This afternoon something special arrived in the mail. After publication delays beyond my control, I’m so excited to at last hold my new picture book, Nanna’s Button Tin. Heather Potter’s illustrations are beautiful and every time I read the story I find lovely details in her artwork. The release date with Walker Books is June 1st but here is a first sneak peek…
The story was inspired by memories of playing with my mum’s and grandmothers’ button tins. I loved tipping their tins upside down, sorting shapes and colours and looking for my favourite buttons. Some buttons held special memories; a favourite party dress or a bear-shaped button from a cardigan. The book is dedicated to every Nanna with a button tin.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better first review than the one published in the current issue of Books+Publishing by esteemed publisher, academic, author (and more) Margaret Hamilton AM. She writes: …The heart-warming story is sensitively told in simple and expressive language. The reader is invited to join this loving family to experience the special relationship between a small girl and her nanna and to relive treasured family memories, all through the special buttons in nanna’s jar… Stories about family togetherness are very important in the life of a child. They reinforce family experiences and loving relationships, and when they are as warmly portrayed as those in this book, they become keepsakes.
Thank you Heather, Editor Mary Verney and the rest of the team at Walker Books.
I’ve just come across a fascinating YouTube clip directed and produced by Dennis O’Rourke, which explores some of the modern issues confronting traditional customary practise in shark-calling villages of New Ireland Province (PNG).
It goes for 50 minutes but is well worth watching.
Yesterday I was fortunate to return to Breaksea Island, long ago home of ‘lighthouse girl’ Fay Catherine Howe. The weather was perfect. After circling the island, Rainer our pilot landed on the helicopter pad just below the lighthouse.
We circled the ruins of the original lighthouse then walked down the hill to visit the old cottages. Each time I visit I have a strong sense of Fay in the furthest keeper’s cottage, particularly in one of the front rooms.
Just before this visit there’d been robust discussion, accompanied by some impressive forensic laptop studies of several old photos at the Albany History Collection. We were looking at a photograph of a young woman outside this furthest cottage. I’d always hoped it was Fay, but had been told it was an earlier keeper’s wife, however… it now seems it may actually be Fay. More on that in a later post. The young woman is standing by the cottage steps (below), with two donkeys, dogs and goats.
A highlight of the trip was hiking down the old zigzag donkey track to the jetty. I hadn’t been to the jetty since the original research trip over ten years ago, long before there was the helicopter option. There have been a few changes; with a safety cage around the swinging boat access ladder, but otherwise it all looked similar.
Part of the zigzag track
Looking back to Albany
On the way to the jetty
It was great to see Elephant Rock again as that appears in the story.
Our allocated island time whizzed past and soon it was time to climb back into the chopper for the short trip back to the mainland. I’m already looking forward to next time.
The story set in 1942, explores Kokoda from two perspectives; through the eyes of an Australian soldier and also from a Japanese soldier’s point of view. The book was inspired by a story I heard during my 2002 trek from Kokoda airstrip across the Owen Stanley range to Ower’s Corner (near Port Moresby). During one bloody battle, two soldiers locked in combat, rolled down the steep mountainside away from the main battle. They found themselves alone and injured in a jungle ditch. This moment and the imagined aftermath became the core of my story with a theme of common humanity.
Although mostly fictitious, Photographs in the Mud was inspired by an incident experienced by Kokichi Nishimura, a soldier of the 2/144th Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army. Mr Nishimura’s amazing life story, including his return to PNG to collect the bones of war dead, was later explored in Charles Happell’s The Bone Man of Kokoda.
My picture book, published in 2005 by Fremantle Press and illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, has been utilised as an international peace reference. It’s suitable for middle primary readers through to senior high school and is often used in visual literacy units. Teaching notes and more details, including photos of a much younger me, can be found on my website.
The West Australian Young Readers WAYRBA have announced their three shortlists and I’m thrilled that The Shark Calleris included amongst the 16 titles in the 2016 Older Readers’ category. I’m in good company; the list features six international books, nine from Australia and one fellow West Australian title; Norm Jorgensen’s fun The Smuggler’s Curse. There are also lists for Younger Readers and Picture Books with terrific Australian titles on both.
Being shortlisted for a children’s choice award is a wonderful thing. Committed teachers and librarians make up many judging panels, but when the power to choose is handed over to kids it makes being selected such an honour. Young readers make honest critics. As part of the judging process they’re asked to read titles on the lists and evaluate them as ‘terrific’, ‘good’, ‘okay’ or ‘awful.’ Fingers crossed that my ‘Shark’ doesn’t receive too many of the latter!
For WA creators there are still challenges involved in bringing a book to the attention of readers – there are so many other great books from interstate and overseas. The annual WAYRBA lists help ensure that Australian settings such as ‘Abalone Cove’ (Greens Pool) and Broome, which appear in The Shark Caller, reach a wider readership. Thank you to the organising committee for their hard work behind the scenes and teachers, please help your students access the WAYRBA titles, encourage them to vote – and to be gentle with the ‘awful’ slips…
After five years working on PhD research; my two novels (The Shark Caller, The Dog with Seven Names) and the accompanying exegesis, “Crafting Animals Characters in Fiction for Young Readers”, it’s a wonderful (and somewhat fizzy) feeling to be able to at last be free to give attention to other projects which have been circling in a holding pattern. The first being Light from a Broken Lantern (working title).
Between final drafts of the exegesis I’ve been researching this manuscript; the third (and final?) book in the Lighthouse/Horse Boy series. The story steps back to explore the early WW1 years from the perspective of English nurse, Rose before she meets Jim (Light Horse Boy). This early stage of shaping an historical story is exciting in that research reveals all sorts of potential leads, some of which will be followed and woven into the plotline while others slip quietly back into history. I’ve been keeping a scrapbook journal of progress and notes, so that I can revisit some of the quieter snippets in later drafts.
In early June, another long-term project, Nanna’s Button Tin will be released by Walker Books Australia (and Candlewick for the U.S. market). Heather Potter’s beautiful illustrations hold lovely details which add multiple layers to the story. I can’t wait to share more details in a following post.
2017 also brings exciting events linking to Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy, as well as festival and school bookings. Here are some details for those:
Feb: Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy will be included in an exhibition of Australian and New Zealand Children’s picture books called Anzac Stories Behind the Pages – held in Brisbane libraries.
March: I’ll be filling in for Warren Flynn while he takes leave from his position as English tutor at the Albany UWA campus. I’m looking forward to working with first year students on texts including Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
Also in March: Between the Lines Writer’s Festival is on again in Busselton. I’ll be talking about The Shark Caller as well as sharing ideas for creating animal characters.
April 21 and 22 : Time to frock up for Black Swan Theatre’s premiere of Lighthouse Girl in Albany. Playwright, Hellie Turner’s terrific adaptation also links to Light Horse Boy.
April – May: Black Swan Theatre’s season of Lighthouse Girlcontinues in Perth.
June : Nanna’s Button Tin will be released by Walker Books Australia (and Candlewick).
August: For the first time in many years, Children’s Bookweek will be spent in Albany and the Great Southern, coinciding with the Albany exhibition of Anzac Stories Behind the Pages. As well as Albany and Denmark sessions, I’ll be travelling to smaller communities and schools across the Great Southern.
Repeat bookings are always lovely and in 2017 I’ll be revisiting some favourite schools and places including; St Marks, The Literature Centre, Woodthorpe and Margaret River Library. More about dates and details in following posts.
Until then, thank you for your interest in my books and this blog. I enjoy receiving feedback, so please feel free to send me a message. In 2017, I hope to post more regularly, let’s see how I go …
2016 has been a whirl, with so many highlights, as well as the challenge of balancing study, writing and work commitments.
With just a few tweaks left to finalise my PhD research (Crafting Animal Characters in Children’s Literature), I look forward to working on several new projects over summer and launching a new book in 2017, but first I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me in 2016. Here are some of the highlights:
The inaugural 7 Rooms 7 Stories Writers Festival in Busselton was fabulous and I’m thrilled to have been invited back in 2017. Boasting a sparkly new name ‘Between the Lines’ this festival is sponsored by Dymocks Busselton and will be held in March at Mary MacKillop College.
A few weeks after 7 stories, and further south, I enjoyed mixing with local creators and interstate visitors at Great Southern Grammar’s Literature Festival.
Meeting readers during school visits and returning to schools I’ve previously visited is especially rewarding. In the first half of the year that included St Stephen’s, St Mark’s and Lakeside SHS (Perth) as well as St Josephs College in Albany…
Travelling to Wickham in the Pilbara, celebrating Granny Grommet and Me being part of Better Beginnings Recommended Reads for 4s & 5s was fun.
So was revisiting NSW’s Riverina. Thank you Albury and Lavington Libraries for organising school visits last May.
Each Winter brings the excitement and anticipation of the SCBWI WA Rottnest Retreat. This year was as fabulous as ever, spending time reading, writing and workshopping with friends as well as being inspired by visiting legends Erica Wagner and Craig Smith. Thanks to the SCBWI organisers…
July brought the long-anticipated launch of The Shark Caller, a YA novel that was ‘in-production’ for about ten years. Some books take longer than others! To celebrate there were two launches; one at the Albany Surf Club and the other at Perth’s fabulous Aquarium (AQWA). Both were wonderful evenings.
Between these two launches, my sister, Karen and I went on a road trip/writers tour of Esperance and the Goldfields region where I enjoyed meeting students at Esperance SHS, Esperance Anglican Community School and Kalgoorlie’s John Paul College.
The second half of the year is when things get busy for children’s authors and 2016 was no exception. The excitement began with Albany Library and Penguin Random House helping to organise a Shark Caller Haiku Competition. The entries were delightful and I met with the winners to enjoy a milkshake meeting.
Then it was Bookweek. Thank you Iona, Newman, Mel Maria, PLC, Southlands Albany and Brighton Primary. As well as Rio Tinto for organising a full day trip to Paraburdoo …
Then in October (and November) it was time to celebrate Fremantle Press’s 40th birthday. What a fabulous milestone for an independent publisher!
In October I also enjoyed an amazing week in Bunbury and Busselton as part of The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers’ Programme facilitated by one of the Centre’s motivating Education Officers, Beck Blaxell. Each year the TYWP programme reaches hundreds of budding creators, giving them unique opportunities to develop their skills. It was a pleasure to work with these highly committed high school students.
One 2016 regret was having to cancel sessions at Bremer Bay Primary due to urgent family illness. Thankfully my Mum is now okay and I hope to visit Bremer early 2017.
So that was my 2016. Thank you again to all of the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me this year. After the adventures above, my 2017 resolution was going to be to slow down and enjoy each moment… however with some exciting events coming up, this might be a challenge!
More about that in the next post. In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy New Year!