we don't save such stories, if we don't archive them somehow, they will be forgotten. And then all these great stories that we hear in distant libraries will be lost in the dust of the footsteps of Old Man Time.
I vowed then that if I was ever fortunate enough to hear another such story, I would write it down.
As a journalist, I hear stories all the time. We all do. Stories that make us chuckle or laugh, or cry, and wipe our eyes, and cry again. I've even heard stories that were so astonishing, so far outside the boundaries of my beliefs, that I could only shake my head in disbelief. But those are the best stories, I think; the unbelievable ones. Because those are the ones that challenge us, and make us think. Those are the stories that force us to contemplate them, long after the last unbelievable word has been said.
I have been working on one such story for the past five years. It's the story behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, that beautiful, quietly haunting novel, which Peter Weir turned into an equally beautiful, equally haunting film. And after five years of research and long nights of writing, it is finally being published by Bonnier Publishers this weekend, on April 2, beginning with a two-chapter extract in the Good Weekend magazine in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
It's such an extraordinary story that I think it might even surpass the JFK story in the Intrigue Stakes.
We are taught that things only exist if they are measurable. If they are not measurable, or quantifiable, we're not sure how to categorize them. But in researching this book, I learned that there is far more to life than what we blithely assume. The story of Picnic at Hanging Rock lies somewhere between the rational and the inexplicable, between reason and wonder, and the story behind it lies somewhere in that strange realm too.
But it doesn't matter what I believe, or disbelieve -- or indeed what others believe, or disbelieve. Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a great story, 50 years after it was first published. And I hope the story that I've written, the biography of its enigmatic, beautiful, complex, clever author Joan Lindsay, is just as enthralling.
I also hope that others will write or record similar stories they hear. Because we need these stories, more than ever before. They are part of our history, and our identity, but more than that, they are places of grace; small sanctuaries amid the shoutiness and sound bites and Snapchat grabs of modern society.
So I hope you'll all record your own life stories one day. And your family's stories. And those stories you hear in a library, in a landscape far away.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
THE YEAR OF ADVENTURES
Unfortunately, our travel budget is tight this year, and I'm tethered to work projects, so I had to find an adventure that was a) affordable and b) easy to get to -- preferably in a weekend. The answer was at the end of a 2-hour train ride from Milan, on a misty, wintry, Friday afternoon in February....
And I can't recommend this adventure enough.
A WATERY, WEEKEND ADVENTURE IN VENICE
If you've never been to Venice, go in February. The costumes, wigs, hats, whimsy, watery backdrop, lagoon sunrises, and languid boat trips up the Grand Canal at the end of each foggy afternoon will lift your spirits faster than a fine prosecco. It is a city like no other. And during Carnevale, it becomes a magnificent mise-en-scène that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Lots of pix and tips are on my Instagram here www.instagram.com/janellemcculloch_author
But if you're considering going to Venice, the best thing to do is not to plan too much. Just book a pretty boutique hotel, and there are plenty available to choose from. (I stayed at AD Place near Piazza San Marco, which has a wonderful Fortuny-like entrance of fabrics, exquisitely pretty striped rooms, and fantastic free breakfasts.) Then grab a map, tuck it in your pocket, and prepare to get lost amongst the grey-blue canals, because that's the best way to experience Venice.
See the Fortuny Museum (beautiful, but read AS Byatt's book on Fortuny before you do), have dinner at the Aman Hotel (extraordinary interiors), or just buy a mask and join the crowds with their feathers and fun.
On the Saturday afternoon, having watched the judging of the elaborate costumes in the piazza, I grabbed a Bellini (Venice's famous drink) and sat in the sun in front of the Giardini Reali garden, watching the gondoliers and boats come and go. Dozens of others were doing the same. I'm certain we will all remember that moment, sitting on the steps in the winter sun as the Venetian watercraft went by.
Venice offered the kind of simple bliss that many of us long for in our lives. All is took was a Bellini and a view to make the heart sing. That's what the best adventures are made of, I think. Simple things.
If you're heading to Venice this year, there are some good books out about the city. Skye McAlpine's beautiful book on her life in Venice is particularly lovely -- and she offers some tips to finding the best of 'Secret Venice' here -- LINK. Her Venetian blog is also worth a look -- HERE (Her photographs are stunning.)
There are also new books about Venice from Assouline, including one shot by the talented Australian-New York photographer Robyn Lea. (See post below.)
A SARTORIAL ADVENTURE IN MILAN
In Milan that same week, I finished a meeting early so I decided to slip in another adventure -- this time of the embroidered variety: the magnificent Manolo Blahnik Exhibition, 'The Art of Shoes', at the quietly grand Palazzo Morando.
One of the best fashion retrospectives I've ever seen, this free exhibition (until April 9) spans almost 50 years of Mr Blahnik's collections and inspirations -- including his own grand adventures.
Geographical influences are evident in many of his shoes (his love of Greece, antiquities and architecture certainly shows), but the 'Nature' room is perhaps the most beautiful part of the exhibition. Shoes designed with floral flowers, ivy, leaves, and other embroidered botanical motifs form a kind of romantic greenhouse. Even Manolo Blahnik confesses that he has a soft spot for his garden-inspired designs, particularly 'Ivy', the shoe that he created in 1972 for English fashion designer Ossie Clark.
If you can't make it to Milan, there's a beautiful book to accompany the exhibition, The Art of Shoes, published by Rizzoli.
MANOLO BLAHNIK: THE ART OF SHOES
PALAZZO MORANDO, MILAN. UNTIL APRIL 9.
(THEN TOURING TO MADRID, TORONTO AND OTHER CITIES.)
A BLOOMSBURY ADVENTURE IN LONDON
In London, I was lucky enough to catch another stunning exhibition, Vanessa Bell: 1879-1941, which chronicles the remarkable life and career of Vanessa Bell, who is finally achieving her own fame away from her sister Virginia Woolf and the rest of the outrageously talented Bloomsbury Set.
The exhibition, at the Dulwich Gallery, isn't large, but is imbued with glorious, Bloomsbury-esque beauty, most notably in the paintings, portraits, letters, still lives, landscapes, notes, drawings, and photos of Charleston and the characters who lived, loved, gardened, painted, fought and loved again in the bucolic charm of the now-famous farmhouse.
There's a great Guardian article called Design and Desires: How Vanessa Bell Put The Bloom in Bloomsbury here -- LINK. And there are several good biographies about Bell, the best of which is Frances Spalding's fantastic book.
Or look for a copy of the March issue of UK Harper's Bazaar, which has several articles about the exhibition and also Charleston. (They might now be online). The most touching tribute in Harper's was an article by Bell's granddaughter, Virginia Nicholson, who praises her grandmother's "adventurousness".
Vanessa Bell, you certainly were a quiet achiever.
VANESSA BELL. DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY. UNTIL JUNE 4
LINK HERE -- INFO
A LITERARY ADVENTURE IN MELBOURNE
One of the things I've learned after being in publishing and books for so long is how far a gracious attitude will take you. Gratitude and thank-you emails are also important, of course -- in any career -- but being kind is imperative.I always try and practice kindness, even when situations are difficult, or relationships become strained, or illness / fatigue or other wearying factors test the patience. But I'm far from perfect. And I often fall down under the pressure of stress. But I always get up from the floor, apologise, and keep trying. Because graciousness and kindness are more important than ever. They're the only things that will get us through this turbulent year, I think.
Bestselling author and photographer Robyn Lea is an example of real kindness -- and how it can take you far in life. Formerly based in Milan and New York, Robyn now travels between Australia and the rest of the world for her work, and her photography schedule makes me dizzy! She is working on 10 (I think? It could be more?) books at the moment, including several Assouline titles. She is the epitome of an adventurous spirit.
This is her library and work space. Gorgeous, non?
But when I popped in to see her recently, what impressed me even more than her adventurous spirit was her generosity. She put me onto a contact of hers who is scouting for new stories for SBS, which then springboarded into a meeting next week. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, I was deeply touched by the gesture.
This is her beautiful new book, Dinner With Georgia O'Keefe. It's out now (Assouline), and is a follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Dinner with Jackson Pollack.
Both titles are filled with beautiful photos and delicious recipes, and would make gorgeous gifts!
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Just when we thought all was lost, however, hope floated in from some unexpected places. Writer Nikki Gemmell felt her year turn in December after she shed her clothes and took an impromptu nudie dip in the Sydney Harbour with friends. Inspired by her thoughtful, reflective column about the day, the dip, and indeed the year (which is here : The Australian newspaper), we decided to follow her salty initiative and spent a glorious week in and around Sydney harbour over Christmas (above). Like Nikki Gemmell, we felt the salt soak into our skin and remembered the joy in living simply.
Like Nikki Gemmell, many others were sanguine as the year came to an end. Even usually cynical A.A. Gill was uncharacteristically grateful in his final columns. "I feel very lucky", he said, about his life. I mean, how inspiring.
But perhaps my favourite spirit-lifting moment this year was Muhammad Ali's memorial service, which took humour and sadness and weaved them together into a magnificent lesson in how to live -- not a great life -- but a good one. Ali lived both. But it was goodness he advocated. It was goodness that filled that interfaith memorial service in Louisville, Kentucky on June 10th.
Here in our little household, 2016 was a full year. Work was relentless but rewarding, with work trips and garden shoots in the Caribbean, New York, Connecticut, Nantucket, Provence, Paris, Italy, and the Cotswolds and Dorset. Many of these beautiful places, spaces and gardens (above) can be seen on my Instagram: www.instagram.com/janellemcculloch_author. But most of the time, I didn't post a lot: I just put my head down and got on with the job.
As well as work, there were quiet side trips and gentle stopovers, including a visit to Jim Thompson's house in Bangkok: a deeply moving place that's memorable as much for its architecture and garden as its history and mystery.
For the most part, we lived a low-key existence. As the years go on and people become angrier and more critical and the world becomes more unstable, it feels like the right path to take. Perhaps George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley had the smart approach, after all? Perhaps what 2016 taught us is that when the going gets tough, the tough put their heads and work on, head against the wind; quietly; calmly; with not only a sense of humour but a sense of dignity.
Here's to 2017. May it bring you all joyous things.
BEAUTIFUL THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2017
BALENCIAGA AT THE V&A MUSEUM, LONDON
The major exhibition at London's V&A Museum during 2017 will focus on the life and work of Spanish fashion house Balenciaga, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year. Called 'Shaping Fashion', the show will shine the light on this master couturier, who is often called a 'designer's designer' because he was famous for his tailoring skills. He preferred to work with firm, stiff fabrics which gave his clothing a sculptural appearance, hence the name of the show. The V&A has brought together 100 garments and 20 hats, along with sketches, photographs and fabric samples to show not only his craftsmanship and skill but also how his work changed the shape of fashion forever. The exhibition is timely – under the new creative director of head designer Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has taken a radical new direction.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will be on show at the V&A, London May 27th 2017 – February 18th 2018.
DIOR EXHIBITIONS IN PARIS AND MELBOURNE
As the House of Dior continues its seventy-year celebrations, there are plans for two impressive Dior exhibitions in Paris and Melbourne this year. Christian Dior at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris will run from July 6, 2017 until January 7, 2018, and will focus on the couturier's life and designs, while in Melbourne, Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria will host 'The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture', a sumptuous display of more than 140 garments designed by Christian Dior Couture between 1947 and 2017. The latter exhibition will also feature works by the seven designers who have played key roles in shaping Dior’s renowned fashionable silhouette: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Highlights include examples from Christian Dior’s iconic spring 1947 New Look collection, magnificent displays of Dior’s signature ball gowns and evening dresses, as well as designs from the inaugural couture collection of the House’s first female head designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. It will be the first complete Dior collection to be shown outside of Paris, and reflects Melbourne's love of fashion and glamour.
Little news yet on the Christian Dior exhibition at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in July, but no doubt details will begin to emerge in the fashion media soon.
[All images from House of Dior's website]
A WHITE GARDEN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS,
IN FLORAL TRIBUTE TO DIANA
Opening in spring 2017, 'The White Garden' will be a floral tribute to Princess Diana that will be planted in the Sunken Garden in Kensington Gardens. It has been designed to celebrate her legacy of style, which is also being showcased in Kensington Palace’s new fashion exhibition, ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ in 2017. The garden will be planted with an elegant palette of spring tulips and scented narcissi, which will emerge through a carpet of forget me nots. The planting scheme will then change in summer to pots of classic English white roses and cosmos, which will surround the reflective pool in the centre of the garden.
Due to open in April, 2017.
RESTORATION HARDWARE'S FIRST HOTEL
If you're a fan of the Restoration Hardware look, and there are thousands who are, you'll be pleased to know the company is opening its first hotel, in New York City’s meatpacking district. Located at 55 Gansevoort Street, which is right around the corner from RH's flagship store, it will reportedly double as a showroom for the brand. There are also plans for a ground-floor restaurant.
More details can be found here.
GARDENS AND ART IN PARIS
There are several garden-themed exhibitions being staged in Paris this year. From 15 March, the Jardins exhibition at the Grand Palais offers a sweeping overview of landscape painting from the Renaissance to our day, with works by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Magritte and others. The Musée d’Orsay is also hosting a nature-themed exhibition in 2017, with paintings by Gauguin, Denis, Klimt, Munch and Van Gogh. Until 24 April, the Pompidou Centre is hosting a retrospective of Cy Twombly, which will feature explosions of colour, tangled skeins and scribblings and scratched-out lines – all of which is said to "reflect a rich interior landscape". And in April, the Musée de la Vie Romantique will turn into an exquisite garden filled with lovely colours for an exhibition on Pierre-Joseph Redout, one of the most renowned botanical artist of all time. It’s an opportunity to admire the delicate watercolours painted by the man who was once described as ‘the Raphael of flowers’.
THE NEW FLORAL FASHION FOR DAHLIAS
Dahlias were big this year. Huge. In every respect. They crowded the pages of garden magazines, and grew to the size of dinner platters.
This was the Dorset garden of English architect Ben Pentreath and his lovely husband Charlie, which I shot in late September, just as the dahlias beds were reaching their full height. Charlie told me his favourite was the Cafe au Lait, but I think I loved the apricot borders better.
One thing's for sure: dahlias are not going away any time soon. Once you see them dancing in the late summer breeze, you'll want to replant your own garden with blousy, cheery blooms.
THE NEW TREND FOR GARDEN-THEMED HOTELS
Another 'garden-enhanced hotel' that I visited this year was the newly renovated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, where the Ambassador Suite (above right) even comes with its own private conservatory overlooking the gardens and river. If you can't afford a suite here, you can still enjoy the hotel's legendary interiors with a drink or afternoon tea in the Author's Lounge (above left), one of the most photogenic bars in the world. Designed with more lattice trims that Versailles, and more wicker furniture and whimsy than Bunny Mellon's garden room, it's an elegant space to lose an afternoon. (I found a quiet corner and caught up on work here: it was a beautiful 'office' that made me wish mine looked just as lovely.)
THE REMAKING OF PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
Some of you may know that I've spent five years working on a biography of the Australian author Joan Lindsay, who wrote the international bestseller Picnic at Hanging Rock. The biography went to print a few weeks ago, and will be published on April 1, in time for the 50th anniversary of the novel.
Media for this biography has already begun, with a lovely mention in yesterday's Age and Sydney Morning Herald broadsheet newspapers, in a list of Books to Read in 2017 LINK HERE for the Sydney Morning Herald, or HERE for The Age.
There were so many great books on this list, including a new biography on Helen Garner, so I'm thrilled and honoured to be featured. And I'm so grateful to my publisher, Kay Scarlett (whom I knew at Murdoch Books), and my editor Julia Taylor, who took a battered old biography of a long-forgotten author and turned it into a beautifully designed and (hopefully) interesting story of a 50-year-old novel that many of us have never forgotten...
(The beautiful image above, of Anne Louise Lambert on set, was a polaroid taken by Joan Lindsay and comes from Joan Lindsay's archives. It appears in the biography along with dozens of other images from the film and Joan Lindsay's life. It was my favourite photo in the book.)
Recently, Fremantle Media announced that they are planning to remake Picnic at Hanging Rock for television in 2017, with a 6 x 60 minute drama that will, unlike the original film by Peter Weir, delve deep into the themes of gender, control, identity and burgeoning sexuality.
It will be interesting to see how Fremantle's version differs from the original, which was a worldwide success, but I applaud the company's efforts to retell this haunting mystery for a modern audience. Picnic at Hanging Rock deserves to be celebrated, as does its author Joan Lindsay, and I hope 2017 is the year in which fans, old and new, rediscover this beautiful tale of schoolgirls on a summer's day.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Then he told me about a phrase that's used to describe these curiously moving spaces and landscapes; these places that take you away from mundanities and disenchantments of everyday.
A thin space could be as ordinary as someone's garden (see above; story to come), or as sacred as Rumi's tomb in Turkey. (Rumi and his Persian poetry have become popular since singer Chris Martin credited them for saving him from depression.)
Thin Places usually happen when you least expect them -- often when you're travelling. They suddenly appear before you, beautiful and fleeting. They remove you from whatever you might be enduring in life, and remind you that there are better things, both on this side and the other.
A well-travelled friend calls this experience jouissance; a transcendent state that fuses the emotional, physical, and mystical. She says it often happens when she's in a garden -- be it Sissinghurst or the shores of Lake Como.
I experienced a Thin Place last week.
It was 5.30AM and I was driving to a photo shoot at a garden called Picardy, located in the green hills of Gippsland, where I grew up. I thought I knew this area but on this morning the landscape looked different. A strange layer of mist had settled over the hills, giving the place an ethereal feel. As I drove through the quiet backroads, the hot sun started to burn away the light fog, leaving patches of 'clouds' in its wake.
Thin Spaces transport us to a better plane -- "going high", as Michelle Obama famously quoted. They enable us to see the joyfulness of life, rather than the hatred. The radiance and grace of places, and people, rather than the dark side.
Like many friends, including Joe, I have stopped subscribing to nastiness. We all have enough to contend with in life. And you can't work professionally, especially in an international arena, if you practice such manners. (Some of those I've liaised with this year, such as Carolyne Roehm and Paolo Moschino and Robert Couturier, have reminded me just how far good manners and kindness will go in life.)
As Joe said, we need to seek the delights of life -- in places and in people. Even if we don't like a place (I had mixed feelings about Gippsland for decades), or we're not sure about a person, reserving judgement and holding back on criticism may reward us with a sublime surprise. Gippsland's quiet beauty certainly surprised me last week.
(Loved the dovecote potting shed.)
The most amazing thing about this day, and this garden, was seeing this: a rare kind of Robinia that looks identical to pink wisteria. Many gardeners feel this Robinia is the most beautiful tree in the world, and indeed it's accorded that award in many horticultural lists. I've been searching for it for years, without success.
As Marian and I turned a corner at the bottom of the crabapple walk, we paused in our chatter and I happen to look up, to the sky above. There it was. Dangling quietly above us.
Marian is currently working on a book about her beautiful French / Italian-inspired garden, so there will be more images down the track.
In the meantime, here are some more books and beautiful landscapes to lift the spirit at this tail end of a very long year.
BEAUTIFUL DESIGN BOOKS FOR YOUR WISH LIST
Amazon has just delivered a box of gorgeous books to our doorstep in time for Christmas. Some are for us; some are for friends. These were a few stand-outs in the pile.
Mad Enchantment . The story of Claude Monet and the painting of the Water Lilies series. An uplifting account of how painting and gardening save this great artist's spirit at the end of his life, as the war encroached on his bucolic corner of France.
On The Fringe: A Life in Decorating. A fascinating insight into Colefax and Fowler by the decorating company's glamorous doyenne, Imogen Taylor.
The Country House in Literature. A little academic, but good to dip in and out of.
Landscape of Dreams. The first monograph from Julian and Isabel Bannerman, the Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin of garden designers.
Signature Spaces: Well-Travelled Spaces by Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen. (last pix, above). I had the great pleasure and honor of having lunch with these two lovely gentlemen in their country house in Sussex this year, so this book is a little special. If you've followed Paolo since his days with Nicky Haslam, you'll know he's an extraordinarily talented interior designer, but it's his partner in business and life, Philio Vergeylen, who's the real surprise -- funny, kind, stylish and talented at everything from gardening to storytelling. A great book for design fans.
FASCINATING FASHION BOOKS
If you or someone you know loves fashion, these are two sure winners for Christmas gifts.
Alexander McQueen's Unseen is a behind-the-scenes look at the designer's remarkable fashion collections and catwalk shows.
And Alexandra Schulman's Inside Vogue is a diary-style account of working behind the editor's desk of UK Vogue, including the enormous cover-up she had to do to keep the cover of the Duchess of Cambridge a guarded secret.
THE BEST LIBRARIES IN VOGUE
A recent slideshow of some of Vogue's most memorable libraries over the years.
Link here -- VOGUE LIBRARIES
BEYOND THE ROCK: THE LIFE OF JOAN LINDSAY
AND THE MYSTERY OF PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
Finally, friends and long-time readers know that I've been working quietly on this biography for many years. I've not mentioned it much because there was a change of publishers (in an unconventional move, I decided to return to my beloved publisher at Murdoch, Kay Scarlett, who's now with Bonnier International). Since the change, in May, there have been months of refinements, particularly in the content but also in the design, which is now beautiful!
The story of Joan Lindsay's life and how she came to write her famous bestseller Picnic at Hanging Rock at sixty-nine years of age is a complex story, and we took a great deal of time working out what to include and what to (respectfully) leave out. We also consulted people like director Peter Weir and others who knew Joan Lindsay personally, and they kindly gave their input.
Now, after five long years of research, and almost a year of production, the biography has gone to print TODAY. (I can't even believe I'm writing that.) Advance copies are due to arrive January, and the pub date is 1st April, so I will post details on this blog and Instagram as well as to all those in my email database. We are also working in marketing, including a doco-ette and a book tour; details of which are to come.
The biography will soon show up on Amazon and other book sites, so keep an eye out.
Beyond the Rock is a curious book, which falls somewhere between biography and true crime (hence the title), but Joan Lindsay's life was also curious; curious and mysterious and often remarkable. So I hope you all love reading about it as much as I loved researching and writing it.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a novel version of a Thin Space, and as far as I can tell, Joan certainly intended that. It's beautiful, mysterious, memorable, and utterly otherworldly. Fifty years after it was first published, it still transports us.
If only politics did that.