Category Archives: historical fiction

Summer Reading #1

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Last week (on Dianne Wolfer – Author) I posted a photo of my first batch of summer reads. I’m making good progress and have already finished Kate Constable’s New Guinea Moon which I very much enjoyed. The story has satisfying and unexpected twists. It’s marketed at a YA audience but like so many teen novels is just as enjoyable for adults. I’m drawn to books with PNG settings; three of my own works unfold there (The Shark Caller is set in the New Ireland Province and Photographs in the Mud is set along the Kokoda Track in 1942). The backdrop for New Guinea Moon is in the Highlands, pre-independence, a time when things are changing for both Nationals and expat Australians. Kate grew up in PNG and her use of local language and culture rings true.

My next read was fun. I have several ideas bubbling for emerging readers and so have been reading titles from the hugely successful I Can Read! series. Think Berenstain Bears, Fancy Nancy and Flat StanleyDanny and the Dinosaur – Too Tall is a great example of a concise book with exciting characters and a compelling, exciting plot. How on earth does Syd Hoff weave this magic in 32 pages? Stories with depth that appear ‘simple’ are hard to create – editing, shaping, editing …

 Michael Morpungo’s books make me cry. They are so good. I love animal characters and Morpungo is a Master of creating stories with powerful links between animals and humans and thought-provoking moments in history. After re-reading his poignant and lovely I Believe in Unicorns, I’ve been visiting Michael Morpungo’s website. I knew he was a prolific writer and I loved Shadow (set in Afghanistan), but there are so many others that look enticing. Perhaps I’ll spend summer reading all his animal novels… I’ve also just noticed that this month he’s releasing Lucky Button. After the synchronicity of the War Horse movie being released just before the launch of Light Horse Boy, I’m glad my Nanna’s Button Tin came out in June.

I’ll be posting more Summer reading blogs over the next few months. My Want-to-Read book tower is tall but I always love hearing recommendations …

 

In the Lamplight

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

Rose cover

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

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

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

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

 

Light Horse and Beersheba

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

lighthorse rsl

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

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

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

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

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

Lest we Forget.

 

What’s in a Name?

media2   If it’s a book title, a lot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookweek/Bookmonth – where’s Dianne?

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

GSG pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

black swan publicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaksea Island -photos & aerial maps

Yesterday I was fortunate to return to Breaksea Island, long ago home of ‘lighthouse girl’ Fay Catherine Howe. The weather was perfect. After circling the island, Rainer our pilot landed on the helicopter pad just below the lighthouse.

meg breaksea 124.JPG

We circled the ruins of the original lighthouse then walked down the hill to visit the old cottages. Each time I visit I have a strong sense of Fay in the furthest keeper’s cottage, particularly in one of the front rooms.

Just before this visit there’d been robust discussion, accompanied by some impressive forensic laptop studies of several old photos at the Albany History Collection. We were looking at a photograph of a young woman outside this furthest cottage. I’d always hoped it was Fay, but had been told it was an earlier keeper’s wife, however… it now seems it may actually be Fay. More on that in a later post. The young woman is standing by the cottage steps (below), with two donkeys, dogs and goats.

A highlight of the trip was hiking down the old zigzag donkey track to the jetty. I hadn’t been to the jetty since the original research trip over ten years ago, long before there was the helicopter option. There have been a few changes; with a safety cage around the swinging boat access ladder, but otherwise it all looked similar.

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

meg-breaksea-087

Our allocated island time whizzed past and soon it was time to climb back into the chopper for the short trip back to the mainland. I’m already looking forward to next time.