Category Archives: book launches

‘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.