I am sitting in Canberra airport hoping that every small plane that lands isn’t the one I am supposed to fly out on to Newcastle. I am not a good flyer. Well, actually, I’d be a happy flier if I had my own wings. Just don’t like relying on other pilots/engineers etc when I am 20,000 feet in the air. Would also prefer that air pockets were coloured with ink for easy avoidance.
But am also excited. Newcastle Writers Festival starts tomorrow, a session with kids, a Q and A with an interview by/with the wonderful Catherine Keenan and, calloo callay, reading Josephine Wants to Dance to a new score created with the Newcastle Youth Orchestra on Sunday. Should be stunningly, wonderfully inspiring.
1.40pm Eating an apple and my lipstick. Am not deliberately eating my lipstick. It goes with the apple.
1.45pm Finished apple. Also lipstick. Should have boarded fifteen minutes ago but no sign of the plane yet. Also no sign of rubbish bin. Apple core in tissue in handbag. Yuck.
1.46pm Plane landed. Tiny! Can I walk to Newcastle in time for tomorrow’s session?
Tiny plane, terrified author!
1.47pm Stop being a wuss. It’s only 1 hour 45 minutes of terror. Will now pause for calming breathing exercise. 2.30 – Pilot says it will be smooth and sunny, but last week it was like being in a washing machine.3.00 – Smooth and sunny! No touch of washing machine. Views so glorious I forget to take pics. Lake, beaches to the horizon.4.45 – I adore Newcastle!!!!!!! Had forgotten how wonderful it is. Fascinating industrial landscape, hotel looks out on an old port and two boats/ships/vessels of maritime provenance have just passed my room, plus one canoeist, one small sailboat and many happy dogs being walked by happy people. Museum looked deeply intriguing on the way in.
5.01pm Why isn’t Newcastle listed as one of the world’s top ten destinations!!???? Soooo interesting.
Bushed. Elated. Joyous! The performance of Josephine Wants to Dance with the Newcastle Youth Orchestra will be with me forever.
Concert Hall, before the glorious music
Sitting there on stage, the glory of the music all around me, following a conductor for the first time in about half a century, the kids changing from ‘Where are the cartoons’ to suddenly under the spell of the music, and then towards the end just leaping up and dancing! They were unstoppable. Their Mums tried, then gave up and just laughed and clapped. They filled the aisles. By the end the adults were clapping and cheering too. I had forgotten what curtain calls were.
’Get out there!’ ‘Why?’ ‘Curtain calls!’
Nil. None Nix. They are, happy, free and waddle out to eat lush grass for maybe an hour in each twenty-four, then go back to sleep, leaving long green droppings behind. No square ones in this weather. If they get any fatter they’ll roll down the slope to the creek.
Books out now
Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Age range: 14+
A tale of love, espionage and passionate heroism. Inspired by true stories, this is the take on how the ‘lovely ladies’ won a war, the first in a new series that shows the changing concepts of what it means to be a woman – and a fulfilled one – beginning in 1913. The reviews have been wonderful, and the comments too ‘literally unputdownable’ ‘you HAVE to read this.’
I very much hope you do, and I am two thirds through the next one…..
Millie Loves Ants
Age range: Everyone
With the glorious Sue deGennaro, we dreamed this up three years ago while watching her daughters explore the valley.
If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
Age range: 12+
The sixth book in the Matilda series, written for young adults 12 and upwards.
This is Australia from 1972-1975, with the Whitlam government sweeping away twenty-three years of Coalition tradition as seen through the eyes of a country town. It was a time of intense idealism throughout the nation – even if many of those ideals differed deeply.
In Gibbers Creek, Jed must choose between her old love, Nicholas, who is the new Labor Party MP, and Sam from the Half Way to Eternity commune; Scarlett dreams of becoming a doctor, despite her wheelchair; Ra Zachariah waits for the end of the world and the coming of a new one – and is prepared to be ruthless to make sure it arrives.
And Matilda Thompson will see her father’s political dream from the 1890s made real; she will see mistakes, conspiracies, anguish and elation; and finally be proud that, even as the nation is torn apart in the Dismissal, no blood stained the wattle.
The Secret of the Black Bushranger
Age range: 8+
The third in the Secret History series. Barney has finally been given his farm, making him the youngest landowner in the colony. But is the escaped convict he helped a laughing villain or a freed slave who cannot endure chains again? Who was John ‘Black’ Caesar? The result of years of research into this previously unknown corner of our history, this book combines adventure with insight into the early years of our first colony.
Grandma Wombat (with Bruce Whatley)
Age range: Everyone!
Our grand-kids are always perfect. Even if you are a wombat. Especially if you are a wombat … and your grandson is as stroppy as you are.
Also look for:
Wombat Goes to School … perfect for kids about to start school or who need some extra enthusiasm for the years to come.
The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman
Could the world’s most famous author stop writing when he retired? Part love story, part historical detective work, this is the story of the young Shakespeare told by the old one, and the book where I discovered evidence that possibly, even probably, Shakespeare faked his own death. Read the book to find out why.
Books coming soon
Goodbye Mr Hitler
The sequel to both Hitler’s Daughter and Pennies for Hitler and the hardest book I have ever written and, possibly, the best. And to the thousands who have written asking questions about both the earlier books: this book will answer them and I hope give far more.
This is the fourth in the Shakespeare series. It is about ‘the Scottish play’, with absolutely no witchcraft and enough love to balance the evil and a woman’s voice to lessen the misogyny. And, if you think you know the play, you may not expect this ending, which has everything Shakespeare put in it – and more
This doesn’t include many other non-public events, it’s just meant as a guide to where I may be if there's anything else possible while I’m nearby. For bookings, check the terms on the website and/or contact Booked Out.
21 April: Wheeler Centre, Melbourne. Conversation about Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies.
23–24 May: SPELD QLD fundraiser and talks to young people.
26–28 May: Townsville Literary Festival.
June: Release of Goodbye, Mr Hitler.
3 June: Keynote at Australian Childcare Alliance Conference, Gold Coast, QLD
4 June: Book Links Brisbane, talk at the State Library, topic, 'The Forgotten Women of History: Heroism and Scandals.'
8–9 June: Adelaide SEATA.
30 June: Sydney, launch of Goodbye, Mr Hitler and talks at the Sydney Jewish Museum
July: Release of Third Witch
1 July: CYA conference, Brisbane, QLD
17 July: We go see Diary of a Wombat at the Canberra Theatre
August: Release of Wombat Wins paperback
September: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle paperback released
October: Koala Bare released
December:A Land of Love and Flame released (Matilda Book 7)
The April Garden
Plant for winter: veg and flowers. I won’t be, as I am bushed; my knee is crook, and we are preparing the flood damage. But if I were gardening, that is what I’d be doing.
The Scent of Lemon
Lemon is one of the most magic scents in the garden. Much as I love roses – especially a cloud of rose perfume on a hot day – lemon scents are often stronger, as they come from the leaves not the flowers. There are more leaves than blooms, so much more scent.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have flowers as well as lemon scents. My favourite winter bloomer – okay, one of my fifty favourites! – is the evergreen pineapple or lemon-scented marigold. It grows to a large bush, about 1.5 – 2 metres high and the foliage is glorious every time you brush against it. My husband asks, ‘What’s that wonderful scent?’ every time I’ve walked past it in our garden. The flowers are spectacular, too – a host of bright gold-orange from early autumn till late spring or early summer.
Pineapple marigold (though it’s more lemon than pineapple) responds well to hard pruning, and makes a good hedge if you are prepared to trim it every few weeks in summer. Otherwise just cut it back by about 60 cm after the flowers die back.
Lemongrass is possibly the most lemony plant in the universe. It's a perennial – in other words, it just keeps growing. Heavy frost kills it, so in cold areas grow it in a pot and keep it on a sunny patio or even take it indoors in winter. I cut mine back regularly and tie the big bunch of leaves up in the hall where I’ll brush against them too, and cut off whatever I need to make lemon grass tea (far more fragrant when home grown than any you can buy).
In frost-free areas, or where there is only light frost, lemongrass grows best in rich, well-drained, moist soil. It tolerates semi-shade in hot areas but prefers full sun. The small plant you buy at the nursery will eventually become enormous. One big clump will give many plants – just divide it and plant it out.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a hard-to-kill lemon-scented small shrub, about 30 cm high, for almost any area in Australia. It’s great for hard to fill corners of the garden, but beware – it spreads. Don't grow it near the bush! It's also a bit disappointing in the taste department – despite the lemony scent it's got a bit of a mothball flavour when you use it in cooking.
Lemon balm grows best in moist rich soil and partial light shade, especially in hot summers, but will tolerate drought, sun and exposure. It dies back after severe frost and looks really messy, all brown and spotty, after mild frosts but recovers with warm weather.
Lemon balm leaves can be picked as soon as they are large enough – small ones have less of an aftertaste than older ones. Young lemon balm leaves are good in salad sandwiches and a few can be added to give a faint lemon tang to salads. Old leaves are too tough.
Lemon verbena is a graceful, narrow-leafed shrub. It loses its leaves in winter in cooler areas, but can keep them nearly all winter in sub-tropical regions. It grows up to two metres high and even wider but can be kept well trimmed. It prefers full sun, though it tolerates semi-shade in hot areas. In very cold areas it needs to be protected from heavy frost for the first year but after that is sturdier and will survive anything from a blanket of snow to a four-year drought.
Our bush is about thirty years old now and the trunk is wonderfully twisted and aged looking.
Lemon verbena tea is probably my favourite herbal tea – I use it as a base for all sorts of other teas, adding a few peppermint leaves or other flavourings, depending on what I feel like. It's one of the few herbal teas that men seem to like.
Lemon verbena leaves can be picked at any time but are most fragrant in the early morning and just before flowering. They can be dried and kept through winter in a sealed jar. Dry them as quickly as possible in a well-ventilated, dark place so they don't lose their fragrance and seal them in a jar as soon as they are dry.
Lemon verbena tea can be drunk hot or cold. The leaves can also be added to equal parts of ordinary tea leaves for a lemon-scented tea and drunk either black or with milk and sugar, or frozen in ice-blocks to add to cool drinks on hot days.
Lemon geranium is really a pelargonium, drought tolerant and hardy. Like all pelargoniums it grows easily from a cutting. I've tried cooking with it, but it too develops an aftertaste – it's best grown where you will brush against it in the garden, releasing a gentle lemon whiff, though you can always do what the Victorians did – place sprigs in finger bowls to wash your hands after eating fish.
Lemon-scented gum tree
This is the giant of the lemon world, though as gum trees go it's a nice small neat one, suitable for a cool climate backyard tree [ though it can reach forty or fifty metres if it’s happy!]. It smells beautiful when you crush the leaves, and on hot days there is a haze of lemon about it – and the scent before and immediately after rain is magic!
Lemon and lime trees have their own scent too, from the ripening fruit and also to a lesser extent from the leaves, though none is as strongly perfumed as the plants above. Young lemon leaves are wonderfully fragrant and tender enough to add to salads and sandwiches for a lemon tang, and of course kaffir lime leaves add their own individual fragrance to a whole range of dishes. Kaffir limes are supposed to be tropical plants, but ours survives winters with -7ºC frosts, although I grow it on a sunny bank, protected with other shrubs about it.
My favourite lemon is Eureka, drought hardy and cold hardy with big knobbly fruit, most in winter but some all year round. You never have to buy lemons when you have a Eureka lemon tree in the backyard. Tahitian limes are wonderful – I squeeze one over my vegetables each night in winter. The lemonade tree is fun too, a small tree with thin skinned, very lemony lemons.
You don’t even need a garden to have lemon scents. Try a kaffir lime in a pot, potted lemongrass or potted lemon geranium. Place them somewhere you will brush against them as you go indoors or walk up the stairs, and this winter will be filled with the balmy scent of lemon.
Extremely Naughty Sweets for Cold Days
Lemon Slice - the condensed milk kind
Decadent passionfruit slice
More Virtuous and Deeply Delicious Autumn Tucker
Grilled mushroom sandwich
Chook and apples
Chook with tomatoes and olives
Chook with almonds, oranges, tomato and basil