Category Archives: my process

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.

 

Embers

After the horrendous fires are extinguished the ripples will continue. Socials ripples of devastated families and ravaged town, loss of stock and wildlife, financial hardship and deep emotional scars.

Yesterday my sister evacuated from her remote home in the Snowy Mountains. Their property is home to endangered quoll (filmed by the BBC), as well as wombats, echidna and beautiful mountain birds. My heart aches for the dying wildlife, innocent victims of our lack of environmental care. The photos show the home track; on a normal day and earlier this week.

Before leaving they nailed tin sheets over the wooden verandas, left water for the animals and nailed meat from the freezer onto the quoll trees. Further south my cousins and niece are fighting fires, and my daughter returns from holiday to toxic Canberra air. Amongst all this devastation there is another tiny loss, insignificant to anyone but me.

For several months I’ve been working on a novel. I’m two-thirds into a first draft with funding help from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The setting of this story is a road journey through regions now devastated by fire; Gippsland, Eden, Batlow, the lower Snowies … Given the catastrophic fires, horror and sadness my current storyline now seems trivial. I will need to alter the setting or indeed the whole tone of my project. But first we need to get through Saturday. We’re en route to family in Albury. Let’s hope communities across Australia are safe during the next bout of extreme weather. Thank you to our brave firies.

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 …

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.

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.

 

Stereo Stories – Living in the 70’s

During this year’s Write Around the Murray festival in Albury, I attended a fabulous music/words performance project called Stereo Stories. I was so inspired by the concept and shared memories, that on the plane home next day, I wrote a song-memory of my own. You can find it here on the Stereo Stories site. And here is the fabulous Skyhooks record cover that inspired my story. The Skyhooks website says this debut album sold 300,000 copies. Does it bring back memories for anyone else?

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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.

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 …

 

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.

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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.

Continue reading

End of School Holidays Competition

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

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

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

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

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

AATE/ALEA National Conference (Perth)

Pre-conference events begin tomorrow and I’m super-excited to be joining educators from across Australia and the world to share conversations about the 2018 theme, the Art of English: Language, Literature, Literacy. My hands-on workshop tomorrow will focus on Creating Creative Writers: Teachers as writers, and we’ll see how much we can create in two and a half hours … Then my Monday keynote focuses on my favourite topic of all time, Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature; bring on the sharks, octopi and dog characters!

Looking forward to meeting teachers, librarians and children’s book industry colleagues.

 

 

 

‘In the Lamplight’ – UK book launch

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

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

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with Harefield library staff

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

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

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

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

School visits in the UK

 

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

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

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

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

 

Serendipity & Black Jack’s Mill

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

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

 

International Nurses Day

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Matron Gray with a patient, Photo AWM

12th May, the anniversary of the birthday of Florence Nightingale, is now widely known as International Nurses Day – a time to honour and appreciate nurses. And a perfect time for me to post about the amazing Australian women who travelled across the world to nurse wounded soldiers in Harefield.

On this same day in 1915, four Australian Sisters joined Matron Ethel Gray to begin scrubbing the Harefield manor home donated by the Billyard-Leake family in readiness to receive wounded. Three days later they’d polished floors, acquired linen, organised supplies and dragged mattresses into place. By Sunday 16th May, 80 beds were ready. Two weeks later eight patients arrived. A month later there were 170 patients. Numbers continued to rise and during the war years, around 50,000 soldiers were treated at Harefield House.

As well as nursing, the women tried to boost the men’s spirits by organising concerts, wheelchair races and cricket matches. One of the nurses, Sister Ruby Dickinson died during her service. She was buried with full military honours at Harefield’s Anzac cemetery.  In the Lamplight is the final title in my ‘Light’ series and in this book I’ve focused on the changing roles of women during WWI. The story follows Rose, whose life is changed forever when WWI arrives in her peaceful village. While the suffragettes have put aside their goals for the duration of the war, Rose finds inspiration in the courage and dedication of the cheerful Australian girls, so far from home. She summons her own courage, firstly to read to the patients, and then to begin the challenging journey of becoming a nurse.

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

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Alfred Kemp, playing cricket with nurses at Harefield,  Photo: Andy Harris

24 hours in Karratha

Karratha has an amazing new library and arts space, the Red Earth Arts Precinct and last night The Lighthouse Girl was their first theatre performance. Thank you to the City of Karratha Library (and a special shout out to Helena Mead) for organising my travel, so that I could attend and present a pre-show talk.

I left Albany at dawn, two flights and 2000km later I hit the ground running doing a presentation with the lovely Year 4 students at St Paul’s Primary  , a quick shower and catch-up with Denmark Bookgroup buddy, Helen and then it was off to the new library for my pre-show PowerPoint talk about Lighthouse Girl, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. The library is a stunning, light-filled space and the arts building is an impressive landmark. After my talk there was time for 15 minutes speed-signing then it was show-time.

This is the fourth time I’ve watched Hellie Turner’s beautful adaptation of my books and each time I notice new details. I’m fascinated by the way different audiences engage differently. There was laughter and tears. It felt very strange to feel that my work sparked this evocative production. At the end of the show I was touched to be called onto the stage by Benj D’Addario to share a curtain call bow with the cast. The theatre looked very different from up there…

After a few hours sleep, Helena collected me for an ABC breakfast radio interview with Ewan Gilbert and then another phone interview with Alicia from Pilbara Times and then it was back to the airport. What a fabulous whirl.

Thank you City of Karratha, Black Swan Theatre, Rio Tinto, ABC, St Paul’s Primary, Pilbara Times and everyone else who made my 24 ours in the Pilbara so special.