I am a woman of many genres, but if I were to choose my favourite books, a fair few of them would be contemporary Australian women’s titles that straddle the past and the present. Written by authors like Kate Morton, Kimberley Freeman, Belinda Alexandra and Fiona McIntosh, these are the books that get me thinking and dreaming. I find them rich in detail, place and personas, and they trigger interest in certain eras that indulge my curiosity and sense of wanderlust.
This is what I love about reading, and also writing, even if it means no one else understands. I certainly raised a few eyebrows among family and close friends when I trudged up and down La Trobe Terrace in Brisbane’s Paddington through the rain in a rain coat because it was the setting of one of Kate Morton’s novels.
So when my husband whisked me away to the Blue Mountains for a weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday and first Mother’s day, I was thrilled. It went beyond a great present/surprise because I had recently read Kimberley Freeman’s Evergreen Falls, a novel set in a luxury hotel in the mountains in the 1920s, and I knew I would relish taking the story further in my imagination by fantasising about the characters and their adventures.
Little did I know how close I would come. I first saw the Carrington Hotel from the car. My husband had told me we had a long drive ahead of us after our lunch at the Leura Garage (their Bucatini Meatball pasta was a delight, FYI) so naturally I was thrown off course, so when I saw the grand building on the hill I knew it was something special and took mental note to find out what it was. But then he pulled into its driveway and I was mesmerised. It was built in 1880 and the age of the place – its past ghosts, its historic splendour – was obvious from the moment I stepped inside.
The age of the place – its past ghosts, its historic splendour – was obvious from the moment I stepped inside.
Stained glass windows, a beautiful dome, and wings dedicated to the various activities of the day – a library, drinking lounge, billiards room, baths… Everywhere I looked, I could imagine Freeman’s characters lolling about inside, hotel staff at their beck and call in a world that was still engulfed in a disparity of the classes. Even the stairs, which creaked with every step, seemed to the carry the stories of the people who walked them before me for over a hundred years.
Even the stairs, which creaked with every step, seemed to the carry the stories of the people who walked them before me for over a hundred years.
I couldn’t imagine the weekend getting better until I arrived at the Hydro Majestic Pavilion. I thought we were stopping in for a coffee break and didn’t have the heart to tell my husband that this was the hotel that Freeman’s book was loosely based on, because then the real place we were staying wouldn’t feel as fun.
But it was the place that he had booked, and when stepping into its grand art-deco wings, I was almost inside the story. It was filling me with so much joy and inspiration I could burst. The old dome built in Chicago, the majestic view of the mountains and the fact that it had been a military hospital for the Americans in World War II. It had so much history, and I was going to be a part of it.
It had so much history, and I was going to be a part of it.
This is the thing about wonderful books. They give you places to go, characters to love, things to dream about. They pull you into the story, so that you too, leave a fraction of yourself in an another world, immortalised, in words that will live forever and a history that will always be uncovered by someone else who dared to go beyond the page.