Shining Light

Today we farewell Don Watson, the son of Lighthouse Girl, Fay.

Don will be sadly missed. He and his family have been part of my ‘Light series’ writing journey from the beginning and we have shared many wonderful moments since.

In 2005, after reading a newspaper article written by Ron Crittall about WWI troops gathering in Albany in 1914, I became curious about Fay Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter. A paragraph in the article mentioned Fay relaying final messages for the soldiers, then later receiving postcards from them thanking her. They were addressed to, ‘The little girl on Breaksea Island’.

I wanted to find out more. The article mentioned ‘Perth man, Don Watson’ so I began searching phone listings. After several wary replies to my question, ‘Are you related to a Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper?’, eventually I found the right D. Watson. Don and his lovely wife, Peg, invited me to lunch and so began our friendship and shared Lighthouse Girl journey.

Although the WWI postcards have been lost to history, Fay’s son, Don, remembered reading those beautiful embroidered postcards as a child and was able to tell me about the messages. Since then we have seen Fay become a giant.

And her story has also been adapted for stage, commemorated in song, gifted to a Prime Minister, inspired a TV documentary and two US podcasts, as well as countless library displays, school shows and Book Week costumes.

Research for Lighthouse Girl then led to linked titles; Light Horse Boy, In the Lamplight and soon to be published (March 2022) The Last Light Horse. More information about Fay and these events can be found in previous blog posts: Fay’s Life, Book to Play, Giants, More Giants, even more Giants and the very last Giants.

Fay’s son was a generous, family-oriented man who volunteered with many organisations. Knowing Don and his extended family has been a great honour. May he now rest in peace with Fay and all those long ago soldiers.

Wildness

Is it only me who has creature phases in my reading?

A while back it was octopi, before that horses, and now I seem to be in a wolf phase. Perhaps it’s my name …

I’ve just finished a beautiful book, The Wisdom of Wolves, which inspired a blog post over on Animals who Talk. I now have Ahn Do’s Wolf Girl on my kindle and am reading a hard copy of We Are Wolves. What’s going on?

Is anyone else reading about wolves?

Feb 24th: Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside their traditional red ones on Remembrance Day?

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prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring these animals include Anthony Hill’s Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created several picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC. My book Light Horse Boy and Greenwood/Lessac’s Midnight, both follow WWI horses into battle. Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Here is a list of 58 Remembrance Day and Anzac Day picture books, and chapter books, many of which focus on wartime animals.

Lets not forget these brave heroes.

Lock-down Activities

Dear Lockdowners, many authors have free activities, book-trailers, and fun information on their websites, along with teaching notes and downloadables. Earlier this year the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI) compiled a resources page that will keep you busy for hours.

Author, Nadia King‘s lovely Pippa likes to dress up as the flying doctor.

There are activity links on my website for all ages; turn a button on a page into a monster, or rocket or eye of a shark. Draw patterns on snail shells, or make snail cutouts into pop stick puppets. Find out about WW1 nurses and Spanish Influenza, or wartime animal mascots, here or at the Australian War Memorial. Write a postcard home from the war or listen to two podcasts about lighthouse girl, Fay’s life. Check out the great links on this Aussie STEM Stars site. Dress up your dog with seven different names, and send me a photo 😉 Explore anthropomorphism on my Animals Who Talk website or draw someone with a marsupial in their bra!

And there’s more … Earlier this year, the team from CBCA WA created library holiday presentations, and for a limited time, they will all be online. There are eight sessions by WA creatives for different age groups. Here’s mine and here are the short introductions to all eight. I hope you enjoy them and fingers crossed for a short lockdown…

‘Lighthouse Girl’ is featured in a Two-part Podcast

Lighthouse Girl continues her journey into other formats. This time Fay’s story is celebrated in a two-part podcast on Light Hearted, the podcast channel of the United States Lighthouse Society. It was an honour chatting with host Jeremy D’Entremont and lovely that the second podcast features Don Watson, the son of Fay, and his family.

This interview has led me to network with worldwide groups of lighthouse aficionados, all passionate about preserving lighthouse histories and also passionate about sharing fascinating stories about individual keepers. The lights shine on.

New Year Animal Plans

2020 was challenging. Plans to post regularly on my new Animals Who Talk website fell into a heap. But onwards bravely… and now I’m excited to share my 2021 plans.

While this blog space remains for general posts, over on the other site, on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month, I’ll be sharing books that are anthropomorphic or that feature interesting animal characters. 1st Tuesday posts will be for adult books. 3rd Tuesdays for children’s titles.

There is even a new post over there now, with more details. Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2021.

Remembering

This Remembrance Day I’m especially remembering the nurses.

Who would’ve thought four years ago when I was researching the WWI Spanish Influenza pandemic for In the Lamplight that we’d be in the situation we’re now in?

In 1918-1919, nurses risked their lives to care for vulnerable patients. Their dedication was a major inspiration for my writing process. I tried to imagine their stoicism and fear. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population became infected by the Spanish Flu and that over 50 million people died.

Today, around the world, medical staff are again risking their lives, this time to save people suffering from Covid-19. At the time of writing, over 1 million people have died from coronavirus with more than 50 million people infected.

Images from WWI hospitals helped bring my fictitious characters to life. I wonder what future creative responses will be inspired by the current images of healthcare workers in P2 masks, gloves and body gowns.

Lest we forget; not only the brave nurses of the past, but also the selfless dedication of our current medical heroes.

The Dog with Seven Names has a new Adventure

The Dog with Seven Names is now available in Chinese with publisher UTOP – available from: dangdangJD.com , tmall,.

I am so pleased that this translation was able to go ahead during this challenging time, and hope that many new readers will enjoy the story of a small dog in north-western Australia during WWII.

Thank you, Min Zha for your translation. I wish I could speak/read Chinese so that I could enjoy your words! Thank you also Zhuang Yuan for editing and steering little dog on her exciting new adventure. I love the cute cover image (full jacket below) and feel sure that Princess, Elsie, and all the other characters would too.

STEM Stars Website

Attention all emerging scientists…

The team at Wild Dingo Press has been busy creating a wonderful website dedicated to the new Aussie STEM Star series. It’s designed for young readers and adults with information about each book, clips, and interviews with the authors and of course details about the inspirational STEM Stars themselves. Check it out here.

International Literacy Day

Who remembers a favourite teacher or librarian?

Often we don’t realise how important an educator has been in our life until years later. Today is International Literacy Day and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Colleen and her fabulous library team at Bunbury Catholic College. Not only do they create amazing displays that inspire young readers and make visiting authors feel like celebrities… they also support less fortunate students. BCC staff and students recently raised $450 to support Room to Read, an organisation that helps support worldwide reading and literacy. Congratulation Bunbury Catholic College for modeling kindness during this challenging time.

 

 

 

STEM, National Science Week and the Web of Life

When I was little I loved jigsaws. I was good at Maths until Year 5. Then we moved overseas and I missed a few important things, like short division. When we returned I was in high school. My new teacher was a brilliant mathematician but couldn’t fathom my inability to get things the first time (I’d been put in the top maths class). It wasn’t until long after leaving school that I learned there was an actual purpose to memorising algebraic formula, things like sine and cosine were used in the real world!

Biology was way more interesting to me. Who remembers The Web of Life textbook? I loved that book. It was a brick and I carried it one and a half kilometres to and from school for years. The Web of Life was full of interesting charts and images that related to the world around me. I loved the title too.

Image: http://www.amandacurtin.com

Last week was National Science Week and each morning I’d hoped to receive the first ten copies of my new book, Munjed Al Muderis – from refugee to surgical inventor. Today they arrived at last. They look great and so for me, the fun of National Science Week continues …

Munjed’s story is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series, celebrating Australian experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. His work has made Australia a world-leader in osseointegration. Unlike me, Munjed excels in both biology and algebra! Being part of the Aussie STEM Stars series has helped me reassess the importance of STEM subjects (even maths). I’ve loved reading about Georgia Fear Ware‘s fascinating work with reptiles and cane toads as well as learning more about amazing Fiona Wood. I hope readers of all ages will enjoy this terrific new series.

VP Day and Photographs in the Mud

Today is Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorating the end of WWII 75 years ago.

My first picture book, Photographs in the Mud is set in PNG in 1942. It was inspired by an old tree stump and a true story I heard whilst hiking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Photographs in the Mud follows two fictitious soldiers into battle; one Australian and one Japanese. Jack and Hoshi meet in battle on Mission Ridge, the site of ferocious WWII combat. The men slide down the mountain away from the fighting, lying together in a ditch. Away from the horror, they share a moment of common humanity.

In real life, the surviving soldier never forgets the eyes of the other man, and today on VP Day, I’m remembering these two men from opposing armies who found a moment of peace in a jungle far from home.

Photographs in the Mud was inspired by this true story. It was published in 2005 and has been in print continuously for the past 15 years. After Lighthouse Girl, it’s the most ‘clicked on’ title on my website and I’m delighted to still find Photographs in the Mud in school libraries across Australia. This little picture book was shortlisted for several awards and published in Japanese as, “Nimai No Shashin” (Two Photographs). Photographs in the Mud was also used as an international peace reference and became the subject of a paper published by Professor Jim Martin (Sydney Uni) focusing on ‘Genre, ideology and intertextuality’. In 2009, Kokichi Nishimura‘s full life story, The Bone Man of Kokoda was published by Charles Happell.

After all the hard work that goes into the creation of a book, it’s wonderful for an author (and illustrator, Brian Harrison-Lever) when a title stays in print for so long. Thank you Fremantle Press for keeping this story of hope and common humanity alive.

More photographs of my ten-day Kokoda trek and teaching notes can be found here. Lest we Forget.

Reading Stack…

I’ve been reading some great new releases, many featuring animals.

I’m almost finished Dog Boy which I’m loving, and I also loved The Dog Runner. Virginia Woolf’s Flush has long been on my list so that might be my next dog choice. In the meantime, there’s a new post over at my other website, Animals Who Talk about Laura Jean McKay’s latest book, The Animals in that Country. It’s an amazing and thought-provoking read, set in Australia, about communicating with animals during a pandemic!

After Dog Boy, and before Flush, I think I’ll be setting off in a new direction (another pandemic but no animals) with Daniel Defoe’s, A Journal of the Plague Year, set in 1665. Back to the future.

What are you reading at the moment?

Historical Fiction

Who doesn’t love learning about the past through a great story?

Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, so it was a pleasure to chat with award-winning Elaine Forrestal and learn about her latest book as part of the  Fremantle Press podcast series.  You can hear the show here (the audio levels improve as it goes).

Elaine’s Goldfields Girl explores the amazing and true story of Clara Saunders, one of two women on the Coolgardie Goldfields during the 1890s. There are many parallels between Clara and Fay Catherine Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter who signaled to departing soldiers in 1914. Both were strong, resilient young women who faced daily challenges simply to find food and fresh water to drink. Fictitious Rose (In the Lamplight) was also a brave teenager, having to overcome her shyness to develop nursing skills and help wounded Australians in her English village.

Elaine and I are similar in our approach to writing; we’re attracted to the same kind of characters and both love weaving historical mini-stories into our fiction. Things like Paddy Hannan‘s gold nugget gift to Clara, Jimmy the Wallaby and the Harefield Flag. In this podcast we talk about different ways we research, from scanning microfiche, travelling to remote settings, finding lost diaries and sleuthing animal mascots to visions of Elaine haunting the Battye Library We also share writing tips for other writers who are passionate about historical fiction.

Thank you to Fremantle Press and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund for creating this wonderful podcast series. Follow the link for more conversations.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with talented poet and writer, Rebecca Higgie.

World Refugee Day

Refugees bring wisdom, skills and fresh perspectives to our ‘Lucky Country’.

Saturday June 20th is World Refugee Day. For the past eight months I’ve been researching the life of Dr Munjed Al Muderis, the world-renowned surgeon whose fascination for robotics, his dedication and glass-half-full attitude has led Australia to become the world leader for pioneering osseointegration surgery. Munjed Al Muderis – From refugee to surgical inventor will be published by Wild Dingo Press on September 1st 2020. A sneak cover peek is below.

According to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”.

After refusing to mutilate the ears of army deserters in Iraq, Munjed fled for his life with one possession, the medical book Last’s Anatomy. He survived an horrendous voyage in a rickety, overcrowded boat, arrived at Christmas Island and was taken to Curtin Detention Centre in north-western Australia. There he suffered ten months of bullying, false accusations and indignities. But Munjed never gave up. He always wanted to make a difference, to help those less fortunate.

Osseintegration is a revolutionary surgical procedure whereby a metal stem is implanted into the bone of a patient’s remaining limb. The stem then connects to a robotic prosthesis, allowing improved sensory experience, greater movement and less pain. The surgery is life-changing for patients. Munjed’s interest in robotics was sparked long ago when he was a child watching Arnie Schwarzenegger as “The terminator“.

Munjed Al Muderis – From refugee to surgical inventor explores Munjed’s journey to Australia and other life-shaping moments from his early years. This book is the third title in the Aussie STEM Stars series. The first three books will be released together. In Book 1 Cristy Burne explores the life of Fiona Wood AM. In Book 2  Claire Saxby explores the life of Dr Georgia Ward-Fear.

Munjed’s skill and compassion has changed the lives of thousands of people across the world. He’s a powerful advocate for Amnesty International, the Red Cross and asylum seekers. Munjed is the current NSW Australian of the Year and has received many other accolades. This inspirational surgeon and humanitarian is one of many refugees who have enriched Australia. On this World Refugee Day let’s all take a moment to acknowledge these contributions and to remember the importance of kindness.

 

Anzac Stories

A post featuring Light Horse Boy and three other horse-themed Anzac titles can be found on my website Animals who Talk. I hope you enjoy it.

Teaching notes and links for my WWI ‘Light’ series can be found here.

 

 

 

An Alternative to Red Hearts

Still relevant four years later 🙂

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Junior school teachers are probably helping their students make heart cards this week. As I walked past a mass of commercial ‘Made Somewhere Else’ heart stuff that may end up in landfill, I thought that a wonderful alternative present for a loved one, is a book celebrating love, not just romantic love… And that got me thinking about picture books with themes of love. Two favourites came to mind immediately; Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks) and Samsara Dog (Helen Manos & Julie Vivas).

I love both of these books. Both honour selfless love (perhaps that’s the best kind) and loss. Both are also anthropomorphic. I love animal stories too. Animal characters cross gender and racial boundaries. For me, they strip away the ‘trimmings’ and help young readers find the core of a story.

Love. There are so many other wonderful picture books on my shelves celebrating love; in glorious shades…

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Generosity

After the horror and devastation of the bush fires human kindness emerges. From lemonade stands to celebrity donations, people across Australia and the world are opening their hearts, homes and wallets. Thinking about the lost lives, habitat and wildlife is overwhelming so for now I’m trying to focus on kindness and ways to help.

One inspirational campaign is the twitter auction #AuthorsForFireys. Started by authors Emily Gale and Nova Weetman the auction ends at 11 pm tonight EST. The opportunities being offered are wide-reaching. You can buy original artworks, signed books, have an author name a human or even wombat character after you (Jackie French), bid for an author visit to your school or book group, have authors cook for you … All funds raised go directly to an Australian state fire service.

My donation is a stack of signed books and a cake/coffee meeting or postage. I joined Twitter to take part and so am still learning how it all works. Thanks to the current top bidder Peter Williams with a generous $250. Thank you also to Melinda Tognini, Heather Delfs, Louise Brooks, Julie Woodland, Felix from website designers Social Force, Audrey Davidson and Tamara Moss for kicking off the bids. More details: https://twitter.com/diannewolfer/status/1214347769713790977 or the website is here. Please dig deep to help our fire fighters.

Embers

After the horrendous fires are extinguished the ripples will continue. Socials ripples of devastated families and ravaged town, loss of stock and wildlife, financial hardship and deep emotional scars.

Yesterday my sister evacuated from her remote home in the Snowy Mountains. Their property is home to endangered quoll (filmed by the BBC), as well as wombats, echidna and beautiful mountain birds. My heart aches for the dying wildlife, innocent victims of our lack of environmental care. The photos show the home track; on a normal day and earlier this week.

Before leaving they nailed tin sheets over the wooden verandas, left water for the animals and nailed meat from the freezer onto the quoll trees. Further south my cousins and niece are fighting fires, and my daughter returns from holiday to toxic Canberra air. Amongst all this devastation there is another tiny loss, insignificant to anyone but me.

For several months I’ve been working on a novel. I’m two-thirds into a first draft with funding help from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The setting of this story is a road journey through regions now devastated by fire; Gippsland, Eden, Batlow, the lower Snowies … Given the catastrophic fires, horror and sadness my current storyline now seems trivial. I will need to alter the setting or indeed the whole tone of my project. But first we need to get through Saturday. We’re en route to family in Albury. Let’s hope communities across Australia are safe during the next bout of extreme weather. Thank you to our brave firies.

Animals who Talk

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my new website www.animalswhotalk.com. A website dedicated to all things anthropomorphic.

For several months Zoe and Felix from Social Force have been patiently helping me the shape the website and the accompanying Wolfish Blog. I love the final look of the site and look forward to adding more information over summer. My regular blog posts will look at ways authors and illustrators use animal characters in fiction. I’ll be sharing background to my own works, listing favourite animal titles and providing links to interesting articles and discussions about anthropomorphism.

For teachers, there will be links to themes, topics and animal species which you may find useful when programming. For book-lovers I hope you’ll find your next favourite animal story. You can also Join the Pack to receive regular posts and I’d love to hear from you. Who are your favourite animal characters? Do you love Bottersnikes? What is your daemon?

During the next few weeks clips of authors and illustrators will appear on the Instagram carousel. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on how animals inspire their creativity. The first clip will be up soon. Enjoy!