Category Archives: Books

STEM Stars Website

Attention all emerging scientists…

The team at Wild Dingo Press has been busy creating a wonderful website dedicated to the new Aussie STEM Star series. It’s designed for young readers and adults with information about each book, clips, and interviews with the authors and of course details about the inspirational STEM Stars themselves. Check it out here.

International Literacy Day

Who remembers a favourite teacher or librarian?

Often we don’t realise how important an educator has been in our life until years later. Today is International Literacy Day and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Colleen and her fabulous library team at Bunbury Catholic College. Not only do they create amazing displays that inspire young readers and make visiting authors feel like celebrities… they also support less fortunate students. BCC staff and students recently raised $450 to support Room to Read, an organisation that helps support worldwide reading and literacy. Congratulation Bunbury Catholic College for modeling kindness during this challenging time.

 

 

 

STEM, National Science Week and the Web of Life

When I was little I loved jigsaws. I was good at Maths until Year 5. Then we moved overseas and I missed a few important things, like short division. When we returned I was in high school. My new teacher was a brilliant mathematician but couldn’t fathom my inability to get things the first time (I’d been put in the top maths class). It wasn’t until long after leaving school that I learned there was an actual purpose to memorising algebraic formula, things like sine and cosine were used in the real world!

Biology was way more interesting to me. Who remembers The Web of Life textbook? I loved that book. It was a brick and I carried it one and a half kilometres to and from school for years. The Web of Life was full of interesting charts and images that related to the world around me. I loved the title too.

Image: http://www.amandacurtin.com

Last week was National Science Week and each morning I’d hoped to receive the first ten copies of my new book, Munjed Al Muderis – from refugee to surgical inventor. Today they arrived at last. They look great and so for me, the fun of National Science Week continues …

Munjed’s story is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series, celebrating Australian experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. His work has made Australia a world-leader in osseointegration. Unlike me, Munjed excels in both biology and algebra! Being part of the Aussie STEM Stars series has helped me reassess the importance of STEM subjects (even maths). I’ve loved reading about Georgia Fear Ware‘s fascinating work with reptiles and cane toads as well as learning more about amazing Fiona Wood. I hope readers of all ages will enjoy this terrific new series.

VP Day and Photographs in the Mud

Today is Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorating the end of WWII 75 years ago.

My first picture book, Photographs in the Mud is set in PNG in 1942. It was inspired by an old tree stump and a true story I heard whilst hiking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Photographs in the Mud follows two fictitious soldiers into battle; one Australian and one Japanese. Jack and Hoshi meet in battle on Mission Ridge, the site of ferocious WWII combat. The men slide down the mountain away from the fighting, lying together in a ditch. Away from the horror, they share a moment of common humanity.

In real life, the surviving soldier never forgets the eyes of the other man, and today on VP Day, I’m remembering these two men from opposing armies who found a moment of peace in a jungle far from home.

Photographs in the Mud was inspired by this true story. It was published in 2005 and has been in print continuously for the past 15 years. After Lighthouse Girl, it’s the most ‘clicked on’ title on my website and I’m delighted to still find Photographs in the Mud in school libraries across Australia. This little picture book was shortlisted for several awards and published in Japanese as, “Nimai No Shashin” (Two Photographs). Photographs in the Mud was also used as an international peace reference and became the subject of a paper published by Professor Jim Martin (Sydney Uni) focusing on ‘Genre, ideology and intertextuality’. In 2009, Kokichi Nishimura‘s full life story, The Bone Man of Kokoda was published by Charles Happell.

After all the hard work that goes into the creation of a book, it’s wonderful for an author (and illustrator, Brian Harrison-Lever) when a title stays in print for so long. Thank you Fremantle Press for keeping this story of hope and common humanity alive.

More photographs of my ten-day Kokoda trek and teaching notes can be found here. Lest we Forget.

Reading Stack…

I’ve been reading some great new releases, many featuring animals.

I’m almost finished Dog Boy which I’m loving, and I also loved The Dog Runner. Virginia Woolf’s Flush has long been on my list so that might be my next dog choice. In the meantime, there’s a new post over at my other website, Animals Who Talk about Laura Jean McKay’s latest book, The Animals in that Country. It’s an amazing and thought-provoking read, set in Australia, about communicating with animals during a pandemic!

After Dog Boy, and before Flush, I think I’ll be setting off in a new direction (another pandemic but no animals) with Daniel Defoe’s, A Journal of the Plague Year, set in 1665. Back to the future.

What are you reading at the moment?

Historical Fiction

Who doesn’t love learning about the past through a great story?

Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, so it was a pleasure to chat with award-winning Elaine Forrestal and learn about her latest book as part of the  Fremantle Press podcast series.  You can hear the show here (the audio levels improve as it goes).

Elaine’s Goldfields Girl explores the amazing and true story of Clara Saunders, one of two women on the Coolgardie Goldfields during the 1890s. There are many parallels between Clara and Fay Catherine Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter who signaled to departing soldiers in 1914. Both were strong, resilient young women who faced daily challenges simply to find food and fresh water to drink. Fictitious Rose (In the Lamplight) was also a brave teenager, having to overcome her shyness to develop nursing skills and help wounded Australians in her English village.

Elaine and I are similar in our approach to writing; we’re attracted to the same kind of characters and both love weaving historical mini-stories into our fiction. Things like Paddy Hannan‘s gold nugget gift to Clara, Jimmy the Wallaby and the Harefield Flag. In this podcast we talk about different ways we research, from scanning microfiche, travelling to remote settings, finding lost diaries and sleuthing animal mascots to visions of Elaine haunting the Battye Library We also share writing tips for other writers who are passionate about historical fiction.

Thank you to Fremantle Press and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund for creating this wonderful podcast series. Follow the link for more conversations.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with talented poet and writer, Rebecca Higgie.

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.

 

Generosity

After the horror and devastation of the bush fires human kindness emerges. From lemonade stands to celebrity donations, people across Australia and the world are opening their hearts, homes and wallets. Thinking about the lost lives, habitat and wildlife is overwhelming so for now I’m trying to focus on kindness and ways to help.

One inspirational campaign is the twitter auction #AuthorsForFireys. Started by authors Emily Gale and Nova Weetman the auction ends at 11 pm tonight EST. The opportunities being offered are wide-reaching. You can buy original artworks, signed books, have an author name a human or even wombat character after you (Jackie French), bid for an author visit to your school or book group, have authors cook for you … All funds raised go directly to an Australian state fire service.

My donation is a stack of signed books and a cake/coffee meeting or postage. I joined Twitter to take part and so am still learning how it all works. Thanks to the current top bidder Peter Williams with a generous $250. Thank you also to Melinda Tognini, Heather Delfs, Louise Brooks, Julie Woodland, Felix from website designers Social Force, Audrey Davidson and Tamara Moss for kicking off the bids. More details: https://twitter.com/diannewolfer/status/1214347769713790977 or the website is here. Please dig deep to help our fire fighters.

Animals who Talk

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my new website www.animalswhotalk.com. A website dedicated to all things anthropomorphic.

For several months Zoe and Felix from Social Force have been patiently helping me the shape the website and the accompanying Wolfish Blog. I love the final look of the site and look forward to adding more information over summer. My regular blog posts will look at ways authors and illustrators use animal characters in fiction. I’ll be sharing background to my own works, listing favourite animal titles and providing links to interesting articles and discussions about anthropomorphism.

For teachers, there will be links to themes, topics and animal species which you may find useful when programming. For book-lovers I hope you’ll find your next favourite animal story. You can also Join the Pack to receive regular posts and I’d love to hear from you. Who are your favourite animal characters? Do you love Bottersnikes? What is your daemon?

During the next few weeks clips of authors and illustrators will appear on the Instagram carousel. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on how animals inspire their creativity. The first clip will be up soon. Enjoy!

The word count is growing …

Summer = Writing Time.

Like many people at this time of the year I am planning a road trip. However this road trip is a fictitious one. The novel that I’m working on revolves around the twelve year old daughter of a truck driver and a special summer journey she takes with her dad. Their travels so far have taken them from Benalla in Victoria to Frankston, Sale, the Ninety Mile Beach and Eden. I hope to visit these locations after this first read-through draft is completed. In the meantime I’m learning a lot about trucks and it’s exciting to see the word count of this project growing. Thanks to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for 13 weeks of funded creative writing time.

Writing Time

For an author writing time is a precious gift and I’m grateful to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for providing me with 13 weeks of funded creative writing time via a Creative Development grant. This means that the manuscript I’ve been trying to write between doing other day-job-work will actually be written!

The project is for middle-grade readers with a probable final word length of around 30,000 words. I have characters in place, chapters roughed out and it’s exciting to see the story coming to life as I start joining the dots. My aim is to complete a read-through draft ready to submit to publishers by mid-February. I’ll be posting four progress blogs between now and then sharing details of my writing journey, how the characters are unfolding and updates on the elusive word count. The latter goes up and down as I edit. The working title of my story is Scout and the Big Rig. More details in another post soon …

Librarian Superheroes

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

with Colleen Edwards

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

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

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

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

Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for an epic day. xx

with Pippa and Natalia

World Octopus Day & Entangled Ideas

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

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

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

Greens Pool, WA

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

Returning to Port Hedland

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

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

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

Purple Poppies for the Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies beside their red ones on Anzac Day?

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prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

The best of times, the worst of times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘In the Lamplight’ ED! serialisation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Corryong Light Horse men and mascots

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

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photo: Stephen Learmonth

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

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