Here is a secret: I have furry knees.
It is a side effect of having knee replacement surgery that no one had mentioned. Or maybe it has only happened to me. But I do have a rather pretty white fuzz, almost invisible, over my knees. I rather like it.
And they work!
There were weeks when I thought I’d be left with legs like lumps of wood.
But I’m walking, well before schedule and, as of this afternoon, running.
I didn’t mean to run. I happened to be in the garden and Wild Whiskers charged me, part of her chair gnawing, doormat chewing intimidation campaign for carrots. And I turned and ran.
If you have been following the life of the new baby wombat, and her naming campaign (we got the wombats to choose her name, taping the names the schools suggested onto many buckets of carrots. The first to be eaten would be the name)
you’ll know that her name is now …
coming from the first two carrots to be completely eaten – the wombats rejected quite a few, tasting them until they found one they wanted. You might even have thought they knew what they were doing. You never know with wombats.
There is a magic video of Rosie’s first somersault on Twitter and Facebook (add link). As far as I know it’s the first time a wombat has ever been filmed somersaulting. And possibly the last …
They are fat, furry and happy, despite the dryness, with plenty of grass from last summer. And carrots. For the first time ever, a dozen or so local wombats have far more carrots than even they could eat.
I have a Project and …
Ahem. Please, to every teacher who reads this, could you ask your students to find the answers to their project questions on my web site, or in the book itself, and not email the project to me? Because I can’t find three examples of similes in Chapter 4 of Ophelia, Queen of Denmark. I wasn’t thinking about similes at the time and I don’t have a copy and I have two hundred other emails to answer …
There’ll always be kids, and adults, who need to email, to question, to discuss. But when it’s ‘just a project’ could you hint that they should find the answers and not just send the work to me?
There hasn’t been much. I’ve spent the last month mostly sitting with my legs up on a milk crate, answering emails and writing a novel and watching the wombats, wallabies and lyrebirds out the window, feeling very blessed to have a comfortable warm spot to work with my feet up on a milk crate and a job that allowed me to continue to work, with aforesaid legs resting on milk crate.
It has been a strangely lovely time, when I could and had to say ‘no’ to every request because I couldn’t walk or travel, nor had much stamina. I don’t think I have ever had weeks at a time of rest in my life. Time to listen. Time to think. Long nights when I couldn’t sleep or read (it turns out pain killers have no effect on me) and I just …
… I’m not sure what. Let the universe seep in. I don’t know if there are words for it. But once I had accepted that nothing would change the pain and accepted it, it changed. And I changed. And I listened.
Awards and shortlistings
Cyclone, with the magnificent Bruce Whatley, named a Notable Book by the CBCA.
The Ghost by the Billabong shortlisted for one of the NSW Premier’s Awards. Fire with Bruce Whatley, has been shortlisted for a KOALA (Kid’s Choice) Award, as has Pennies for Hitler. Neither are easy books. Kids don’t always need easy. They appreciate deep and profound even more than adults. The job of a child is to learn how the world works. One way to find the world beyond your family, school and TV is a book
Books out now
Goodbye, Mr Hitler
Age range: 11+
This is the best book I have written and the most deeply important. It is a book that matters — and I have never said that about my work before.
Goodbye, Mr Hitler is the third in the loose trilogy that began with Hitler’s Daughter and Pennies for Hitler. It is the story of Johan, of Heide who has now become Helga Schmidt, and Georg’s mother.
The book still has too powerful a hold on me to write about it. If I could summarise it I wouldn’t have needed to write the book. Perhaps this quotation from the last chapter might say what I can’t about the book, and why it is one that so many need to understand now, today, as the world begins another insane spiral that, as a historian, I recognise too well:
The world has many ogres. Some, like Mr Hitler, do not even know that they are ogres, but dream they are the hero of the story.
But I have learned this in the years since I was ten years old: when you see injustice, stand beside each other and seize your spears. My spears are made of words. Yours may be different. But do not hesitate or look away. If too many look away, the ogres win. To be mostly deeply human we must risk our lives for others. Only when we stand together can we be truly free.
It is not easy fighting ogres. No one who fights an ogre comes away unscarred, even if you cannot see the wounds. And so you owe the ogre hunters this.
When the ogre has been vanquished, sit down upon the quiet earth and try to understand the ogre’s anguish and his twisted fear. Only by understanding can we stop them rising in our midst.
When you understand, forgive.
And then stand up, and live.
Age range: 11+
Passion, betrayal, battles and love: a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, true to the play, but told from the viewpoint of Annie, a village girl who became a lady-in-waiting at the castle of the local thane. Here the play is stripped of its superstitions; integrity and kindness are able to triumph over hatred; and for some there may be a happy ending.
Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Age range: 14+
A tale of love, espionage and passionate heroism. Inspired by true stories, this is a 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.
Books coming soon
Koala Bare (illustrated by Matt Shanks)
Koala Bare! A hilarious koala tail, sorry, tale, with the brilliant Matt Shanks
Facing the Flame
Age range: 12+
The next in the Matilda saga
This doesn’t include many other non-public events – it’s just meant as a guide to where I may be if there is anything else possible while I’m nearby. For bookings, check the terms on the website and/or contact Booked Out.
September: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle paperback released
6–9 September: Brisbane Writer’s Festival
October: Koala Bare released
25 October: Children’s Day in Canberra
29 October: Launch of Goodbye, Mr Hitler at the Sydney Jewish Museum (and a chance to thank the extraordinary holocaust survivors who not just inspired the book, but my life). The next Monday and possibly Tuesday after the launch, PR events in Sydney: contact Holly at Harper Collins for details or bookings.
December: Facing the Flame released (Matilda Book 7)
3rd-8th March: Adelaide Festival Writers' Week
14th-16th March: Somerset Literary Festival on the Gold Coast
The August Garden
For reasons of new (and still stiff) knees, I’m not gardening yet, though I am ordering seeds for spring and summer planting and hoping we get some rain so that I can.
So here is a small song to lemon trees and how to grow them, till I am back to gardening mode.
Spring is in the air and I am picking lemons, great luscious basketfuls of them. Suddenly we’re craving lemon cordial, lemon and olive oil salad dressing, a squeeze of lemon on the broccoli, or lemon juice and coriander added to poached chicken to give it a Thai tang.
And for all of these you need a lemon tree.
Supermarket lemons are never really, well, lemony. They are sour but there’s only a faint memory of what freshly picked lemons can be like. A lemon is almost as fragrant as a rose and just as desirable. We’ve just forgotten how good they can be.
My favourite lemons are Eurekas. They fruit through summer, which is when you really want your lemons, as well as winter. They’ll hang on the tree long after they are ripe, too. (If you’re in a fruit fly prone area tie an old stocking over them, or a ‘fruit fly bag’, to keep the fruit fly out.)
First choose a good sunny spot. Lemons will tolerate a bit of dappled shade, especially in hotter climates, but they grow best in full sun. In cold climates grow them against a sunny north-facing wall.
Bring your lemon tree home from the garden centre. Dig a hole that is roughly twice as wide and deep as the bag or pot that the lemon tree is in, then wriggle it gently out of the bag and hold it so that the ground level is at the same level as the top of the soil was in the bag or pot.
Gently fill in the soil around the tree, still holding it upright, then once the hole is filled tamp it down firmly. Now let the hose trickle on it for a couple of hours, so the ground is soaked and any small holes fill up with silt and water.
Now mulch, a good 300cm high of pea straw or lucerne hay or sugar cane mulch, whatever is easiest for you to find and use. Don’t put the mulch right next to the trunk though, as this can encourage the bark to rot. Keep it at least 30 cm from the trunk, and extend the mulch at least 60 cm beyond the tree, too. You want to encourage those roots to grow out as well as down.
Now feed it. Nearly every backyard lemon tree is underfed and some are, frankly, slowly starving to death. Lemon tree leaves should be large, dark green, with no discoloured edges, and well shaped, too. Use a special ‘citrus food’ or good home-made compost. Lemons should be fed at least once a year, and spring is the best time to do it, when the tree is growing strongly. I always put the plant food on top of the mulch, in case it burns the roots below. Citrus can be shallow rooted, so never fertilise them when the soil is dry, unless it’s well mulched, or you may kill some of the roots, or even the whole tree.
Another excellent method is to drag the mulch back from the trunk, scatter the fertilizer, respread the mulch and immediately turn a sprinkler on and let it water the area below the tree for about twenty minutes. You won’t have any root burn problems and there’ll always be a good healthy population of earthworms and other creepy crawlies living under the citrus trees.
But apart from mulching, feeding and picking, that’s basically it. Lemons don’t need pruning to fruit well, though you can cut out straggly branches to make picking easier or to make the tree more attractive. A well-shaped lemon tree can be lovely, dark green glossy leaves and golden fruit – you’d grow it for the beauty even if you didn’t get the lemons. It’s only neglected starving trees that look ugly, yellowing leaves and dying from the top down. But even they can be resurrected with good plant tucker and pruning out the dead wood – it will take between one and two years but there is something particularly gratifying about taking a scraggly, struggling tree with a few yellow leaves that sheds fruit and transforming it into a glossy, prosperous tree solid with dark green leaves and weighed down with shiny, yellow globes of lemons.
With luck you may get a lemon or two the first year after you plant your new tree, and after that the crop will get bigger and bigger for another decade or so till the tree is mature. By the time it’s ten years old you’ll be giving baskets of fruit to family and friends – and they may be asking for your lemon cordial recipe too.
A few recipes
World’s best lemon cordial
Hot or Cold Beetroot Salad
Spiced baked sweet potatoes
Chocolate Beetroot Muffins
Deliciously easy lemon white chocolate cake with lemon ganache
Double choc almond slice