Category Archives: book launches

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.

 

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 …

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.

 

End of School Holidays Competition

Win a signed copy of Dianne Wolfer’s new book, The Dog with Seven Names.

Poor Harry doesn’t love dressing up, but maybe your dog does …

During WW2, the dog in Dianne’s new story is given seven names; Princess, Dog, Flynn (after the founder of the Flying Doctor Service), Gengi (gold), Florence (after the famous nurse), Pooch and Engel (angel).

Choose one of those names as inspiration to style your own dog and send Dianne a photo. The one Harry likes best will win a signed book (posted to you). Photos will be shared on Dianne’s Blog and/or Dianne Wolfer – Author Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/DianneWolferAuthor/

Please email photos and your dog’s name to dianne@westnet.com.au before July 31st.

‘In the Lamplight’ – UK book launch

Now that I’ve caught my breath after returning from my whirlwind UK book launch and schools tour, I can at last share some of the lovely photos.

The Harefield Library and Harefield History Society both gave generous support, making the UK launch of In the Lamplight a friendly and memorable occasion. Library staff decorated their function room with Australian and British flags symbolising the close connection their town shares with Australia. Lara Marshall, Richard May and their team also provided a beautiful afternoon tea, complete with savouries, delicate cakes and delicious scones, jam and cream. Their kindness made me feel so welcome.

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with Harefield library staff

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With Harefield History Society members. Andy Harris (front left) gave valuable research help.

After a presentation showing pages from the book, with images from Harefield and evocative charcoal illustrations by Brian Simmonds, we shared stories about WWI, the village, now and then, and also the hospital. Then we enjoyed the scrumptious food. I learnt a lot more about the town’s history and made lovely new friends.

Despite the perfect spring sunshine outside, it was a wonderful turnout, made even more special by the arrival of family members, Brooke and Justin, who are working in Peterborough. Linda Evans my very first contact in Harefield also popped in for a chat, despite having another commitment. Thank you to everyone who helped make the celebration so special. I’d encourage any Australian history lovers who are visiting London to add a side trip to Harefield to visit the WWI Anzac cemetery and meet the friendly locals. I’m hoping to return and fingers crossed for another visit in 2019.

 Thanks again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for funding support which made this launch possible.

School visits in the UK

 

I’ve enjoyed a wonderful week of speaking and workshopping at schools across Hillingdon and Greater Manchester, celebrating the launch of In the Lamplight which is set in the UK during WWI. Students were keen to tell me about their favourite books and share personal stories. Some lovely readers like Karl from Harefield and suffragette Alice from Altrincham (pictured above) also love writing stories. And Karl wants to become an author 🙂 I was made welcome at all of the schools; thank you to staff at Harefield Infants School, Harefield Junior School, Harefield Academy, Hermitage Primary, Cedar Park School, St Vincent’s Knutsford, St Vincent’s Altrincham and Loreto Preparatory School.

There were so many highlights. I especially enjoyed talking about Australian/UK WWI links especially those relating to Harefield Hospital. Showing historic photographs that appear in the book was fun and speaking to hundreds of St Vincent’s Altrincham students dressed in costumes for History Day was amazing. Thank you to parent helpers Sharon Dobson and Catherine Collins (and Lucy, Molly and Erin) for introducing me to your fabulous schools. It’s all been wonderful …

And a special bouquet to my friend Clare Valley (originally from the UK) for sharing school/friend/family contacts. For fellow Australian authors planning a book tour, one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from this experience is the importance of connections and word of mouth. UK schools are very security aware, without introductions from Clare I would not have been able to reach as many readers. Clare put hours of her own time into helping me plan and I am very grateful.

And thank you again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for generous funding support.

 

Serendipity & Black Jack’s Mill

black jackThere are many places I could have stayed in Harefield, indeed I originally booked somewhere other than Black Jack’s Mill, but something about the B&B on the canal called me. Imagine my surprise, when today I found out, that after donating their manor house for the use of convalescent soldiers in 1914, the Australian Billyard-Leake family moved into Black Jack’s Mill!

I love serendipity and have enjoyed sharing interesting conversations with other children’s authors about strange coincidences linked to their work. Synchronicity seems especially common to authors who write historical fiction (looking at you Mark Greenwood and Norm Jorgensen). To research In the Lamplight, I thought I’d read all the books about Harefield Hospital in WWI, but discovering this small snippet in Tanya Britton’s, The ANZAC Hospital No. 1 at Harefield and the Australians who died there and elsewhere but who are buried at Harefield 1914-1918 has made my day, and started me thinking about serendipity all over  again. It’s also made me keen to find out more about both the Billyard-Leake’s and Black Jack. So far no one has been able to confirm whether the latter was a horse or a man. Hopefully more details to follow…

 

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #4 – Jimmy the wallaby mascot and a Harefield cockatoo

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Imagine being a wallaby in a small English village during WWI.  Jimmy (sometimes referred to as Jimony) was one of many Australian animals taken to WWI as mascots to cheer the troops and to remind them of home. Jimmy’s story is both strange and sad … Researching this wallaby was time-consuming. There were differing accounts surrounding Jimmy, making it hard to know which lead to follow. I also found historical inconsistencies when I was researching Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. It’s an exciting and frustrating part of writing historical fiction. As time goes by, more primary resources are uncovered, shedding new light on what we know and stories can change.

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Before Jimmy became the mascot of the No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield, he was the mascot of the Australian Third Division. Tanya Britton’s Harefield during the First World War reports that, ‘Jimmy had been presented to one of the volunteer [hospital] workers in October 1916 by the daughter of Sir William Birdwood…’ Meanwhile Mary P. Shepherd’s Heart of Harefield reports that, ‘In October 1916, before setting out for France, men of the Third Division AIF presented a wallaby (a small kangaroo) to one of the volunteer workers, the daughter of General Sir William Birdwood …’ The difference between the two is slight but important; was Nancy Birdwood entrusted with Jimmy’s care or did she present him to someone? It’s an intriguing detail which is still on my list of things to discover.

Nancy’s story is also fascinating. She was the eldest daughter of General Birdwood, the man who commanded the Australian troops for much of the war. She volunteered at Harefield Hospital, fell in love with a Western Australian airman and ended up migrating home with him. But that’s another story …

 

Back to Jimmy. It seems that Harefield’s wallaby mascot regularly strayed from the hospital, roaming/hopping around the village, bringing smiles to the faces of patients, nurses and villagers. However this freedom also led to Jimmy’s untimely passing. Harefield’s beloved wallaby was remembered as, ‘the most peaceable and tame of any animal of that kind …’.

Reports surrounding Jimmy’s death varied greatly. To try and unearth the truth, I travelled to the Australian War Memorial Research Centre in Canberra and trawled through 100 year old copies of Harefield Park Boomerang, the hospital’s magazine. My patience was rewarded with the article extract on p.57. Rose’s diary account on p. 56 is based on this primary resource. This also cleared up any confusion regarding his name.

Jimmy wasn’t the only Australian mascot at Harefield. There was also a cockatoo which had been brought from the trenches of Gallipoli. The bird had the unnerving habit of imitating the sound of a Turkish shell blast. This wasn’t good for the shell-shock patients.

One of the things that fascinated me as I wrote Light Horse Boy was the variety of WWI mascots; there were dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys, roosters, kangaroos, wallabies and even one poor koala named Teddy. They seemed to bring a smile to the faces of the soldiers. When I visited the Gallipoli Peninsula I was amazed to find similar WWI images in Turkish museums. The old photographs showed Turks playing with their small animal mascots in just the same ways. Soldiers have been taking animals to war since our earliest stories. Sadly for the Australian veterans, the animals were not allowed to return, but then again, there are the stories of warhorse Sandy and canine Horrie …

Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for their generous funding support.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #3 – The Harefield Flag and Anzac Quilt

So many stories came to light during three years+ of research. Each one worthy of its own book. The Anzac Flag and Harefield Quilt are two objects that captured the patriotic mood of the time. Both keepsakes survive one hundred years later; one in Harefield and the other in South Australia.

The Anzac Flag: Last week, I wrote about Headmaster Jeffrey running into a classroom to pull down a Union Jack to drape over Private Wake’s bare coffin. As the war continued more patients died and the flag was used many times to cover soldiers’ caskets on their final journeys from hospital to graveyard.

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Photo: Andy Harris & Harefield History Society

Patients’ funeral cortèges passed down Harefield’s main street with villagers, patients and nurses in attendance. After the war ended, the Union Jack which had covered soldiers’ coffins was presented to the hospital’s last commanding officer. Lieutenant Colonel Yeatman was tasked with giving the flag to an Australian school and asking them to send their own flag in return. Adelaide High School was selected in recognition of the generous relief parcels which students sent to Harefield during the war years. Adelaide High School has treasured the Harefield Flag for over one hundred years, hanging it in a prominent position until it became too fragile to display. The flag has recently undergone extensive restorative work to preserve this symbol of friendship between communities.

The Harefield Quilt: was created in 1917 as a fund-raising exercise. It was made by volunteers of the British Red Cross Society. The idea with fund-raising quilts was that you donate a sixpence, write your name on a large cloth, ready to be embroidered.  In the case of the Harefield Quilt, twenty small squares containing signatures surround a central square. The central patch shows the Red Cross emblem, the Advance Australia ensign as well as motifs of the 29th Battalion and 31st Battalion of the Eighth Brigade.

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Photo: Andy Harris/Harefield History Society

Descendants of Mrs Helena Gough who opened tearooms in her home in High Street presented the quilt to St Mary’s Church for safekeeping in 1972. Each April the quilt is displayed on Anzac Day in remembrance of the soldiers who died in Harefield. In 2015 a centenary quilt was commissioned. It hangs in the Harefield Hospital.

Next Wednesday’s post will focus on Jimmy the wallaby mascot and the Harefield cockatoo. Thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for funding support.

‘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.

 

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…

International Shark Week – Reef Adventures

Happy International Shark Week!

I’m fortunate to be celebrating the occasion on a Pacific island, taking a week’s break before August; a month of Festival/Library/School visits and Bookshop events (more details next post).

Snorkelling here everyday reminds me how observing the busy minutiae of life on a coral reef inspired my novel The Shark Caller. So much is happening on even the smallest reef. Tiny fish, bright coloured, striped, spotted and plain, dart under rocks, hide in anemone or between coral scaffolding, while larger fish chase them or snuffle through sand or chew coral. Meanwhile the slower sea slugs and starfish make interesting patterns in the sand.

snorkelling trimmed

The island we are visiting is a sanctuary for turtles and sea snakes. Swimming with the former is a bucket-list delight. I’m trying to get used to the latter. Overcoming fear of strange creatures is something Izzy needed to do in Shark Caller to complete her quest. Like Izzy, I often find that adventure involves duality, it’s one of the themes that interested me during the long writing process of this book. The Shark Caller plot explores twin bonds and aspects of our shadow sides. It’s about light/darkness as well seeing degrees of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ within characters (and ourselves). And as I snorkel, I still wonder why creatures like octopus and sea snakes spook me whilst I seek out other (also strange) creatures like turtles.

The lagoon here seems too shallow for sharks (certainly no mako…), however yesterday I did see another creature from the story. From the vantage point of the jetty at low tide, I watched three different octopus, none as scary as Pyrena thank goodness although one was largish… I find octopus exquisitely creepy as they writhe across the sea floor uncurling their arms then suddenly jetting away when they’re disturbed. They’re intelligent and noble in their own weird way, but I prefer to have space between us.

Swimming above gaps under rocky overhangs reminds me of another aspect of the story, imagined passages to ocean vents and otherworldly creatures. I don’t think this lagoon hides underwater tunnels, but I guess you never know!

When I began writing this blog I found a long ago shark post which I forgot to publish. I drafted it soon after the release of The Shark Caller, as the first reviews began to arrive – always an exciting moment when they’re positive. I smiled when I read the opening line of the very first review by Joy Lawn in Books +Publishing:

The Shark Caller breaks new ground in junior YA fiction.

And was honoured to receive the following praise from living legend Hazel Edwards OAM (author of the famed Hippo on Roof books) in Goodreads:

This is the best book for the 10-12 ish age group that I have read this year. Highly commended for adults too. And it’s a pleasure to savour the language. 

Author Heather Waugh‘s comment was rather octopus-like:it lured me in and held me. It’s been a while since I’ve read magic realism, and I sank back into it like a comfy couch.’

But my favourite review came from primary student Lila, who says:

Dad, Mum and I have just finished your book Shark Caller and we all loved it. Mum and Dad loved it so much they had to read it after I went to bed, and Dad couldn’t put it down so he accidentally stayed up ’til 1:30am reading it! My favourite part was reaching Sephone after escaping Pyrena and onwards. For me the most tense part was in the Cavern with Pyrena and escaping her. I also loved the words especially solwara, puripuri and tumbuna.

Happy Shark Week everyone, may you also find clear waters in which to celebrate with some friendly marine creatures.

 

Nanna’s Button Tin – first peek

This afternoon something special arrived in the mail. After publication delays beyond my control, I’m so excited to at last hold my new picture book, Nanna’s Button Tin. Heather Potter’s illustrations are beautiful and every time I read the story I find lovely details in her artwork. The release date with Walker Books is June 1st but here is a first sneak peek…

The story was inspired by memories of playing with my mum’s and grandmothers’ button tins. I loved tipping their tins upside down, sorting shapes and colours and looking for my favourite buttons. Some buttons held special memories; a favourite party dress or a bear-shaped button from a cardigan. The book is dedicated to every Nanna with a button tin.

First Review:

I couldn’t have hoped for a better first review than the one published in the current issue of Books+Publishing by esteemed publisher, academic, author (and more) Margaret Hamilton AM. She writes: …The heart-warming story is sensitively told in simple and expressive language. The reader is invited to join this loving family to experience the special relationship between a small girl and her nanna and to relive treasured family memories, all through the special buttons in nanna’s jar…  Stories about family togetherness are very important in the life of a child. They reinforce family experiences and loving relationships, and when they are as warmly portrayed as those in this book, they become keepsakes.

Thank you Heather, Editor Mary Verney and the rest of the team at Walker Books.

 

 

Ring out the old…

a 2016 has been a whirl, with so many highlights, as well as the challenge of balancing study, writing and work commitments.

With just a few tweaks left to finalise my PhD research (Crafting Animal Characters in Children’s Literature), I look forward to working on several new projects over summer and launching a new book in 2017, but first I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me in 2016. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The inaugural 7 Rooms 7 Stories Writers Festival in Busselton was fabulous and I’m thrilled to have been invited back in 2017. Boasting a sparkly new name ‘Between the Lines’ this festival is sponsored by Dymocks Busselton and will be held in March at Mary MacKillop College.
  • A few weeks after 7 stories, and further south, I enjoyed mixing with local creators and interstate visitors at Great Southern Grammar’s Literature Festival.
  • Meeting readers during school visits and returning to  IMG_7022schools I’ve previously visited is especially rewarding. In the first half of the year that included St Stephen’s, St Mark’s and Lakeside SHS (Perth) as  well as St Josephs College in Albany…
  • Travelling to Wickham in the Pilbara, celebrating Granny Grommet and Me being part of Better Beginnings Recommended Reads for 4s & 5s was fun.
  • So was revisiting NSW’s Riverina. Thank you Albury and Lavington Libraries for organising school visits last May.
  • Each Winter brings the excitement and anticipation of the SCBWI WA Rottnest Retreat. This year was as fabulous as ever, spending time reading, writing and workshopping with friends as well as being inspired by visiting legends Erica Wagner and Craig Smith. Thanks to the SCBWI organisers…
  • July brought the long-anticipated launch of The Shark Caller, a YA novel that was ‘in-production’ for about ten years. Some books take longer than others! To celebrate there were two launches; one at the Albany Surf Club and the other at Perth’s fabulous Aquarium (AQWA). Both were wonderful evenings.

 

  • Between these two launches, my sister, Karen and I went on a road trip/writers tour of Esperance and the Goldfields region where I enjoyed meeting students at Esperance SHS, Esperance Anglican Community School and Kalgoorlie’s John Paul College.

The second half of the year is when things get busy for children’s authors and 2016 winners & r up2was no exception. The excitement began with Albany Library and Penguin Random House helping to organise a Shark Caller Haiku Competition. The entries were delightful and I met with the winners to enjoy a milkshake meeting.

  • Then it was Bookweek. Thank you Iona, Newman, Mel Maria, PLC, Southlands Albany and Brighton Primary. As well as Rio Tinto for organising a full day trip to Paraburdoo …
  • In September I was honoured to join Maria Gill, Aleesah Darlison and Neridah McMullin on a panel session at the Australia/NZ SCBWI Conference in Sydney and a follow-up event at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft with my panel buddies as well as Hazel Edwards , Penny Morrison, Emma Allen and John Heffernan. Thank you to the amazing Susanne Gervay for organising these events and the lovely Deb Abela for offering me her spare room 🙂
  • bookshopBeing in Sydney also gave me the opportunity to spend the day with Penguin Random House publicist, Zoe Bechara visiting local bookshops to talk about The Shark Caller.
  • After flying back to WA, it was into the car and straight on to Toodyay for a session at the Avon Valley Writers Festival.
  • Then in October (and November) it was time to celebrate Fremantle Press’s 40th birthday. What a fabulous milestone for an independent publisher!
  • In October I also enjoyed an amazing week in Bunbury and Busselton as part of The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers’ Programme facilitated by one of the Centre’s motivating Education Officers, Beck Blaxell. Each year the TYWP programme reaches hundreds of budding creators, giving them unique opportunities to develop their skills. It was a pleasure to work with these highly committed high school students.
  • One 2016 regret was having to cancel sessions at Bremer Bay Primary due to urgent family illness. Thankfully my Mum is now okay and I hope to visit Bremer early 2017.

light horse girlSo that was my 2016. Thank you again to all of the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me this year. After the adventures above, my 2017 resolution was going to be to slow down and enjoy each moment…  however with some exciting events coming up, this might be a challenge!

More about that in the next post. In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

 

 

Shark Launch #2: Perth

AQWA, the Aquarium of Western Australia was the perfect venue for The Shark Caller Perth launch. Friends and colleagues gathered by the front door and were met by a snorkel-wearing shark and a glass of bubbles. Then we moved downstairs into the tunnel…

The tank at AQWA is huge with sharks, turtles and other exciting marine creatures. I am grateful to the AQWA team for their generosity, Beaufort Street Books, my agent Clive Newman and Professor Shaun Collin for his fascinating speech linking aspects of my new book with his leading edge research into shark sensory systems. I was thrilled that several other shark researchers were also able to attend; Lucille Chapuis, Kara Yopak and Caroline Kerr. Lucille has spent time in villages near the (fictitious) PNG setting in my story and I look forward to hearing more about her research.

Now that The Shark Caller has been launched twice, I am looking forward to sharing the story and writing process with students during Bookweek. Meanwhile the Albany Public Library has been running an ocean-themed haiku competition to tie-in with the Albany launch and winners will be announced next week. More details about that soon …

Friends appearing in the photographs above: Professor Shaun Collin, Jen Mars, Kris Williams, Meg McKinlay, Jen Banyard, Frane’ Lessac, Maree Whiteley, Mailee Clarke, Sasha Burbridge, Sophie Wolfer, Anni Wood and Melinda Tognini.

Shark Launch #1 Albany:

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The countdown to Launch #1 began with my sister flying in from the east. The Shark Caller is dedicated to three people and Karen is one of them. And last week, Karen surprised me with the most amazing gift; a shark carved from obsidian. If you read the book you will understand why this is such a precious gift. Over the past few years I’ve trawled the Internet for obsidian and never came close to finding anything like this.

For many children’s authors and illustrators, August is the busiest time of the year with Bookweek school and library visits spilling over into the rest of the month. For me, 2016 is busier than usual with two book launches to celebrate the release of The Shark Caller with Penguin Random House and a mini book tour of Esperance and Kalgoorlie.

Launch 1 was held at the Albany Surf Club, supported by Albany Public Library and Paperbark Merchants. It was a wonderful evening and here are some photos of the event.

 

 

A shoal of Sharks

… or a shiver of sharks. Or just a school of sharks.

Either way, my first box load of The Shark Caller arrived today. After so many years and hundreds of drafts, it’s become a book.

shark cover

It’s not actually on bookshop shelves yet, but has officially reached the ‘pre-order’ status, so that shouldn’t be too far away. So exciting…

 

World Oceans Day

good one

Happy World Oceans Day.

I had hoped to be celebrating with a walk at beautiful Middleton Beach in Albany, but given the wintry weather, have made do with a brisk walk at the harbour instead.

For the past three years as I’ve reworked drafts of nearly-published, The Shark Caller (Aug 1st), my mind has been focused on underwater creatures and the challenges threatening our oceans. Since completing the final draft in January, the situation has become even more dire for our Great Barrier Reef and here in WA, we hear heated community discussions over sharks and keeping swimmers safe. Sadly there are no easy answers.

I love swimming, diving, snorkelling and walking along the beach, and hope future generations will also be able to enjoy these simple pleasures in an ocean free of pollution and acidity.

The Shark Caller has been one of those stories that’s had a very long gestation, with the first idea, sparked by wonder at the beauty of marine life on a reef in Papua New Guinea. Despite our various inventions and deep-sea explorations, for me the ocean still holds that sense of wonder, mystery and adventure, qualities evident in some of the old classics like Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea or Jules Verne’s fabulous, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I never finished Moby Dick  but with whale season just starting, maybe I should give that one another go.

And there are so many fun ocean stories for children. My favourites include: Kylie Howarth’s Fish Jam, a jazzy picture book for young and old which is currently CBCA shortlisted; Bruce Whatley’s Looking for Crabs and Naomi Kojima’s quirky Singing Shijimi Clams (might be hard to find the latter). Karen Blair’s illustrations for Granny Grommet and Me also always make me smile! face3

For music lovers who like ocean themes, Simone Keane’s latest album, The Breath of the Ocean  donates proceeds to Sea Shepherd, and for me, one of Simone’s earlier songs, Life’s Ocean conjures lovely memories of Fay Catherine Howe (it was played at the Albany launch of Lighthouse Girl accompanied by historic photos of Breaksea Island)

There are so many ways to enjoy Ocean Day. I hope you find one…