Category Archives: anthropomorphism PhD

Research Trip #1: Broome Flying Boat Wrecks

AdiSunriseAfter the busy and delightful madness of Children’s Bookweek (Thank you IONA, Our Lady’s Assumption Primary, Woodvale and Vic Park Libraries), I took a week off from writing to go north. I needed to do more research for one of two novels I’m writing for my PhD. Both are linked to my thesis ‘Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature’ – more about that in a future post…

The story I’m researching is set in Port Hedland and Marble Bar. It links to the WW2 attacks on north-west Australia and my first stop was Broome to see the wrecks of the Dutch flying boats.

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In 1942 hundreds of families fled the Dutch East Indies in the final days before towns fell to the Japanese forces. The evacuees flew south to Broome then onwards to other parts of Australia. Early morning March 3rd, fifteen flying boats were waiting to refuel in Roebuck Bay. They were packed with women and children. A squadron of Japanese Zeroes, on a long range mission from Timor, strafed the boats causing the death of over eighty people. Amidst the horror, there were stories of great courage. At extreme low tide, some of the wrecked planes can still be seen. Exploring them at dawn was poignant and deeply moving.

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Synchronicity is an amazing thing. More and more I believe that some stories are meant to be written. On the mini-bus trip to the hovercraft I sat by a woman, Karen Hasselo. We began chatting and she told her father (99 and in good health) was one of the pilots! Karen had travelled from Melbourne to visit his plane.

Karen Hasselo and Dianne at her father's plane

Karen Hasselo and Dianne at her father’s plane

Research trips are an important way for authors to immerse themselves in the setting of their story. To better imagine how things might feel, sound, smell…  You never really know what treasures will be discovered until after you arrive. Meeting Karen was one of those amazing moments that will give me a deeper understanding of my story.

I also found wonderful information and records at The Broome Historical Museum and Broome Heritage Centre. After a few days in Broome, I travelled south to Port Hedland and Marble Bar. More about that in the next post…  Akaren walks to wreck

‘The Shark Caller’ swims again

After setting aside my ‘Shark’ manuscript for 4 months, I’m now back underwater at last.


I’ve come to learn that letting stories settle is an important part of the writing process. It’s tempting to send away a manuscript after the first few drafts but I’ve found it’s usually better to wait. Not usually as long as this one, however…

I have emails that go back as far as 2006 mentioning this story!

But the good news for my long-suffering family and friends is that I think Shark Caller is getting closer to being publishable. I hope. It’s also one of my two PhD Creative Works so it needs to be completed by September.

The Shark Caller is an underwater fantasy story that I hope readers aged about 10-14 will enjoy. Here are a few beautiful illustrations by Year 3 students at St Mark’s Anglican School. They were created in response to Granny Grommet and Me, but the artwork has helped me shift my focus underwater again and so I wanted to include some here. There are more beautiful drawings but they don’t all fit. Thank you Year 3’s for giving them to me.

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More details on The Shark Caller soon…

Young Reviewers


I love reading reviews by young people. After all they’re the ones my books are mostly for.

Yesterday The West Australian newspaper’s Ed! supplement included five considered and well-written reviews of Light Horse Boy as well as two terrific drawings by readers from Years 5 to 8. It’s great to see teachers and journalists  providing opportunities for young people to view their ideas and opinions in public. I loved reading their thoughts.

young reviwers

Grace from Upper Swan, I’m so glad that your views on historical fiction and World War 1 have changed. Brian is indeed an amazing illustrator. I love his charcoal drawings too.

Emily from Maida Vale, thank you for passing on all those recommendations. Adding the old-fashioned Aussie words was a fun part of the writing process.

Willow also from  Maida Vale, I smiled to hear that your heart was racing, and those sad moments needed to be there, didn’t they?

Zachary from Cannington, you must be very proud of your family and their own sacrifices.

draw2 Alex from Tom Price, your drawing is fabulous. I love that jaunty hat and the angry looking cloud!

Thomas from Nedlands, your drawing is fabulous too. That BOOM certainly captures attention and poor Breaker looks very worried.

Juliette from Forrestdale, Good news! I’ve spent much of the past two years writing a story set in World War 2. And it does link to several true stories. It’s told from the point of view of a dog. Do you like dogs? My last post mentioned the story briefly and there will be more posts about it over the next few months. Stay tuned…

Thank you reviewers for your kind words. There are many other books written by Australian children’s authors that explore different things about World War One. I hope you enjoy seeking them out …

Shaping Things…

If a writer is lucky, there comes a moment, usually after years of work, when the shape of a work-in-progress-novel ‘settles’ – like a jelly or some other wobbly thing. This happened today.

Three weeks ago I was ridiculously excited to reach the magical 25,000 word mark (of approximately 32,000 – 35,000). I powered on to 26k. I almost reached 27,000, but then I needed to revise. To go onwards I often need to go back to the very beginning, slowly reworking scenes (again and again) until I reach and then somehow work through a dead-end.

For many days and nights I’ve added, edited, rearranged words in Parts 1-5 and also spent hours researching Port Hedland circa1942.

The number 27,000 was in my sights so many times, but I had to go back to the beginning and edit to be able to go forward. Then I jumped ahead to the ending and re-wrote the last two parts; effectively bookending the troublesome scenes. I don’t know whether other writers do this, but it’s also what I did in Light Horse Boy. The beginnings and end became honed and more sparkly whilst the dreaded ‘Beersheba’ scene loomed. For those few paragraphs of print, so much research was needed. It was daunting and I didn’t want to get it wrong.

dogAnd that brings me back to where I am now with (drumroll for first public outing of the name)       The Dog with Five Names. The story is told from the point of view of a dog and is one of two Creative Works for my PhD.

Today I reached 27,002 and it feels as if the manuscript is ‘settling’.  I may well be deluded, there is always a good chance of that, and tomorrow I might change my mind about much of today’s work and have to  slash those 2 words. However tonight there will be no more editing 😉





Capel Library Anzac Evening

IMGP9072Last week, Susan Dalgleish and her team at the Shire of Capel Library organised a terrific Anzac event in conjunction with the Capel RSL. It was attended by a wide cross-section of the local population. Planning began last November with the amazing Lesley Jackes at an author event in Albany commemorating the Departure of the 1st AIF (see previous post).

Susan and the Capel Library staff are passionate about history and literacy. They created interesting displays and an inspirational program that began with local group, ‘The Wednesday Girls’ singing songs from the WW1 era to set the mood. Daniel McDonald from the 10th Light Horse arrived in full kit and brought along a life-size horse which was also kitted out with WW1 equipment. It’s always fascinating to see how much gear those strong Walers carried.

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IMGP9125Members of the Capel RSL sub-branch including Vice President Alan Kelly Parker were on hand to answer questions and give introductions. We also heard a fascinating account of April Jenkins’ WW1 archaeological work in Jordan. I was very touched by Light Horse Boy book review readings by Jordi and Fraser Milner and also their mother, Naomi. Thanks guys.

The library boasted an impressive collection of WW1 postcards, books and mementos – many of which I coveted (especially those stirrups) !

Thanks to the library and RSL for a great event, and also for my gifts; a beautiful scarf, book and Anzac biscuits. Thanks to Georgie Carter for her help with book sales (way more than we expected) and to Tracey Doyle for hosting me so well at Capel Primary. Finally a big thank you to students Lily and Bradley for all your help. Meeting you both was a highlight!  Keep reading and writing…


The Importance of Festivals and Retreats

Festivals: Summer in WA (and probably elsewhere) is the time of festivals. Warm evenings and writer gatherings under the stars make for a lovely combination. Perth Writers Festival and its Albany offshoot are both a whirl of inspiration; hearing other authors talk, catching up with friends, exchanging ideas and the nervous energy of presenting sessions. This year was even more exciting for me because of my link to The Giants (see previous posts).

Elaine Forrestal and Cate Sutherland helping me with a presentation at Perth Writers Festival

Elaine Forrestal and Cate Sutherland helping me with a presentation at Perth Writers Festival

After the Perth and Albany festivals, I presented at the All Saints writers Festival with WA peers as well as Jessica Watson, Isobelle Carmody and Felice Arena. It was a great mix of people – large enough to provide plenty of interesting sessions but small enough to be friendly. Staying in the heart of Fremantle at The Esplanade was also inspiring.

Some of the presenters at All Saints 2015

Some of the presenters at All Saints 2015

Before these WA based festivals, I was fortunate to be on the program of the inaugural Book an Adventure Festival on Tasmania’s Bruny Island. Fellow WA creators, Norm Jorgensen and James Foley were the headline act and the festival had a Viking theme tied to their wonderful Last Viking books. There’s something very special about a festival devoted solely to Children’s Literature and the wild beauty (and weather) of Bruny Island made this an exciting few days. A highlight was meeting Tasmanian and east coast authors whose books I’d read, but who I hadn’t met.

Retreats: For me Easter signals the change of season. The air has a different feel and days are shorter. Circadian rhythms shift and after the busy and inspirational summer season of festivals it seems a natural time to retreat.

IMG_1950 I’m fortunate to have access to a beach shack with no Internet or phone range. It’s an ideal place to write and walk and think… So, with a self-inflicted deadline looming, it was time to leave town…

The retreat worked. I was able to think through and implement a major shift in my WW2 ‘dog’ novel, as well as add several thousand words (hurrah) to the manuscript.

I was also deeply inspired by the forest drive to get to our shack. A couple of months after the terrifying Northcliffe fires, the tree regeneration is so beautiful, it’s worth a drive south just for that. Here are some of the images:

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More Retreating: Not long also until my favourite retreat; the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) annual Rottnest Island Retreat. This getaway has inspired rich collaborations between illustrators and authors and is a time to combine the inspiration of a festival (catching up with peers, exchanging ideas, sharing a red wine) with the free time and space needed to create.

Festivals and Retreats – I love them both

700 member book group!

Each year Moss Vale High School runs a wonderful literacy project called Kick Start Reading. With funds from a generous and supportive P & C as well as Federal grant money, the school gives every student and staff member a book. This year English teacher and program facilitator Adelle Morris chose Light Horse Boy. ffEveryone in the school reads the same book making this a huge book group that links the entire school.

Principal, Peter Macbeth, Adelle and other staff members had spent weeks preparing the students. I arrived in Moss Vale on Monday morning for 3 days of workshops and received a rock star welcome.

Day One: My first session was speaking with the Special Needs students. They introduced themselves, shared their work and had so many questions. They made me feel right at home.

Next, a full school assembly with special guests; RSL Vice President Eric Campbell and Rob Berman who wore full Light Horse uniform in honour of his family’s Light Horse connections. The Performing Arts students showcased their talents with a music, drama, dance performance inspired by Light Horse Boy. Their use of plain black clothing, dance and quiet gestures was powerful and I had to pinch myself to stop being teary.

My final Monday session was with articulate Year 11 Extension English students, discussing ‘inspiration’ and many other topics. By the end of Day One I was impressed by how teachers across different subjects had woven aspects of my story into the curriculum.


Day Two: I was in more familiar territory with Year 7 students, sharing my favourite Postcard Writing activity with links to Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. We ran out of time, but the drafts look very promising. Year 9 History students’ focus was ‘Symbols and Commemoration’. There were clear links to Light Horse Boy as there was with the Year 12 Extension history students’ focus of studying research techniques. I was so impressed by the Year 12’s ability to explain their diverse focus study topics, reporting on different aspects of approach. Their teacher James McGill was understandably very proud.

brai braBetween History groups, one of the students showed me his Braille version of Light Horse Boy. That was amazing. Thank you, Harrison.

On Tuesday I was also fortunate to have a sneak peek of the Aboriginal Ed students’ ‘8 ways’ project. Students are compiling artwork and stories based on traditional Gundungarra values into a book. We brainstormed ways to include a central character to link the 8 separate paths and I showed a title from the Wirlomin Noongar Language Project, Mamang. Thank you to the students and teacher Felicity for the signed copy  of their first book. Day Two ended with an informal dinner with teachers, exchanging ‘six degrees of separation’ stories linking to my old Albury High School days…

FullSizeRenderiDay Three: During roll call I joined the excited students poring over Paul Martin’s WW1 treasures. Paul of Australian Military History takes military artefacts to schools, sharing his passion and knowledge with the next generation. Paul has some amazing stuff.   I still can’t believe I held a bugle from Beersheba.

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Day Three: My first school sessions focusing on anthropomorphism. The Year 8 Ag Science students and I explored links to the WW1Walers and mascots taken to war. This was followed by a thought-provoking conversation with some very mature Year 10 girls. We discussed anthropomorphism as a literary technique and other aspects of writing.

Then I worked with primary students from different schools, focusing on the background to Light Horse Boy and partner title Lighthouse Girl. After saying goodbye to my new friends it was into the car and back to Canberra to catch an evening flight home to Western Australia.

I left feeling honoured that Moss Vale High School chose my book as their focus title for 2015.    A highlight for me, besides meeting so many interesting people and being in this historic part of Australia as the autumn leaves were starting to turn, was seeing how the Kick Start program gives every member of a diverse school something in common. Each teacher helped his/her students explore an aspect of Light Horse Boy which linked to their subject area.

The Kick Start Reading project celebrates things in common rather than difference. What a wonderful opportunity for the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you Moss Vale 🙂



Ring in the New…


Happy New Year

After a lovely week with family and beach, it’s time now to get back to my writing…

2014 was an exciting year with the launch of Annie’s Snails, CBCA shortlistings for Granny Grommet and Me and Light Horse Boy, winning the WA Premier’s Award as well as me attending 100 year ANZAC commemorations in Albany and the Cocos Islands. I enjoyed re-visiting favourite schools and had fun discovering kindred spirits at new schools and libraries.

2015 looks like being another busy year with school sessions booked in WA and the eastern states. The build up to ‘The Giants’ in Perth already feels huge and I can’t wait to see how that evolves…

In the meantime, it’s head down and pen up as I focus on writing the second novel for my PhD. The story is called The Dog with Four Names and it’s set in north-west WA during WW2. The first 15,000 words are written with notes and framework in place for the remaining 20,000. The story links to my dissertation (Animal characters as Windows to History in Australian Children’s Literature) and is told from the POV of a small dog. My research revolves around events in 1942.

Writing through an anthropomorphic voice is difficult. Finding the right ‘tone’ for my dog character to be able to express feelings and to be a ‘window to history’ (without sounding silly) has been very challenging. I’ve returned to classic children’s stories such as Black Beauty, Watership Down, Call of the Wild and Charlotte’s Web for inspiration and will post again soon with an update and more details. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the warm weather and are able to walk on a beach or through a park in the milder early mornings and evening.