Category Archives: YA novels

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

 

The Shark Caller – students’ artwork

What a wonderful thing  it is to receive artwork inspired by one of my books.

Kelby Murray is a Year 5 teacher at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar who has been reading The Shark Caller with her Year 5 class. Some of her students created beautiful drawings, inspired by different scenes in the novel.

Molly drew the villagers having a discussion and also the evocative scene later in the story where Izzy summons her courage to swim back to the boat. This is exactly how I imagined the boat would look from below. Grace drew Izzy diving through the cave. In the larger original, you can notice finer details and see how Izzy’s toe webbing is growing back, what clever crafting …

The writing process can be solitary and it’s lovely to see how readers imagine these scenes. Thank you Kelby, Grace and Molly for sending your artwork. Your pictures make me smile every time I look at them.

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 …