It’s 80 years since the horrific WWII battles along Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track. In 2002 I hiked the track to research a YA novel (yet to be published). An unexpected outcome of the trip was the publication of my first picture book, Photographs in the Mud. It’s 17 years since Fremantle Press published this story, told from both Australian and Japanese perspectives. It has also been published in Japanese.
In the latest edition of ‘The Open Book,’ you can read more about this book’s journey. I’m grateful to Fremantle Press for keeping this title in print for 17 years!
More details here and via other blogposts on my website.
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 Girland then the others in the ‘Light’ series as well as PhD research and linked novels …
Re-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!
The story set in 1942, explores Kokoda from two perspectives; through the eyes of an Australian soldier and also from a Japanese soldier’s point of view. The book was inspired by a story I heard during my 2002 trek from Kokoda airstrip across the Owen Stanley range to Ower’s Corner (near Port Moresby). During one bloody battle, two soldiers locked in combat, rolled down the steep mountainside away from the main battle. They found themselves alone and injured in a jungle ditch. This moment and the imagined aftermath became the core of my story with a theme of common humanity.
Although mostly fictitious, Photographs in the Mud was inspired by an incident experienced by Kokichi Nishimura, a soldier of the 2/144th Regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army. Mr Nishimura’s amazing life story, including his return to PNG to collect the bones of war dead, was later explored in Charles Happell’s The Bone Man of Kokoda.
My picture book, published in 2005 by Fremantle Press and illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, has been utilised as an international peace reference. It’s suitable for middle primary readers through to senior high school and is often used in visual literacy units. Teaching notes and more details, including photos of a much younger me, can be found on my website.