Librarian Superheroes

Librarians are superheroes. All year they inspire a love of reading and research by making their libraries dynamic and exciting places to visit. Then in Children’s Bookweek they shift into Overdrive. My visit to Bunbury Catholic College today took things a step further …

with Colleen Edwards

The students have been studying Lighthouse Girl as well as partner titles, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. So library staff, Colleen Edwards, Sharon Castelli and Sue Connelly made a lighthouse, as you do 🙂 As well as three book-themed story nooks, one for each ‘light’ title. Visiting the BCC library  was like stepping into a professionally curated WWI museum with my books as the focus. It was fabulous. I felt so honoured.

Colleen, Sharon, Sue and other BCC teachers have helped students weave English and History studies, creating beautiful displays as well as carefully researched journals and poster. I loved the way they used books as a springboard to deeper research on topics such as the Purple Poppy and wartime sport.

There was an In the Lamplight nook, a Lighthouse Girl nook and a Light Horse Boy nook.

The students were inspired by the ‘above and beyond’ staff creativity. They had great questions, were curious about all kinds of issues associated with WWI and had a deep understanding of wartime Australia and beyond. When I thought things could not possible get better the sessions ended with two students presenting me with a lighthouse, the prototype of the larger one. There are chocolates hidden inside and it even flashes!

Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for an epic day. xx

with Pippa and Natalia

World Octopus Day & Entangled Ideas

There is alchemy in the business of writing. Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. Divine inspiration, shells on a beach, talk-back radio … Sometimes I can pinpoint a moment, more often a story grows from linked moments of wonder or interest.  As ideas come together and bubble, a manuscript grows, and sometimes, with luck, this mash turns into a book. Some moments that sparked The Shark Caller involved diving on reefs in PNG’s New Britain area as well as snorkeling in Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and WA’s Greens Pool.

Greens Pool was especially significant as it became (in my mind) the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’.

In the opening scene of The Shark Caller a teenage boy dies in mysterious circumstances at Abalone Cove. A blue-ringed octopus is involved. I once saw a blue-ring in Greens Pool; just a surprised flash before it turned sandy brown and crept away. Greens Pool is a magical place to swim. When I lived in Denmark my regular loop involved a long lap, from a rock that sometimes hid a wobbegong to the far end where a Gloomy Octopus lived under a large rock. Her garden of shells gave away the entrance. These shark and octopus encounters swirled around in my imagination, along with the evocative rocks that guard Greens Pool. I added PNG diving experiences,  environmental worries and my own sense of communities being linked by oceans. This all gave me a strong sense of setting to draw on during the long writing process.

Greens Pool, WA

If you’d like to read more about The Shark Caller, here is a post from last World Octopus Day.

Returning to Port Hedland

Last week I returned to Port Hedland, the first time since 2015 when I was researching The Dog with Seven Names. After a breakfast presentation with the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Camilo Blanco and I visited DOME café, the refurbished hospital where my fictitious dog lived in 1942.

The first time I visited this site, the hospital building was fenced off and in disrepair. Travelling back in 2015, the most I’d hoped for was to be able to take photographs through the wire fencing. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at dusk to find lights blazing in a newly renovated building. I went inside, ordered a coffee and walked along the verandahs, imagining the scene in World War Two when dozens of burnt patients were evacuated from Broome after the strafing of Dutch flying boats. It’s just one of the passages in my novel which was enriched by being able to walk through the old hospital rather than view it through holes in a fence. Thanks DOME, I love your policy of keeping our heritage alive by restoring historic buildings.

Cafe’ manager, Hannah shared interesting renovation details and even mentioned a ‘presence’ felt by some visitors (perhaps there’s another story there). Thanks to the Town of Port Hedland, Librarian, Gill Westera and Port Hedland SHS for inviting me to Port Hedland to share The Dog with Seven Names. I look forward to visiting again in 2020 when I’ll also travel to other book settings such as Marble Bar. In the meantime, you may like to follow these links to see photos from previous research trips to Broome and Port Hedland.

Researching WW1 Veterans

Last year the Year 5 and 6 students and teachers at Corryong College spent months researching and gathering information about 57 Light Horse men from their town and the surrounding district. The result is a professionally bound and just released book, Light Horseman of the Upper Murray.

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The book is a valuable reference and I was honoured to learn that this project was inspired by a class reading of Light Horse Boy.

Researching family histories and community members who served in wartime is a great way to foster students’ interest in history. Teachers Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally invited their local RSL and historical society to be involved and also enlisted the support of Dr Honor Auchinleck (granddaughter of General Sir Harry) Chauvel). During a visit to Corryong I was impressed by the knowledge and research skills of these young students and you can read more about this visit here.

I wonder whether any other schools have created similar collections? If anyone knows of one I’d love to hear about it …

Purple Poppies for the Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies beside their red ones on Anzac 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 some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  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.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

The best of times, the worst of times

I feel as if I’ve been channelling Charles Dickens lately and was going to write this post last week, but my fractured foot and shoulder cause more tiredness than expected.

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …’

Four weeks ago, just before the Perth Writers Week, I slipped while walking Harry the dog on Albany’s Mount Clarence. It was an uneven trail, not hard bushwalking, however my right foot curled under and my left shoulder smashed into a tree. It hurt.

7am is peak dog-walking time but no one came by. I set Harry free and to his credit he resisted the urge to find bandicoots and stayed by my side. Good dog. I’d left my mobile phone at home and hubby was in Perth, so I balanced on a stick and hobbled half a km until kind neighbours found me and took me to hospital.

X-rays showed a complex lisfranc fracture . I had to abandon my Perth Writers Week sessions to spend the weekend with my foot raised waiting for surgery. The operation was scheduled for 26th February, the day the 2019 CBCA Notable Books are announced. Two of my books were eligible; In the Lamplight and The Dog with Seven Names.

I came out of surgery in a druggy haze to learn that not one, but both books had been listed. That certainly helped take my mind of the foot! The next morning, still feeling groggy I checked my emails and saw something about news being embargoed? After a fuzzy reread, I learnt that The Dog with Seven Names had just been shortlisted for the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards . It was listed with five other titles in the Patricia Wrightson category. The best of times, the worst of times … 

Fast forward three weeks, post op. My two weeks of immobile ‘toes above nose’ resting is complete and I’m now able to move about with a little mobility scooter. Still no weight-bearing for three more weeks, however I’m allowed to shower sans boot, which is a highlight of each day. I’ve had to rearrange work commitments but nine weeks after the accident at the end of April, I’ll be flying to Sydney for the NSW Awards announcements – winner not known until the night. I’ll then fly on to Launceston for a CBCA Tasmania organised mini speaking tour.

Thank you to those who’ve sent get well wishes and helped in practical ways (dog walking/meals). I’m trawling back through messages but can only be at my desk for short periods. If I’ve missed an email from you or been slow to reply, this is the reason why. x

‘In the Lamplight’ ED! serialisation

I love creative interpretations of my stories, from those first collaborative peeks at an illustrator’s artwork, all the way through to stage and street theatre adaptations.

My ‘Light’ series has inspired all kinds of reworking. Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy were inspiration for a Black Swan Theatre stage adaptation in Perth/Albany which then toured regional WA. Lighthouse Girl also inspired the Little Girl Giant’s story in the PIAF street theatre, The Giants (type Giants into my blog search for photos), the song, Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Caddy Cooper, another song, Message of Hope performed at the WA Massed Choir Festival, and many less formal school productions.

One of my favourite collaborative adaptations began today with the first instalment of an abridged version of In the Lamplight in the West Australian’s ED! supplement.

The ED! supplement is a fabulous supporter of WA authors and illustrators. Both Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy have been serialised and I loved seeing students poring over class newspaper sets, reading about Fay, Charlie, Jim and other characters.

Once again the ED! designers have created a beautiful two-page spread and today I was excited to read that next week will feature details of the suffragette movement as a tie-in. I hope readers across WA will enjoy the serialisation as much as me.

 

The Spirit of Silver Brumby Lives on

Before meeting Dr Honor Auchinleck in Corryong last November, I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors, Elyne Mitchell and the granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel (WWI Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps). Daunting?

Perhaps, but as you can see from the photos (my mother Audrey Davidson is the middle person), Honor is down to earth and fun. She’s also passionate about promoting the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards. These awards encourage writers to explore different aspects of regional life in Australia (with urban dwellers also encouraged to share their dreams of rural life). There is also a photo-story category.

In October I will have the great honour of speaking at the awards ceremony in beautiful Mitta Mitta, Victoria. The awards are now open for submission. Entries can be sent from now until August. Good luck!

 

Wishing friends and readers a safe and peaceful festive season

Thank you teachers, librarians, booksellers, readers and the teams at Fremantle Press, Penguin Random House, Black Swan Theatre, the Literature Centre and CBCA for your support throughout 2018. It’s certainly been an eventful year, with the publication of two new books, In the Lamplight and The Dog with Seven Names, a UK launch and book tour, Candlewick’s US release of Nanna’s Button Tin, school visits across WA and NSW, and the regional WA tour of Black Swan Theatre’s wonderful adaptation The Lighthouse Girl.

Other 2018 highlights include ASA mentoring the super talented Amelia Mellor, speaking at the National ALEA/AATE Conference, Write Around the Murray and the CBCA NSW Kids Bookweek event. I love being part of the friendly and inclusive children’s literature community. Special thanks to the SCBWI West team for all that you do to support creative spirits.

2019 looks like being another exciting year. More about that in a few weeks. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying a quiet family Christmas at home, with plenty of beach-time, reading and the odd glass of bubbles. I’m also happily writing something new. Stay safe and thank you for helping to make 2018 a good year.

 

Stereo Stories – Living in the 70’s

During this year’s Write Around the Murray festival in Albury, I attended a fabulous music/words performance project called Stereo Stories. I was so inspired by the concept and shared memories, that on the plane home next day, I wrote a song-memory of my own. You can find it here on the Stereo Stories site. And here is the fabulous Skyhooks record cover that inspired my story. The Skyhooks website says this debut album sold 300,000 copies. Does it bring back memories for anyone else?

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Horrie the War Dog

Like my fictitious WWII story about The Dog with Seven Names, Horrie was a beloved and very special war dog, so special that two books have been written about him. The first, Horrie the Wog Dog by Ion Idriess was published in 1945. A subsequent book, Horrie the War Dog (2013) written by Roland Perry, explores aspects of Horrie’s story which were raised by Anthony Hill’s research and book Animal Heroes. Each title adds to the mystery and controversy surrounding this beloved WWII mascot.

Horrie was an Egyptian terrier, adopted by Private Jim Moody and the men of the First Australian Machine Gun Battalion. He is credited with saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. When Horrie heard enemy aircraft he barked, giving men time to run for the trenches before their camp was strafed. Horrie was smuggled on board a troopship bound for Australia, that much is agreed. The next chapter in Horrie’s life is steeped in controversy.

One account reports Horrie being destroyed by quarantine officers, another claims an elaborate ruse was carried out with Horrie being substituted by a pound dog on death row. Two weeks ago I was in Corryong (where there are said to be many Horrie lookalikes) and visited a beautiful statue dedicated to this enigmatic mascot. The statue was unveiled during the 2016 Anzac Day service and shows Horrie in an alert pose on a kerosene tin in Egypt. He looks happy.

Besides reading the books dedicated to this little terrier, there are interesting accounts from the AWM here, on a site dedicated to Ion Idriess here and ‘The Australian’ here. Aspects of the varying reports can be compared here. I like to think Horrie survived. What do you think happened to him?


If you’d like to read more about the adventures of a dog in WWII, I’ve written a book called The Dog With Seven Names.

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Corryong Light Horse men and mascots

Corryong and the Upper Murray region is renowned for courageous and skilful horse riders. A statue in the main street honours Banjo Patterson’s ‘Man from Snowy River’, the grave of Jack Riley (claimed to be the legendary ‘man’) lies on a hill above the town and a bush festival is held each April. Last week I was fortunate to visit Corryong College and meet the Year 5 and 6 students who have been studying Light Horse Boy and researching the WWI light horse men with links to their town.

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photo: Stephen Learmonth

Each student has researched one of 57 WWI soldiers from the Corryong region and this research has been compiled into an historical publication ‘Light Horsemen of the Upper Murray’. The book is a valuable reference with evocative photographs and fascinating personal details which bring history to life. Through the process, some families have rediscovered previously forgotten connections with great great uncles and grandfathers. The project has been led by teacher and military enthusiast Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally. I was honoured to be welcomed into Corryong College to share details of my own research and to compare stories linked to WWI soldiers, their faithful Walers and other animal mascots.  More about the latter mascots in my next post…

The visit came about after I received a letter from Dr Honor Auchinleck, daughter of Elyne Mitchell (The Silver Brumby) and granddaughter of General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel. In this letter, Honor described the children’s project and sent kind feedback regarding Light Horse Boy. After my presentation, and Honor’s commemorative address to the students, we enjoyed lunch at a local café. More also about that and the Elyne Mitchell Writing Award in a following post. In the meantime, thank you, Stephen, Honor, staff and Year 5/6 students. It was wonderful meeting you.

World War One 1914-1918 resource list – NEW

Thanks for this comprehensive list 🙂

Just in time for Remembrance Day we have compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction reading about World War One. It comprises picture books, some material for middle grade and also resources for high school. It is an excellent starter for a school library collection. We hope you find this useful and as always we welcome suggestions for additions to the lists. World War One Resources

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Yikes, we found more artwork …

Brian Simmonds and I are both spring- cleaning, and we’ve found fifteen more images for the November sale. Anyone who has already contacted me to express interest should have received an email with these images by now. Please advise if you haven’t.

Free pick-up delivery is possible for Albany and Perth.

Large concept sketches for In the Lamplight $100

Large Concept sketches for Lighthouse Girl $100.

November Artwork Sale

‘Light’ series illustrator, Brian Simmonds is offering original artwork for sale at half price throughout November. Large charcoal sketches which appear in the books will sell for around $250-$350 instead of approx $700. There are also preliminary roughs for sale at bargain prices. The images appear below. If you would like more information about a particular image please email me via the contact link on my website or Facebook message and I will send a full price list. These photos were taken on my phone and so apologies for the quality – the originals are gorgeous. Artworks are in Albany but could be brought to Perth. I am removing images as they are sold…

Original illustrations from In the Lamplight $350

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The Shark Caller – students’ artwork

What a wonderful thing  it is to receive artwork inspired by one of my books.

Kelby Murray is a Year 5 teacher at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar who has been reading The Shark Caller with her Year 5 class. Some of her students created beautiful drawings, inspired by different scenes in the novel.

Molly drew the villagers having a discussion and also the evocative scene later in the story where Izzy summons her courage to swim back to the boat. This is exactly how I imagined the boat would look from below. Grace drew Izzy diving through the cave. In the larger original, you can notice finer details and see how Izzy’s toe webbing is growing back, what clever crafting …

The writing process can be solitary and it’s lovely to see how readers imagine these scenes. Thank you Kelby, Grace and Molly for sending your artwork. Your pictures make me smile every time I look at them.

End of Year Writing time :-)

The school year is winding up. Library, school and conference visits are mostly completed, and even in Albany the days are warming. It’s now the season for intensive writing time at my desk.

First up, I’ve returned to a long ago YA novel called Shadows Walking. I began this story in 2002 (I know). Shadows Walking is set in wartime Papua New Guinea and current time California/Australia. I’ve had to mega-edit the latter! The book was optioned for publication long ago but that lapsed and by then I was busy with Lighthouse Girl and then the others in the ‘Light’ series as well as PhD research and linked novels …

IMG_2589Re-reading the old manuscript has been interesting, wondering whether it’s worth putting in the months of effort needed to tighten and reshape the story. I’ve decided yes, and so far I’ve removed some characters, lowered the age of my central character as well as done some serious slash and burn editing. The good news is that I can see that I’ve improved in my craft over the past fifteen years.

Since 2002, when I walked the Kokoda Track to research this story, another Kokoda linked title has been published. Photographs in the Mud (2005) shares similar themes to Shadows Walking and in some ways is a crystallisation of the longer novel, but only in some ways. Returning to the novel is timely; this year I’ve been honoured by people approaching me at conferences and schools to say how much they enjoy Photographs in the Mud. It was my first picture book (not one for young children) and I’m grateful that in these days of books going out of print so quickly, Fremantle Press have kept this one. Hurrah for them. Another fun part of returning to Shadows Walking is revisiting photos from the trek. Here is a collage. I look so much younger.

I’m hoping to complete my through-edit soon. Then I have a list of other projects I’d like to start, none of which involve war!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress …

 

School Holidays = Reading :-)

Students and teachers aren’t the only ones taking a break this week…  School holidays are a great time for authors to catch up on reading (and writing). Here are some books that I’ve been enjoying this week.

Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean’s The Happiness Box is historical fiction at its best. The story gives deep insight into our shared history with Japan and Singapore in a way that’s accessible for young readers and despite the wartime backdrop of Changi, the tale is uplifting. With it’s interesting endnotes The Happiness Box will be a valuable reference for teachers.

The cover of Frané Lessac’s Under the Southern Cross is beautiful and I smile every time I see that cheerful dolphin popping it’s snout out to smile at Banjo the dog. Children will love searching for Banjo on each page, exploring fun facts and looking for different constellations. This book is joyful and it also has wonderful endnotes.

Cristy Burne’s Off the Track is a super-fun holiday read. Hurrah for books that celebrate ’embracing the great outdoors’ without mobile phones! This is a story for anyone, but I especially loved the WA references to Bibbulman Track markers, snottygobble and so on …

And my current ‘age-appropriate adult read’ is Laline Paull’s The Bees which was recommended by my friend Venetia because she knows I love anthropomorphic stories. The Bees is told from the point of view of a bee, which was strange at first, but once I adjusted to this unusual perspective, I’m loving it. Who knew that drones could be so badly behaved and how rigidly in-hive hierarchies are maintained. This is one of the oddest books I’ve read but it’s strangely compelling. Has anyone else come across it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll post again once I’ve dipped further into the ‘want-to-read’ pile by the bedside.

Bookweek Month – that’s a wrap.

As Bookweek Month draws to a close, children’s authors and illustrators across Australia will be slowing down before heading back into their creative caves. I’ve had a wonderful Bookmonth travelling from Albany to Broome, from Perth to Sydney, from Canberra to the NSW Central Coast. Massive thanks to the dedicated teachers, librarians and Children’s Book Council of Australia volunteers who organised my visits. You are legends! I’ve met thousands of young readers and seeing that the joy of reading is alive and well enriches my work and inspires me.

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Students from Roebuck Primary

When you live in chilly Albany, being invited to celebrate Bookweek with Broome students, teachers and librarians in July is like winning a children’s author lottery.  During a week of presentations, I spoke with hundreds of students from Years 3 to 10. Broome library staff made a great welcome display and young readers from St Mary’s College, Broome Primary and Roebuck Primary came into the library to ‘Find Story Treasure’ and celebrate the Bookweek theme.

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