Category Archives: News

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.

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 …

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

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.

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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.

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.

 

The Spirit of Silver Brumby Lives on

Before meeting Dr Honor Auchinleck in Corryong last November, I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors, Elyne Mitchell and the granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel (WWI Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps). Daunting?

Perhaps, but as you can see from the photos (my mother Audrey Davidson is the middle person), Honor is down to earth and fun. She’s also passionate about promoting the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards. These awards encourage writers to explore different aspects of regional life in Australia (with urban dwellers also encouraged to share their dreams of rural life). There is also a photo-story category.

In October I will have the great honour of speaking at the awards ceremony in beautiful Mitta Mitta, Victoria. The awards are now open for submission. Entries can be sent from now until August. Good luck!

 

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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Horrie the War Dog

Horrie was a special 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?

 

 

 

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.

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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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.

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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.

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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 .

 

Happy World Octopus Day!

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To honour the villainous characters in The Shark Caller I felt that a short post was needed celebrating these amazing cephalopods.

As well as having three hearts, octopus are super-intelligent. They can solve mazes and are able to contort their muscly bodies to escape through tiny crevices. Octopi are also clever camouflagers. Some are small and highly venomous, like blue-ringed Pyrena in my story, others like the Pacific Octopus are enormous. My favourite fun fact about octopus is that their blood is blue.

Here’s an extract from The Shark Caller. It’s when Izzy meets a Giant Octopus.

The massive octopus flicks a tentacle, thick as my neck. It slaps the wall beside me. I give in to the terror clutching my throat and my scream ricochets over dripping rock. the octopus slurps and a deep rasping voice fills my mind.

No others can hear. We are the only ones …

My scream turns into sobs.

Your noise will bring shadow creatures.

Dreadful images fill my mind. I steady my breath, forcing myself to face the octopus. its tentacle arms curl as I try to stop trembling.

Happy World Octopus Day 🙂