Spring is here,
The grass is riz
I wonder where
The boidies is ...
Except the grass is not riz at all but short, as if we had mowed it on the lowest possible setting. Without rain, the wombats and wallabies and bower birds have nibbled it to ground level. As for the boidies …
The beautiful boidie
The lyrebirds are digging up the asparagus plants, as they are growing in the best mulched soil around here and so it is the most full-of-delicacies soil they can find; the bower birds are eating the crab apple blossom and the pallid cuckoo is calling which makes Bryan happy every spring.
It is dry. The rain we’ve had is the ‘five flutters of snow or sleet type’ not enough to wet the soil and the hot summer winds began in August. I’ve been out a couple of times with Robyn and her cattle as they graze the road verges where, due to the tiny extra amount of run-off from the road surface, there is grass to be eaten and it also lessens the fire hazard. Lovely to be among stock again. I don’t want to earn my living farming again but I do miss working with stock. Writing about it only deepens the nostalgia.
But the wombats are fat, though I’ve seen some further down the valley with mange. The wombats here have been doing well though with all the vegetation under the fruit trees, plus a good assortment of roots like parsnips to dig up … they may demand carrots from me but they are very capable of digging up many others by themselves.
I spent Book Week with my legs up on pillows (new knees) talking to many schools on the phone. It’s wonderful – very different from speaking to audiences in person, far more personal and I find I answer questions with more thought, as if talking to a friend.
The Gorgeous Students at West Goulburn Public School
Wonderful Brisbane Writer’s Festival ...
And after that I finished the first draft of Just a Girl that is now with Lisa, waiting for her verdict. Never an easy time, especially with this book, set two thousand years ago and based on material in five languages, none of which I speak and two of which possibly can no longer even be translated accurately.
Tomorrow will be the start of the next in the Matilda series. Those are the two great moments of terror – waiting for the editorial judgement and the first day of writing (which never works). Ever. The words and themes won’t begin to blend and the story bite until day three, but I need to write for the first two days before that happens all the time knowing I’ll trash most of what I’ve written.
Nor can I ever think, ‘I am writing a book’. Each morning I work out the scene I’ll write. I can manage a scene. One scene at a time … then three weeks later I find its the heart of a book and it can be manipulated as a whole.
And tomorrow … the start of the beginning.
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. I’ve just signed contracts for another five in the series, which I suspect means HarperCollins thinks Book 1 is a success …
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.
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 seventh in the Matilda series, coming soon …
Facing the Flame is the seventh in the Matilda series, written for adults from twelve years upwards.
As grass dries and the hot wind howls, Gibber’s Creek will burn. But if you love your country, you will fight for it.
This is the next instalment in the sweeping Matilda saga: a heartbreaking and powerful story of the triumph of courage, community and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.
Set in the late 1970s, Facing the Flame tells the story of a small rural community suffering through a debilitating drought. When bushfire catches and spreads, the people of Gibber’s Creek must come together to defend their home and all that they have worked for, a dangerous struggle that many Australians must face each year.
Lu Borgino has been recently blinded, but she battles flames to save a racehorse, even though her dreams of being Australia's first professional female jockey have been destroyed.
Scarlett O'Hara risks her hard-won life at medical school and the new love of Alex Romanov, to save a child.
Flinty McAlpine draws on the local knowledge of tens of thousands of years to protect her valley. All the while Jed Kelly must escape not just bushfire, but the man who plots to kill her with its power.
There have been fires before, but not like this.
Facing the Flame is for both teenagers and adults.
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.
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.
11 November: Childcare Australia Workshop
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 September Garden: Waiting for the first rose of spring
The great rose quiz: What Your Favourite Rose Says About The Secret You
Ask almost anyone what their favourite flower is, and they’ll say, ‘A rose’.
But WHICH rose? Long-stemmed hybrid teas? Floppy floribundas? Big bold fragrant beauties smelling of hidden gardens and romance?
Beware … the rose you love reveals your secret fantasies …
Blood red, rich and fragrant
Break out the champagne and the feather boas. You’re not a secret romantic. You live it!
Best roses: Papa Meilland, Mr Lincoln, Crimson Glory, Oklahoma, Blackboy (climber), Chrysler Imperial, Daily Mail Scented.
Care needed: Most deep red, scented roses are hybrid teas. Prune back by a third in winter; feed and mulch in spring. Be guided by the care instructions on the label as some require specific care.
As long as it’s for a good cause
Loved by: The kind and charitable, who like the source of their pleasure to bring others hope or support too.
Best roses: 65 Roses (cystic fibrosis), Howard Florey (medical research), Majestic Sunrise (multiple sclerosis), Love’s Gift (Downs syndrome), Salvation (Salvation Army), Wildfire (volunteer firefighters). A fence or wall of rampant ramblers
You’re a creative dreamer – or Sleeping Beauty in disguise ...
Best roses: Seven Sisters, Climbing Albertine, Climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison, New Dawn, Mme. Alfred Carriere, Alberic Barbier, Lamarque.
Care needed: Ramblers look after themselves – which is a good thing as creative dreamers have little time for pruning and spraying. Prune ramblers straight after blooming but only if needed. Feed in spring, if you get around to it. The Great Reliables (roses that bloom and bloom forever with minimal care)
You’re a generous organiser
In the words of the Joan Baez song, you want bread AND roses … for everyone.
Best roses: Freesia, Climbing Gold Bunny, Iceberg, Pink Iceberg, Archiduc Franz Joseph (used to be known as Monsieur Tillier), Frau Dagmar Hastrup, Buff Beauty.
Care needed: Trim as needed. Feed any warm time of year.
A bunch of floppy stems in a sticky kid’s hand
You’re the classic earth mother (I bet you read the best bed time stories too)
Best roses: Thornless blooms for kids to pick, like white or yellow banksia roses, Renae, Pinkie, Crépuscule, Zepherine Drouin, Pierre de Ronsard or scented roses like Penelope, Buff Beauty and Cornelia.
Care needed: Prune after flowering. Feed any warm time of year.
Long stemmed, florist’s darlings
You’re orderly, methodical and love romance – in its place.
Best roses: Yellow: Gold Medal, Diamond Jubilee; Red: Kardinal; Pink: Peter Frankenfeld.
Care needed: Florist type roses need pruning, mulching, feeding and spraying to look gorgeous – and even then it is the flowers that look beautiful rather than the bushes that tend to be awkward. Prune bushes back by a third in winter. Mulch and feed in spring.
The Front Yard Weeping Standard These belong to planners and perfectionists who like to do things PROPERLY.
Best roses: Bonica, Dorothy Perkins, Seafoam, Bloomfield Courage, Climbing Pinkie.
Care needed: Trim spindly or unwanted growth after the spring flowering.
Old-fashioned, big and opulent
You’re a sensual romantic, in love with adventure and new experiences
Best roses: Any of the David Austin roses like modern repeat flowering roses with a real old-fashioned look and repeat flowering, or Constance Spry, Nuits De Young, Hermosa, Belle Isis, Jacques Cartier and Duchesse de Brabant.
Care needed: Very little – trim spindly growth any time of year, mulch and feed in spring.
A rose for under your flag-pole
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … actually there are some real beauties here and you don’t have to be a flag-waving nationalist to feel quietly, patriotically proud of the work of generations of Australian rose breeders.
Best roses: Australia Fair, Alicia Courage, Deane Ross, Nancy Hayward, Lorraine Lee, Blackboy, Flemington, Onkaparinga, St Francis Xavier.
Care needed: Usually prune in winter; feed and mulch in spring.
Any rose … as long as it smells totally divine
Ah, the sensual romantic …
Best roses: Elizabeth of Glamis, Buff Beauty, Penelope, Prosperity, Fragrant Cloud, Anna Pavlova, Daily Mail Scented and Jardins de Bagatelle.
Care needed: Trim spindly growth any time of year; feed and mulch in spring.
You’re modern, innovative and full of creative solutions.
Best roses: perhaps Heidesommer, Fragrant Cloud, pink Flower Carpet.
Care needed: Feed in spring. Groundcovers are great, no work roses.
Who cares as long as they have long stems and last?
Loved by: Plastic personalities.
Best roses: Stick to artificial flowers (they don’t get earwigs either).
No favourite rose at all?
Maybe you just haven’t met the perfect one to fall in love yet …
PS There are some of us who love EVERY kind of rose. We just have a rich and varied personality.
A rose for every occasion
Looking for the perfect gift? Try a rose
Love and marriage: Perfect Moment, Love Potion, Seduction, Purple Tiger, Duet, Wedding Day, Loving Touch, New Dawn (suitable for a second marriage).
Anniversaries: Scentymental, Diamond Jubilee, Double Duet, Double Delight, Over the Rainbow.Divorce: New Era, Golden Dawn, Peace.Good wishes: Prosperity, Paradise, Golden Wings.Congratulations: Superstar, Gold Medal.Birthdays: Radiance, Garden Party, Virgo
For the guy in your life: (or a not-so-subtle hint to one who isn’t): Cricket, Sexy Rexy, Playboy, Buffalo Bill, Rise’n’Shine, Buccaneer.
For kids: A rose that shares their name or is otherwise just like them! Dainty Maid, Teddy Bear, Mermaid, The Fairy (what better to give a girl who loves masses of pink?), Tiffany, Sylvia, Patrick, Penelope, Sonia.
How to prune a rose
Bush roses: Trim back all straggly stuff every winter then cut back every branch by about a third, with each cut just below an outward facing bud. (I know this sounds complicated - but once you have your secateurs in hand you'll work it out.)
Other roses: Prune climbing roses after they've flowered. Many rambling roses don't need pruning at all – just hacking back sometimes so you and the rose can both fit in the garden. When in doubt – ASK when you buy the rose what care it needs. And remember that roses are very forgiving – if you get it all wrong one year (or just don’t get around to it) you can have another go next time around.
Spring tips for perfect roses
Roses are surprisingly easy to grow – and they bloom and bloom in droughts too, with just a little water...
FEED, with a good scatter of organic fertiliser like Dynamic Lifter or rose food
MULCH with 30 cm of lucerne hay, sugar cane or other mulch...
PRUNE straggly wood or dead flower heads (unless you’re growing roses for their autumn hips).. SPRAY for black spot with one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed into one cup of milk and three cups water, every three days, both under and on top of leaves.
Roses for hot climates
Look for Gold Bunny, Satchmo, Angel Face, Just Joey, Iceberg, Altissimo … your local nursery should have lots more too.
All the new Flower Carpet roses, Iceberg, the Aussie-bred rose Lorraine Lee, Mutabilis, Climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison, Mrs Fred Danks. Great Roses for PotsAny of the ‘patio’ roses, any miniature rose like The Fairy or Green Ice, Iceberg, Pink Iceberg, Climbing Iceberg, Sun Flare, Regensberg, Grüss an Aachen, Crépuscule.
When to plant a rose
Now! Bare-rooted roses are planted in winter. Potted roses are best planted in spring and early summer because then you can ramble around the nursery to find the flowers you most adore.
Where to plant a rose
Check the label. You can find a rose for every spot in your garden – rambling over a fence or up a pergola, ground covers for hot banks or pots of patio roses for the balcony. There are even a few that will flower in shade (although they will need a glimpse of sun during the day) like Mme. Alfred Carriere, Shady Lady, Veilchenblau.
Edible Insults: Fools, Tarts, Messes and Trifles
Rule 1: All edible insults should be subtle.
Rule 2: They should also be delicious.
The following fit both criteria perfectly ...
Onion [Insert Name Here] Tart
An (insert memorable debacle here) Mess
Rose Petal Jam
REAL Fairy Bread (as eaten at all the best fairy parties)