Category Archives: Anzacs

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #2 – Harefield and early inspiration

What were the first seeds of inspiration?

After years of researching and writing, it’s interesting to look back at how a book started. The idea for In the Lamplight began with research for its partner titles, Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. Then around 2012, I heard about the Gilgandra Coo-ee March. After heavy losses at Gallipoli, WWI recruiting drives occurred across Australia (Men from Snowy River, March of the Dungarees). Gilgandra was the first.

In October 1915 two brothers gathered a group of 26 men. They set out from Gilgandra on a march to Sydney (320 miles). By the time they arrived, the number of recruits had grown to 263. One of the brothers, Bill Hitchen (plumber and captain of the Gilgandra rifle club),  died at Harefield in September 1916. Bill’s story inspired me and I was curious to learn more.

Fast forward to 2013 when I accompanied my husband on a trip to Albany’s sister city, Pèronne for Remembrance Day. Before flying home we had a day in London. While Pete walked around Westminster, I caught a train and bus to Harefield village, on the outskirts of London to visit Bill’s grave. A kind local helped me with directions. We began chatting and she walked with me to St Mary’s Anzac Cemetery, the resting place of Bill, 111 of his fellow soldiers and Sister Ruby Dickinson. I found Bill’s grave and then visited the Anzac Wing of Harefield Hospital, learning how in 1914 the Billyard-Leake family (expat Australians) donated their home, Harefield House for recuperating Australian soldiers to use for the duration of the war.

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at the grave of Bill Hitchens (Gilgandra Cooee

The Anzac wing also held photographs; evocative WWI images of recuperating patients and nurses. One photo captured my attention. It was a photograph of a nurse stroking a wallaby mascot. I’ve since found another AWM image of the wallaby, ‘Jimmy’ (sometimes named Jimony) being fed by the same nurse, who I discovered is Nancy Birdwood, daughter of General Birdwood (commander of the Australian Imperial troops). Nancy volunteered at Harefield Hospital and later married a West Australian airmen, but that’s another story…

Some readers know my fascination with WWI animal mascots. This began during the creation of Light Horse Boy and has continued to grow. I suspected that Nancy’s wallaby could be the same fellow that stands proudly to attention in the AWM photograph below (I love this photo). I wanted to find out more about the wallaby’s story and will post more about Jimmy in a future blog.

Harefield House became the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, sometimes treating up to 1000 patients. The first nurses, led by the very capable Matron Ethel Gray, arrived in May 1915. As casualties increased, life in the small village of Harefield changed forever. The village green was filled with homesick soldiers in their distinctive slouch hats. Kind-hearted villagers did all they could to help the young men so far from home. They read to patients, taught them handicrafts and French, took the men for automobile outings and organised concerts and sporting matches.

Deciding which WWI images to include in my book was a challenge. There were so many great photos. My favourites include patients skating around the frozen lake with the support of chairs, Jimmy posing with the brass band, as well as one moving photograph of a one-legged lad playing cricket with laughing nurses fielding. The lad looks so young.

More sombre photographs are also included; of funeral parades and shell-shocked amputees. During WWI over 50,000 Australian soldiers were treated at Harefield Hospital. Towards the end of the war, when Spanish Influenza ravaged Europe, there were deaths most weeks. Strong lads who’d survived months in the trenches, sometimes died within a day from this terrible illness as their lungs filled with fluid.

Harefield villagers lined the streets to honour funeral parades from the hospital to St Mary’s cemetery. The first death was in February 1916. As Private Robert Wake’s coffin passed the Junior School, headmaster Jeffrey ran inside, pulled a flag from the classroom wall and draped it over the bare coffin. This flag was used in subsequent funeral processions and still exists today (more on that next week). Connections between Harefield and Australia remain strong and I’m grateful to Harefield residents for their historical advice; particularly Lorraine Piercy and Andy Harris. Each Anzac Day, local schoolchildren lay flowers against the headstones for the Australians who died in their village.

Lest we forget.

Next week I’ll share two stories linked to In the Lamplight; the Anzac quilt and the Harefield flag. I am grateful for funding support from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #1

With less than a month until publication I’m now on countdown to the launch of In the Lamplight the third and final book in my ‘Light’ series. From today, I’ll be writing a weekly blog post sharing details about my research and writing journey, but first, I’d like to acknowledge the generous support of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. dlgsc-logo-colour-rgb-jpgI’m the very grateful recipient of a Commercial Development funding grant which will allow me time to maximise interest in this new title and also help me try and gain a footprint in the elusive and hard to crack UK market. Wish me well and I hope you’ll follow my blog journey over the next weeks.

I’ll be writing about In the Lamplight‘s links to WWI Harefield (UK) and the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital that grew out of an expat Australian’s English manor house. We’ll meet Jimmy the wonderful wallaby mascot that hopped around Harefield village and some of the soldiers and nurses that served in Harefield during the war. I’ll share the history of the Anzac flag and its links to Adelaide High School. I’m also keen to post photos and information I discovered as part of my research about the suffragette movement, WWI nursing and changing roles of women, as well as after effects of the war and the horrors of the 1918/1919 worldwide Spanish Influenza pandemic (more deaths were attributed to influenza than entire war casualties).

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illustration: Brian Simmonds

Next week my blog focus will be on Harefield, the English village just north of London (and setting of In the Lamplight), its WWI cemetery and ongoing Anzac links…

In the Lamplight

With Remembrance Day this Saturday and the final draft of my new manuscript going to print, it feels timely to share a sneak peek of the cover of this third title in my ‘Light’ series.

Rose cover

In the Lamplight is a companion novel for my historical titles Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. The story follows fictitious Rose through WWI and overlaps with Jim’s Light Horse journey, then links back to Albany’s King George Sound. Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, whose generous support allowed me time to write a first draft. Here is the blurb:

Rose O’Reilly’s sheltered life in the peaceful English village of Harefield takes an unexpected turn with the outbreak of war in 1914. A local manor house becomes a repatriation hospital for wounded Australian soldiers and Rose begins helping out by reading to patients and pushing wheelchairs. 

As the war progresses, and slouch hats fill the village green, Rose’s skills grow and she begins training alongside the Australian nurses. Then a new patient arrives. Sergeant Jim O’Donnell is unable to walk and his eyes are bandaged, but he will change Rose’s life forever.  

In the Lamplight will be published by Fremantle Press in April 2018. I’m currently taking (WA) bookings for school/library visits in the last two weeks of Term 1. Please email me (contact tab) if your school would like an Anzac themed presentation (ASA rates and small travel fee). I’ll also be visiting schools in the eastern states, probably early Term 2. I’ll post again with more details and launch information early in 2018.

 

Light Horse and Beersheba

With the 100 year commemoration of Beersheba it feels timely to share some background to my historical story, Light Horse Boy. I was recently invited to contribute text to the Westbury RSL Light Horse Remembrance. Here is part of that tribute:

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Light Horse Boy was sparked by research for its companion title, Lighthouse Girl.

As I read about the thousands of Walers taken to WWI battlefields and the bonds between the horses and Australian soldiers, I knew I needed to write a second book. My writing journey spanned three years. I became fascinated by the story of Sandy. For me he represented all the Walers; those faithful and brave horses that didn’t come home. As I learnt more about Sandy, the shape of my manuscript changed. I found a reason to shift my fictitious human character, Jim from the troopship Wiltshire to the flagship Orvieto, by making him a farrier, thus allowing Jim to meet Major General Bridges and Sandy, and for their stories to interweave. After four years of battle I then wanted to find a way for Jim and Sandy to reunite, so that I could introduce young readers to Sandy’s story.

I live in Albany, the place where troopships of the 1st and 2nd AIF convoys gathered in late 1914, now home to the National Anzac Centre and the iconic Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, a recast of the original horse and soldier statue erected at Suez in 1932. Each Anzac Day a Dawn Service is held beside this powerful memorial. I’ve often gazed at the evocative statue imagining the stories of Light Horse men and their mounts.

My Light Horse Boy research took me to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Major General Bridges’ grave in Canberra, Maribyrnong, home of the remount centre where Sandy spent his post-war years and the AWM Research Centre. Along the way I learnt the names of faraway battlefields; El Arish, Magdhaba, Romani, Gaza and of course Beersheba.

Crafting an historical novel, for me, involves months of research, then I write (well over a hundred drafts) until a solid read-through version emerges. Then the hard work begins; shaping and editing, trying to cull anything that doesn’t add to the story arc. The final draft is like the tip of an iceberg. Readers will be unaware of the shaping and substance below, but that weighty base is important. The Beersheba scene in my story typifies this. For the spread above, I read several military titles, trying first to fully understand nuances of this extraordinary charge and then to capture the heart of this battle in an engaging way for young readers. Most of all I wanted to ‘get it right’ as a way to honour those who served – both human and animal.

Lest we Forget.

 

What’s in a Name?

media2   If it’s a book title, a lot!

For a year or so, I’ve been struggling with finding the right title for my almost completed manuscript, a companion title for Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. For continuity reasons I wanted the word ‘light’ somewhere in the title. We aren’t meant to judge a book by it’s cover, but research indicates that many of us do.

This story has been on the back-burner since 2011 when I visited the Anzac cemetery in the UK village of Harefield to research another idea (more about that journey in future posts). Ideas bubbled away as I completed other projects and then last year, at last, I was able to give this story dedicated time (thank you Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries). While the manuscript was a work-in-progress I initially referred to it as Quarantine Rose; a shocker of a title which I knew would never be the one. I couldn’t change my central character’s name because Rose is an overlap character with Light Horse Boy. For a while the title shifted to Rose on No Man’s Land, linking the story to a popular WWI song. However Rose works in a hospital not on the battlefield.

As the manuscript took shape I knew I needed a better title. At the annual SCBWI Rottnest retreat, fellow author Norman Jorgensen came up with the evocative Light from a Broken Lantern, however as the story progressed, there was more hope than brokenness. Sorry Norm!

Sometimes the right title appears at the same time as the first story idea. Other titles involve weeks of compiling lists and thesaurus trawling. Lighthouse Girl for a long while was Postcards from Breaksea, or simply Postcards. Then about two years into the four year writing process, the current tile settled. For Light Horse Boy, the final title was always the one.

With my going-to-print deadline quickly approaching, this month I sent out a cry for help. Thank you friends and family, writer group peers, bookgroupies and others who answered my call. You offered so many great suggestions. Even the cheeky suggestions from family were useful, as they sparked other ideas using the words light, shadow and darkness.

Meanwhile Fremantle Press have been market-testing one of the options on our short-list of title choices and I am pleased to finally announce that the title has been decided. The book will be called In the Lamplight. Tentative release date is April 2018. I hope readers will enjoy this new addition to the ‘light’ series. Thanks again to all the wonderful title-hunters for your kind suggestions…

Bookweek/Bookmonth – where’s Dianne?

Each August Australian children’s authors and illustrators pack their bags and shift into overdrive visiting schools and libraries across the country to celebrate CBCA‘s Children’s Bookweek. Sessions began early this year with Great Southern Grammar’s exciting Southern Sea of Words last weekend. I had a lovely time with authors Mark Greenwood, Susannah McFarlane, Norman Jorgensen, Kylie Howarth and Sian Turner presenting workshops to young GSG readers.

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Kylie Howarth, Susannah McFarlane, Norman Jorgensen, Karen Bradbury Mark Greenwood, Me. Photo kind courtesy Jan Nicholls

The fun continues this Friday when I visit IONA Presentation College to meet the Year 7 girls and talk about Lighthouse Girl , one of their annual reading texts. Every year I am impressed by the maturity, wisdom and grace of the IONA girls (and the staff spoil me with lovely food). I’m sure this year will be no exception.

On Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th you’ll then find me at  the 2017 Sunshine Coast Readers and Writers Festival. There’s a great range of presenters. I’m looking forward to sessions focussing on PNG and also the children’s events on Sunday. My talks will focus on crafting animal characters (my PhD research) and my Page to Stage journey; the Black Swan adaptation of Lighthouse Girl/Light Horse Boy as well as the PIAF Giants event.

Then on Monday 14th August I’ll be visiting students at Nambour Christian College and on Wednesday 16th I will be signing books at Berkelouw Bookshop in Eumundi. Then it’s back to Brisbane where I will deliver sessions at Holland Park Library linked to the Anzac Stories Behind the Pages Exhibition. In between I’m looking forward to a catch-up with one of my Qld sisters, Wendy.

Back in Perth and following the announcement of the Bookweek winners on Friday 18th, I’ll be joining SCBWI and CBCA buddies at the CBCA WA dinner. This year it’s dress-up attire and so I’m on the look out for a simple shark costume. Any suggestions welcome!!

Half way through the busy month (phew), and the Anzac Stories Behind the Pages Exhibition comes to Albany and the Great Southern…

This year Bookweek will be spent in Albany, Mt Barker and Gnowangerup. The following week, I’ll be in Broomehill, Tambellup, Pingrup and Denmark. Then Children’s Bookmonth spills into September with visits to Walpole, Cranbrook finishing in lovely Bremer Bay on Wednesday 6th.

August is an exciting and crazy time of the year for me and I’m looking forward to meeting thousands of young readers. This year’s motto Escape to Everywhere feels apt!

From Book to Play – Black Swan Theatre’s adaptation of ‘Lighthouse Girl’ and ‘Light Horse Boy’

I started this blog post a month ago – it’s been busy – and although late, I wanted to share my response to the wonderful Black Swan Theatre adaptation before my next post about Nanna’s Button Tin

On Saturday night (29/4/17) I sat in the darkness of the Albany Entertainment Centre and watched Hellie Turner’s wonderful adaptation of my books Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. I laughed and cried and experienced a lovely shiver each time I heard my own words woven into those of Hellie’s.

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Hellie Turner is an award-winning WA playwright. It was an honour to entrust my stories to her creativity. Hellie says that writing a first draft was ‘a gruelling joy’. Gruelling in that she needed to be immersed into ‘the carnage of war’ and a joy because she was ‘reminded of the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.’  Hellie’s words resonated for me, as writing the books was also like that.

The Perth opening was as exciting as the Albany Premiere, albeit a little more formal, with Her Excellency The Governor and other dignitaries attending. Our seats were closer to the stage and offered an intimate viewpoint as events on stage unfolded.

This is the first time that I’ve watched the same play three times and so it was interesting to experience different audience reactions. Each night there was almost visceral connection between those on stage and those watching. And that connection varied. People laughed and cried at slightly different places. The shared breathing in and out held small differences which was fascinating. As an author you don’t get to witness that intimate connection with a reader.

I loved so many things about the stage adaptation of Lighthouse Girl/Boy; the actors each gave excellent performances, capturing small character nuances helped by effective and lovely costuming (Fay’s large overcoat was perfect) and Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s set was masterful. Her clever design enabled the audience to imagine the one space as a lighthouse-keeper’s cottage, an island outcrop and a pyramid (as well as other things). The design was influenced by Albany’s rocky landscape, the diamond leadlight shapes of the Breaksea Lighthouse while suggestive railings paid ‘homage to the countless dead’. Joe Lui’s evocative lighting added to the mood throughout the play and Brett Smith’s sound/music design was beautiful, particularly the final haunting rendition of The Girl I Left Behind.

Congratulations to Stuart Halusz for directing the talents of these creatives, and others not mentioned specifically, to make this production so special. Stuart was inspired by memorials in small towns across Australia and in particular an artefact found in a small museum in Beechworth near my home-town Albury.

Thank you to BST Publicist Irene Jarzabek for making both Opening Nights so special, my agent Clive Newman and to all at Black Swan Theatre and Fremantle Press who helped bring Lighthouse Girl to the stage. Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Garry Snowden, General Manager of the Albany Entertainment Centre, whose enthusiasm and ongoing belief (over many years) has brought this project to fruition.

Breaksea Island -photos & aerial maps

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.

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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.

 It was great to see Elephant Rock again as that appears in the story.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Ring in the new…

Happy New Year !

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.buttons-proofs

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.black-swan
  • April – May:  Black Swan Theatre’s season of Lighthouse Girl continues 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 …

 

Save the Date

Just a very quick post to share the excitement.

Black Swan Theatre’s production of ‘Lighthouse Girl’ will open in Albany in April for three shows before a two-week season in Perth. Hellie Turner’s play captures the essence of both Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy and I can’t wait to see Fay’s story come to life on stage. Fay will be played by Daisy Coyle.

More details appeared in Saturday’s West Australian – between Green Day and Jerry Seinfield 😉 and can also be found on Black Swan Theatre’s website. Hope to see you at one of the shows…

The Real Fay

Just in time for Anzac Day, I’ve added a new website link giving further details about Lighthouse Girl Fay’s life after she left Breaksea Island. Thank you to Fay’s descendants for ongoing help and support.

Here is another link to a Destination WA interview clip showing more about the island and Fay’s story. Enjoy!

Breaksea House @ GSG

This morning I went to Great Southern Grammar’s Start of Year Assembly to donate copies of my historical novels, Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. The occasion?

black and white photograph of the real Fay Howe

The real Fay, image courtesy of Don Watson

GSG’s new boarding house has been named Breaksea House to honour Fay Catherine Howe, the ‘lighthouse girl’ who signalled to the departing Anzac nurses, troops and horses in 1914.

I was honoured to present signed copies of my books to boarding house student leaders; Emma Taylor and James Gonzales.

LHG cover  LHB cover

GSG has also purchased original artwork by illustrator, Brian Simmonds. The image appears on page 94 of Lighthouse Girl and shows Fay searching the Albany Advertiser for news about the troops in the Middle East. This lovely charcoal illustration will now grace the walls of the new boarding facility. I hope to see it when I visit for an informal book chat.

The full school assembly was a terrific occasion, welcoming the 2016 student leaders who then offered a badge to each Year One student, celebrating their new beginnings.

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Fay’s story continues to touch a chord with readers, particularly those living in WA. I often wonder how Fay would feel to know that so many people remember her…

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Bonnie Doon

bbbWriting is a strange alchemy. Today I was reminded again, that what ends up in the final draft of a book is a mere shadow of so much more.

I’m currently on holiday with my husband in what we in WA call ‘the eastern states’. As someone who grew up on this side of Australia, that term always makes me smile – I feel like I have a foot in both sides of our vast country.

This afternoon Pete and I drove the long way from Melbourne to Albury via the mountains, where many of my relations hail from. In particular, I wanted to visit Bonnie Doon…

When I was writing Light Horse Boy, I needed a town for my fictitious LH Boy to come from. My mother claims that we are linked by marriage to Steve Hart, from the Kelly gang, and many of my relies were stunt men in the movie, The man from Snowy River. Men of the high country are fabulous horse riders and I’m sure that these connections influenced my decision to make fictitious ‘Jim’ and ‘Charlie’ hail from the high country.

Whilst writing Light Horse Boy, I scanned Googlemaps of the places of my ancestors; particularly Mansfield and Bonnie Doon. So, today when we were driving from Melbourne, I wanted to detour via Bonnie Doon to see whether it was as I had imagined and to take some photos. The weather wasn’t great but I took some photos of the lovely WW1 memorial.

When we arrived at Albury, I found Mum’s copy of the book and sat down to reread the Bonnie Doon part.

To my surprise, Bonnie Doon wasn’t there!

Of all my books, the editing of Light Horse Boy was the most extreme. Two thirds of the first draft was chopped because of an overarching plot shift. The final version is better for this, however it was interesting that in my mind, Bonnie Doon, the town that Jim and Charlie galloped away from, the town that was so important in an earlier draft is actually no longer in the story. Instead we jump straight to Mansfield…

dddddIt was also interesting for me to remember that there are so many hidden layers to a story. Shadows of things that have been culled but that somehow still leave a sense of place and memory – at least they do for me as the author. Perhaps those shadows enrich the story, it’s hard to know, but I’m glad we made the detour…

Books for Royal Babies

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Albany received royal visitors on the weekend. My husband, Peter Watson MLA and I were honoured to join The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at the Albany Heritage Park on a very warm spring day. Pete shook the royal hands and was in good company with veterans, Murray Maxton and Harold Martin, as well as his ex-ABC colleague, Freeman of the City Annette Knight. I also spotted an excited ‘Granny Grommet’ who’d arrived early to meet the Prince. And there was more ‘Granny Grommet excitement to follow…

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Albany Children’s Librarian, Dora Adeline was invited to travel to Perth to meet The Duchess of Cornwall with the WA Family Literacy Better Beginnings Team at The State Library. This celebration of early literacy was a perfect opportunity for Dora to present HRH with books by local authors. I was honoured that Dora took a copy of Granny Grommet and Me as well as Gabriel Evans’ new Christmas title The Mice and the Shoemaker.

It was fun inscribing a book to ‘the royal babies and their family’ and I hope Prince George and Princess Charlotte enjoy reading about grannies surfing on the south coast of Western Australia. It may even inspire Their Royal Highnesses to grab a boogie board and head down to Brighton…

Before I heard that Dora would be presenting Granny Grommet and Me, I had already arranged to add copies of Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy to the selection of Albany gifts that would accompany Their Royal Highnesses home. The Royals seemed to enjoy walking through the avenue of first AIF ship names and the view of King George Sound and Breaksea Island was beautiful on Saturday, so perhaps the story of a young girl waving to the departing soldiers, nurses and horses in 1914 will be a fitting memory of their day in Western Australia.

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Thank you to Hamish and Lockie Cameron from Paperbark Merchants for donating a book and to Dora Adeline and The State Library for supporting WA authors.

 

Young Reviewers

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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.

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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 …

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…

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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.

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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 🙂

 

 

Back to Breaksea Island – after 9 years…

aud's choice 020It’s been nine years since I visited Breaksea Island in the very early days of my research for Lighthouse Girl. So much has happened since then…

When I last went out, the only way onto the island was via a swing & breaksea 055ladder, then a hike from the jetty up to the lighthouse and cottages (just like Fay would have done to meet the monthly supply boat). Back in 2006, very little was known about Fay’s early life, but going to the island gave me a strong feeling for how things ‘might’ have been when she signalled to departing troops in 1914. After that first research trip, Lighthouse Girl took another three years to research and write.

Now there is a helicopter service to Breaksea, which makes things much easier! I was excited to go back to Breaksea with the team from Channel 9’s Destination WA to film a segment that will go to air on Sunday 16th April at 5.30pm on WIN and Channel 9 with presenter Tod Johnston.

The Albany weather was at its wild and woolly best. I didn’t think we’d be able to fly, but pilot Rainor of Skyhook Helicopters has nerves of steel. He is an amazing pilot. After multiple flybys of the helipad; which gave us great views of the cottages and lighthouse, Rainor decided it was safer to put us down on a granite slab further down the island.

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The following clip shows how windy it was when we arrived. Forty knots plus.

20150318_153920 We walked up the hill to the lighthouse, battling the wind to explore the ruin of the original lighthouse and the sturdy second lighthouse (now solar powered). After taking lots of photographs, fighting wind and rain to do an interview, we went down the hill to the restored lighthouse keeper’s cottages.

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When I was at Breaksea in 2006 we camped overnight. I slept in a swag in the far room of the far cottage. I’ll probably never know which house Fay and her father lived in, but as I lay there listening to birds squawking in their burrows at night, I had such a strong sense of Fay having a link to the room I slept in. I had the same feeling this time.

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I loved being in the cottage which might have been Fay’s, looking out the windows to views of Bald Head and the wild Southern Ocean, imagining again how her life might have been. Thanks to Keir Tunbridge for the photo of me in that room. kkkkkk - Copy

And also for this one of me and the lighthouse.

 

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IMG_4982Thanks also to the intrepid team from Guru Productions  for organising the trip. I can’t wait to see the complete story on Destination WA.

Inspiring Giants – Final Day

hhThousands packed the city on Sunday morning to see the Giants wake up (approximately 1.4 million people). The Lilliputians received a rousing welcome as they arrived at Langley Park on a double-decker bus.

The program began with a ceremony commemorating the Anzac Centenary. After waking to the sound of a didgeridoo, our large guests watched Don Watson, the son of Fay, Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter, lay a wreath with his son and daughter. w

Wreaths were also laid by Graham Edwards for RSLWA and by Premier Barnett.

My parents were keen to attend the commemoration and were ready to sit on the grass inside the fenced area, but at the last moment my sister found a bench beneath a shady tree; a perfect place to view the passing of the Giants and somewhere for my family and Don Watson’s to meet after the service. Peg and her daughters gave us handcrafted poppies which will be worn proudly on April 25th in Albany, Jindabyne and Albury.;

After lighting the eternal flame and a minute’s silence, horses and riders of 10th Light Horse led the Giants on a final lap of Langley Park. After the kerfuffle of banning horses from marching in Albany last November it was wonderful to see the Light Horse riders in pride of place.

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The Diver’s big footsteps passed so close to us and we had a wonderful view of the Little Giant’s dance. I loved her bilum dilly bag. To make the Giants move, their Lilliputians fling themselves into the air like mediaeval bell ringers. DSC_0234

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DSC_0242After their final walk, Don’s daughter, Denise, my sister and I crowd-surfed trying to get another glimpse of the Giants before they sailed away. With so many people, all we could see was a speck of smoke as the Giants’ barge reached The Narrows.

We farewelled Fay’s descendants and my daughter Sophie, then drove to Fremantle for a swim and coffee. As we crossed the old Freo bridge I happened to glance left. More magic…  a giant-sized barge was docking at East Street Jetty and sitting proudly on top were the Giants, watching a flotilla of small craft and well-wishers sailing beside them.

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The odds of crossing the bridge at that exact time and glancing left must surely be slim. We made a quick turn, stopped and had a perfect final view of the Little Girl and her Diver uncle.       I love synchronicity and there have been many ‘spooky moments’ during the ten years since I first read about Fay signalling to the departing troops. lighthouse rough2-17 The ‘luck’ of seeing the Little Girl Giant one last time, reminds me of Roald Dahl‘s words:      “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

IMG_4893It was an inspiring and overwhelming weekend. A time of chatting with strangers in the street, of celebrating special moments with loved ones from nearby and from afar. A time of a big, brash city sharing a sense of community. The Giants touched the hearts of people of all ages. Thank you to the sponsors and organisers. I was honoured to be part of it.

 

‘Two Giants’ by Eden May.