Category Archives: school visits

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #2 – Harefield and early inspiration

What were the first seeds of inspiration?

After years of researching and writing, it’s interesting to look back at how a book started. The idea for In the Lamplight began with research for its partner titles, Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. Then around 2012, I heard about the Gilgandra Coo-ee March. After heavy losses at Gallipoli, WWI recruiting drives occurred across Australia (Men from Snowy River, March of the Dungarees). Gilgandra was the first.

In October 1915 two brothers gathered a group of 26 men. They set out from Gilgandra on a march to Sydney (320 miles). By the time they arrived, the number of recruits had grown to 263. One of the brothers, Bill Hitchen (plumber and captain of the Gilgandra rifle club),  died at Harefield in September 1916. Bill’s story inspired me and I was curious to learn more.

Fast forward to 2013 when I accompanied my husband on a trip to Albany’s sister city, Pèronne for Remembrance Day. Before flying home we had a day in London. While Pete walked around Westminster, I caught a train and bus to Harefield village, on the outskirts of London to visit Bill’s grave. A kind local helped me with directions. We began chatting and she walked with me to St Mary’s Anzac Cemetery, the resting place of Bill, 111 of his fellow soldiers and Sister Ruby Dickinson. I found Bill’s grave and then visited the Anzac Wing of Harefield Hospital, learning how in 1914 the Billyard-Leake family (expat Australians) donated their home, Harefield House for recuperating Australian soldiers to use for the duration of the war.

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at the grave of Bill Hitchens (Gilgandra Cooee

The Anzac wing also held photographs; evocative WWI images of recuperating patients and nurses. One photo captured my attention. It was a photograph of a nurse stroking a wallaby mascot. I’ve since found another AWM image of the wallaby, ‘Jimmy’ (sometimes named Jimony) being fed by the same nurse, who I discovered is Nancy Birdwood, daughter of General Birdwood (commander of the Australian Imperial troops). Nancy volunteered at Harefield Hospital and later married a West Australian airmen, but that’s another story…

Some readers know my fascination with WWI animal mascots. This began during the creation of Light Horse Boy and has continued to grow. I suspected that Nancy’s wallaby could be the same fellow that stands proudly to attention in the AWM photograph below (I love this photo). I wanted to find out more about the wallaby’s story and will post more about Jimmy in a future blog.

Harefield House became the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, sometimes treating up to 1000 patients. The first nurses, led by the very capable Matron Ethel Gray, arrived in May 1915. As casualties increased, life in the small village of Harefield changed forever. The village green was filled with homesick soldiers in their distinctive slouch hats. Kind-hearted villagers did all they could to help the young men so far from home. They read to patients, taught them handicrafts and French, took the men for automobile outings and organised concerts and sporting matches.

Deciding which WWI images to include in my book was a challenge. There were so many great photos. My favourites include patients skating around the frozen lake with the support of chairs, Jimmy posing with the brass band, as well as one moving photograph of a one-legged lad playing cricket with laughing nurses fielding. The lad looks so young.

More sombre photographs are also included; of funeral parades and shell-shocked amputees. During WWI over 50,000 Australian soldiers were treated at Harefield Hospital. Towards the end of the war, when Spanish Influenza ravaged Europe, there were deaths most weeks. Strong lads who’d survived months in the trenches, sometimes died within a day from this terrible illness as their lungs filled with fluid.

Harefield villagers lined the streets to honour funeral parades from the hospital to St Mary’s cemetery. The first death was in February 1916. As Private Robert Wake’s coffin passed the Junior School, headmaster Jeffrey ran inside, pulled a flag from the classroom wall and draped it over the bare coffin. This flag was used in subsequent funeral processions and still exists today (more on that next week). Connections between Harefield and Australia remain strong and I’m grateful to Harefield residents for their historical advice; particularly Lorraine Piercy and Andy Harris. Each Anzac Day, local schoolchildren lay flowers against the headstones for the Australians who died in their village.

Lest we forget.

Next week I’ll share two stories linked to In the Lamplight; the Anzac quilt and the Harefield flag. I am grateful for funding support from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

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.

 

The Literature Centre – Fremantle

Last week I had the pleasure of working with Year 6 students from across Perth as part of The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers’ program.

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We crammed a range of springboard writing activities into one day and I was impressed by the students’ creativity and eagerness to try new ideas and share first drafts. The Talented Young Writers’ Programme is unique. Its aim being to nurture a group of students over several years. Young writers (in Perth and regional centres) work with four writers each year. The educational benefits are multi-faceted and assuming ongoing funding can be found, the future of story-telling in WA is in excellent hands.

My sessions came hot on the heels of The Centre’s 2017 Celebrate Reading Conference so last weekend I was fortunate to attend the second day and hear inspirational sessions by Gus Gordon, Meg McKinlay, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Deb Abela, Mark Wilson, Anna Fienberg, Jeannie Baker and Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs.

Thank you Lesley Reece, Beck Blaxell and everyone at The Literature Centre for a wonderful week. I’ve come home tired but brimful of ideas and inspiration! If anyone is able to support The Centre by becoming a Friend, just click on this link.

 

 

 

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!

Ring out the old…

a 2016 has been a whirl, with so many highlights, as well as the challenge of balancing study, writing and work commitments.

With just a few tweaks left to finalise my PhD research (Crafting Animal Characters in Children’s Literature), I look forward to working on several new projects over summer and launching a new book in 2017, but first I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me in 2016. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The inaugural 7 Rooms 7 Stories Writers Festival in Busselton was fabulous and I’m thrilled to have been invited back in 2017. Boasting a sparkly new name ‘Between the Lines’ this festival is sponsored by Dymocks Busselton and will be held in March at Mary MacKillop College.
  • A few weeks after 7 stories, and further south, I enjoyed mixing with local creators and interstate visitors at Great Southern Grammar’s Literature Festival.
  • Meeting readers during school visits and returning to  IMG_7022schools I’ve previously visited is especially rewarding. In the first half of the year that included St Stephen’s, St Mark’s and Lakeside SHS (Perth) as  well as St Josephs College in Albany…
  • Travelling to Wickham in the Pilbara, celebrating Granny Grommet and Me being part of Better Beginnings Recommended Reads for 4s & 5s was fun.
  • So was revisiting NSW’s Riverina. Thank you Albury and Lavington Libraries for organising school visits last May.
  • Each Winter brings the excitement and anticipation of the SCBWI WA Rottnest Retreat. This year was as fabulous as ever, spending time reading, writing and workshopping with friends as well as being inspired by visiting legends Erica Wagner and Craig Smith. Thanks to the SCBWI organisers…
  • July brought the long-anticipated launch of The Shark Caller, a YA novel that was ‘in-production’ for about ten years. Some books take longer than others! To celebrate there were two launches; one at the Albany Surf Club and the other at Perth’s fabulous Aquarium (AQWA). Both were wonderful evenings.

 

  • Between these two launches, my sister, Karen and I went on a road trip/writers tour of Esperance and the Goldfields region where I enjoyed meeting students at Esperance SHS, Esperance Anglican Community School and Kalgoorlie’s John Paul College.

The second half of the year is when things get busy for children’s authors and 2016 winners & r up2was no exception. The excitement began with Albany Library and Penguin Random House helping to organise a Shark Caller Haiku Competition. The entries were delightful and I met with the winners to enjoy a milkshake meeting.

  • Then it was Bookweek. Thank you Iona, Newman, Mel Maria, PLC, Southlands Albany and Brighton Primary. As well as Rio Tinto for organising a full day trip to Paraburdoo …
  • In September I was honoured to join Maria Gill, Aleesah Darlison and Neridah McMullin on a panel session at the Australia/NZ SCBWI Conference in Sydney and a follow-up event at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft with my panel buddies as well as Hazel Edwards , Penny Morrison, Emma Allen and John Heffernan. Thank you to the amazing Susanne Gervay for organising these events and the lovely Deb Abela for offering me her spare room 🙂
  • bookshopBeing in Sydney also gave me the opportunity to spend the day with Penguin Random House publicist, Zoe Bechara visiting local bookshops to talk about The Shark Caller.
  • After flying back to WA, it was into the car and straight on to Toodyay for a session at the Avon Valley Writers Festival.
  • Then in October (and November) it was time to celebrate Fremantle Press’s 40th birthday. What a fabulous milestone for an independent publisher!
  • In October I also enjoyed an amazing week in Bunbury and Busselton as part of The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers’ Programme facilitated by one of the Centre’s motivating Education Officers, Beck Blaxell. Each year the TYWP programme reaches hundreds of budding creators, giving them unique opportunities to develop their skills. It was a pleasure to work with these highly committed high school students.
  • One 2016 regret was having to cancel sessions at Bremer Bay Primary due to urgent family illness. Thankfully my Mum is now okay and I hope to visit Bremer early 2017.

light horse girlSo that was my 2016. Thank you again to all of the schools, festivals and libraries that hosted me this year. After the adventures above, my 2017 resolution was going to be to slow down and enjoy each moment…  however with some exciting events coming up, this might be a challenge!

More about that in the next post. In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

 

 

Talented Young Writers

The Literature Centre runs a fabulous program called The Talented Young Writers Program in Fremantle as well as six regional centres across Western Australia. Last week I travelled to schools in Bunbury and Busselton with Education Officer Beck Blaxell to work with some of these creative students.

The students (from Years 6-12) meet four times a year with a visiting author to hone their writing skills. We talked about developing ideas, plotting, character development and my PhD research topic ‘anthropomorphism’. Students shared their own ideas and writing drafts. I heard so many great stories and can happily report that the future of WA storytelling is in safe hands.

Thank you to all at The Lit Centre for inviting me to be part of this great program, to the schools, teachers and parents for supporting this investment in our future. And… a  special shout-out to Beck who made sure everything ran smoothly, for being wonderful company and for introducing me to the delicious cabbage salad at Market Eating House (sounds weird, tastes great).

Australia! Story Country

 

Thank you to all the wonderful students and teachers who hosted me for Bookweek. With schools ranging from inner-city Perth to Tom Price and Paraburdoo, this year’s theme certainly resonated with my travels …

‘Australia! Story Country’ was a fun theme and the 2016 displays seemed even better than usual. Granny Grommet and Me, Lighthouse Girl and The Kid whose Mum Kept Possums in her Bra worked particularly well with the Aussie theme.

Here are some of my favourite Bookweek photos.

 

Thanks again, Newman College, Mel Maria Catholic Primary, Paraburdoo Kindies, Tom Price Year 7, Presbyterian Ladies College and IONA Presentation College, Albany’s Australian Christian College (and next week Brighton Primary).