Category Archives: historical fiction

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Anzac Stories

A post featuring Light Horse Boy and three other horse-themed Anzac titles can be found on my website Animals who Talk. I hope you enjoy it.

Teaching notes and links for my WWI ‘Light’ series can be found here.

 

 

 

Speech Pathology Awards

This morning The Dog with Seven Names won the Best Book for Language Development in the 8 to 10 category of the Speech Pathology Awards. What a week! I’m thrilled to win this prestigious award. Little dog’s fictitious tail is wagging. 

Today I’m presenting at the wonderful Celebrate Reading Conference in Fremantle, so I’m unable to be in Melbourne to accept. Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House has stepped in again to accept on my behalf. Thank you Lisa.

The Speech Pathology Awards support literacy development and celebrate richness in language. Winning is a great honour for me. Here is my acceptance speech with some background of how the story came to be. 

Harry award pic

Thank you for this great honour. I wish I could be with you at the awards ceremony today however I have a prior commitment, presenting at the Celebrate Reading Conference in Fremantle, WA. Thank you, Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House for representing me and accepting the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award on my behalf.

My heartfelt thanks to the organisers, judges, sponsors and supporters of the Speech Pathology Awards. I am thrilled to win the Best Book for Language Development in the 8 to 10 Years category, especially with such prestigious fellow shortlistees. The Speech Pathology Awards are greatly valued by children’s authors as they celebrate all that is significant and precious in children’s literature. I love the way the judging criteria is broken into seven book elements and each element is then subdivided into four or more sub-points (35 in total). This level of detailed reading and seeing of books is professionally delightful.

When I read the judging guidelines, I was humbled that the judges felt that my Dog with Seven Names met such thoughtful and considered criteria. In particular I loved that they felt Dog represents diverse Australia, creates a sense of wonder, mystery and excitement, has universal appeal, tells a good tale and leads to conversation during the reading and long after the book has finished. I’m not sure which of those two latter elements I was most excited by.

As a regional author living five hours drive from what is said to be one of the most isolated cities in the world, it’s wonderfully reaffirming that a story set in wartime in an even more regional area of north-western Australia, told from the point of view of a dog, can win. Although I am far away, please imagine me at this moment sharing the good news with my peers at The Literature Centre. We will raise a glass to you all and later when I am home in Albany, my rescue dog, Harry, will receive an enormous bone. Writing anthropomorphically was not easy and watching the way he interprets our world often inspired my writing. Thanks Harry!

The Dog with Seven Names was one of two PhD Creative Works. The other work, The Shark Caller is told from a very different anthropomorphic viewpoint. Thank you to the University of Western Australia for scholarship funding. Thanks also to my agent, Clive Newman, my patient family and the team at Penguin Random House. Special accolades to Publisher, Zoe Walton and Editor, Mary Verney for their wise editing.

To research this story I travelled to remote parts of Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions. I wanted to visit Port Hedland, Marble Bar and the harsh bushland beyond Australia’s hottest town. I went in search of the secret WW2 airfield at Corunna Downs and imagined Liberators lumbering north on bombing raids in 1943.

I timed my research trip to coincide with Broome’s extreme low tide, one of the few times each year when the wrecks of wartime flying boats are visible in the mudflats. I stopped to remember the countless women and children who died there and in a beautiful moment of synchronicity, met the daughter of one of the Dutch pilots. Karen Hasselo’s dad was 99 and living in Melbourne. She’d made the trip to photograph the wreck of his plane. I focused on sounds and smells, trying to imagine these settings from a dog’s perspective and I also thought about the child evacuees who fled their northern homes for safety in Perth and Geraldton.

The Dog with Seven Names explores a little known aspect of Australian history. I am grateful that winning this important award will help bring diverse voices from the past to the attention of contemporary readers. Writing can be a solitary and sometimes frustrating occupation. Days like this make it all worthwhile. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

 

 

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

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.

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.

lhmen

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 …

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.

‘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.

 

Horrie the War Dog

Like my fictitious WWII story about The Dog with Seven Names, Horrie was a beloved and very special war dog, so special that two books have been written about him. The first, Horrie the Wog Dog by Ion Idriess was published in 1945. A subsequent book, Horrie the War Dog (2013) written by Roland Perry, explores aspects of Horrie’s story which were raised by Anthony Hill’s research and book Animal Heroes. Each title adds to the mystery and controversy surrounding this beloved WWII mascot.

Horrie was an Egyptian terrier, adopted by Private Jim Moody and the men of the First Australian Machine Gun Battalion. He is credited with saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. When Horrie heard enemy aircraft he barked, giving men time to run for the trenches before their camp was strafed. Horrie was smuggled on board a troopship bound for Australia, that much is agreed. The next chapter in Horrie’s life is steeped in controversy.

One account reports Horrie being destroyed by quarantine officers, another claims an elaborate ruse was carried out with Horrie being substituted by a pound dog on death row. Two weeks ago I was in Corryong (where there are said to be many Horrie lookalikes) and visited a beautiful statue dedicated to this enigmatic mascot. The statue was unveiled during the 2016 Anzac Day service and shows Horrie in an alert pose on a kerosene tin in Egypt. He looks happy.

Besides reading the books dedicated to this little terrier, there are interesting accounts from the AWM here, on a site dedicated to Ion Idriess here and ‘The Australian’ here. Aspects of the varying reports can be compared here. I like to think Horrie survived. What do you think happened to him?


If you’d like to read more about the adventures of a dog in WWII, I’ve written a book called The Dog With Seven Names.

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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.

World War One 1914-1918 resource list – NEW

Thanks for this comprehensive list 🙂

Just in time for Remembrance Day we have compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction reading about World War One. It comprises picture books, some material for middle grade and also resources for high school. It is an excellent starter for a school library collection. We hope you find this useful and as always we welcome suggestions for additions to the lists. World War One Resources

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Yikes, we found more artwork …

Brian Simmonds and I are both spring- cleaning, and we’ve found fifteen more images for the November sale. Anyone who has already contacted me to express interest should have received an email with these images by now. Please advise if you haven’t.

Free pick-up delivery is possible for Albany and Perth.

Large concept sketches for In the Lamplight $100

Large Concept sketches for Lighthouse Girl $100.

November Artwork Sale

‘Light’ series illustrator, Brian Simmonds is offering original artwork for sale at half price throughout November. Large charcoal sketches which appear in the books will sell for around $250-$350 instead of approx $700. There are also preliminary roughs for sale at bargain prices. The images appear below. If you would like more information about a particular image please email me via the contact link on my website or Facebook message and I will send a full price list. These photos were taken on my phone and so apologies for the quality – the originals are gorgeous. Artworks are in Albany but could be brought to Perth. I am removing images as they are sold…

Original illustrations from In the Lamplight $350

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End of Year Writing time :-)

The school year is winding up. Library, school and conference visits are mostly completed, and even in Albany the days are warming. It’s now the season for intensive writing time at my desk.

First up, I’ve returned to a long ago YA novel called Shadows Walking. I began this story in 2002 (I know). Shadows Walking is set in wartime Papua New Guinea and current time California/Australia. I’ve had to mega-edit the latter! The book was optioned for publication long ago but that lapsed and by then I was busy with Lighthouse Girl and then the others in the ‘Light’ series as well as PhD research and linked novels …

IMG_2589Re-reading the old manuscript has been interesting, wondering whether it’s worth putting in the months of effort needed to tighten and reshape the story. I’ve decided yes, and so far I’ve removed some characters, lowered the age of my central character as well as done some serious slash and burn editing. The good news is that I can see that I’ve improved in my craft over the past fifteen years.

Since 2002, when I walked the Kokoda Track to research this story, another Kokoda linked title has been published. Photographs in the Mud (2005) shares similar themes to Shadows Walking and in some ways is a crystallisation of the longer novel, but only in some ways. Returning to the novel is timely; this year I’ve been honoured by people approaching me at conferences and schools to say how much they enjoy Photographs in the Mud. It was my first picture book (not one for young children) and I’m grateful that in these days of books going out of print so quickly, Fremantle Press have kept this one. Hurrah for them. Another fun part of returning to Shadows Walking is revisiting photos from the trek. Here is a collage. I look so much younger.

I’m hoping to complete my through-edit soon. Then I have a list of other projects I’d like to start, none of which involve war!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress …

 

School Holidays = Reading :-)

Students and teachers aren’t the only ones taking a break this week…  School holidays are a great time for authors to catch up on reading (and writing). Here are some books that I’ve been enjoying this week.

Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean’s The Happiness Box is historical fiction at its best. The story gives deep insight into our shared history with Japan and Singapore in a way that’s accessible for young readers and despite the wartime backdrop of Changi, the tale is uplifting. With it’s interesting endnotes The Happiness Box will be a valuable reference for teachers.

The cover of Frané Lessac’s Under the Southern Cross is beautiful and I smile every time I see that cheerful dolphin popping it’s snout out to smile at Banjo the dog. Children will love searching for Banjo on each page, exploring fun facts and looking for different constellations. This book is joyful and it also has wonderful endnotes.

Cristy Burne’s Off the Track is a super-fun holiday read. Hurrah for books that celebrate ’embracing the great outdoors’ without mobile phones! This is a story for anyone, but I especially loved the WA references to Bibbulman Track markers, snottygobble and so on …

And my current ‘age-appropriate adult read’ is Laline Paull’s The Bees which was recommended by my friend Venetia because she knows I love anthropomorphic stories. The Bees is told from the point of view of a bee, which was strange at first, but once I adjusted to this unusual perspective, I’m loving it. Who knew that drones could be so badly behaved and how rigidly in-hive hierarchies are maintained. This is one of the oddest books I’ve read but it’s strangely compelling. Has anyone else come across it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll post again once I’ve dipped further into the ‘want-to-read’ pile by the bedside.

Bookweek Month – that’s a wrap.

As Bookweek Month draws to a close, children’s authors and illustrators across Australia will be slowing down before heading back into their creative caves. I’ve had a wonderful Bookmonth travelling from Albany to Broome, from Perth to Sydney, from Canberra to the NSW Central Coast. Massive thanks to the dedicated teachers, librarians and Children’s Book Council of Australia volunteers who organised my visits. You are legends! I’ve met thousands of young readers and seeing that the joy of reading is alive and well enriches my work and inspires me.

Broom

Students from Roebuck Primary

When you live in chilly Albany, being invited to celebrate Bookweek with Broome students, teachers and librarians in July is like winning a children’s author lottery.  During a week of presentations, I spoke with hundreds of students from Years 3 to 10. Broome library staff made a great welcome display and young readers from St Mary’s College, Broome Primary and Roebuck Primary came into the library to ‘Find Story Treasure’ and celebrate the Bookweek theme.

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Charlie D’Antoine and his great-granddaughter Taela

Meeting readers is my favourite part of Bookweek-Month and at Broome Library I had the honour of meeting Taela Tang-wei, the great-granddaughter of a little known World War Two hero. In 1942 Taela’s great-grandfather Charlie D’Antoine showed enormous bravery, risking his life to save a Dutch woman and her child after their flying boat was strafed in Roebuck Bay.Taela of Charlie D'AntoineOn March 3rd, Charlie was helping to refuel one of the many flying boats in the bay when enemy fighters attacked. He swam through burning fuel and wreckage to help the evacuees. Charlie was awarded a medal for bravery by the Dutch government. His actions are included in The Dog with Seven Names and you can find out more about his story here .