Suddenly, a year ahead of me

February 4, 2018

 

 

Suddenly I might have a year ahead of me. It’s an odd feeling. At the end of November last year it seemed fairly certain that 2018 would be filled with major surgery, postponed till January to have a family Christmas, hoping things didn’t get too much worse in the meantime.

 

Things got better. Not perfect – I still can’t stand or walk for long, though that should change. But having 2018 (probably, with care) stretch in front of me again is wonderful.

 

As was Christmas. Maybe every year we should celebrate as if it might be our last. Every day, too, which may mean that the past year has taught me a few things. (No 1: Always get a second medical opinion at the first suspicion things may not be right.)

 

I’m revising all the work I did in the last six months, thinking I can’t believe I wrote that. (Second discovery: Brains do not function well with an average of C2.5 of fever) and pulling it all the books shape again.

 

All the excitement of the year ahead is still tumbling around: the next Miss Lily book, and Barney and the Secret of the French Spies, another insight into the history that for a long time seems to have been lost, or deliberately hidden, including Napoleon’s invasion of New South Wales. (That one is not a secret. His fleet didn’t manage to get here after the British blockaded it at Mauritius. Invasions that don’t happen usually don’t make it into the history books.)

 

There is also a book set in 71 AD as the Roman army demolished Jerusalem, and two Jewish sisters and an escaped Roman slave hear the stories of seventy years earlier and a girl called Mariam in the town of Nazareth: Just a Girl

 

 And in the meantime some lovely letters from 1809-1820 that suddenly turned everything I thought I knew about the colony then inside out, with a swashbuckling book beginning to emerge from them. I have never swashed and rarely buckled before but am beginning to really enjoy this.

 

We never knew …

 

Wombat and other news

 

 

 

 

The wombats behaved beautifully all holidays which is deeply unwombat like.

 

They came out each night before the kids went to bed, stayed grazing so they could be admired, didn’t run when a  small boy yelled, ‘Batbat!’ whenever they appeared and didn’t bite anyone.

 

And as soon as the family left they vanished, feeling they had done their good work for the year. It’s not coincidental that the heat waves arrived at the same time they left. They are still around – I see their droppings around the house and prints down by the creek and, if I wake at 2 am, can hear them munching.

 

But I don’t think they are coming out now till midnight or later when it cools down slightly. There is plenty of grass, so they are not forced out early by hunger or mange.

But I do miss them. Roll on autumn and cool days and wombats …

 

A Poem from the Wombats

 

I have eaten

the carrots

that were in

your garden

 

and the parsley

parsnips

and the plums

 

Forgive me

is not a

wombat concept

 

 

Writing tips

 

They came out each night before the kids went to bed, stayed grazing so they could be admired, didn’t run when a  small boy yelled, ‘Batbat!’ whenever they appeared and didn’t bite anyone.

 

 

 

I’ve been putting these on Twitter and Facebook every day or two.  I’ll try to write a long piece for next month but this month here are a few of the recent ones:

 

No author has ever been capable of writing a book.

But writing a scene?

Then another scene? And another …

And then rewrite.

You can do that.

(Notes to self this morning: you can do it too.)

 

How to recognise a writer’s grocery trolley:

- 5 kg inspiration, disguised as ice cream

- 1kg punctuation (look under cooking supplies)

- Equal amounts despair/elation

- Pet food of choice

(dragon, wombat, & elf inspirational companions are usually self-catering)

 

Do not ask a writer ‘What are you working on now?’ unless you want a three hour monologue on sources, themes and why chapter 26 means an entire rewrite.

Keep a supply of antique maps and small, fascinating 19th century wind-up toys on hand to distract them if unwittingly caught in this situation.

 

Why writers make good pets:

- Rarely need flea collars

- Grateful for three meals a day, plus snacks and may even cook for you

- Self-entertaining while you are at work

- Love to hear all the gossip about your day, to turn into fodder for chapter 36

 

How to be an author:

- Ask passing gryphon for 5 kg inspiration

- Mix with 2,000 cups coffee

- Sob for 3 days that you can never write again

- Discover book is working, vanish into brain till done

- Edit

 

Her: When are you going to write a real book?

Me: Er…

Him: (well meaning): She has written some books for adults too.

Me: Did not throw the scones at them. But it was a near thing with the jam and cream.

 

Today I exult in the knowledge that:

- A fictional meal has no calories, even if you have six helpings of ice cream

- A third of daily calories are used by the brain

- If I write another 10,000 words then I can eat another 1,000 in what those who aren’t readers or writer’s call ‘real life’ i.e. stuff that doesn’t happen on the page

 

Guide to midnight proof-readers

Elves: excellent; entice with cake

Gnomes: appalling spelling: prefer beer and cheese

Dragons: deep insight, impeccable spelling but may leave mss scorched; preferred food – tethered goats.

Mermaids: Mss may become damp, mouldy and impregnated with salt. Not advisable.

 

Leave cake by your laptop overnight, and the elves will proofread it.

If they fail to proofread, you must try a more delicious cake.

Be prepared to do several years of taste testing to see which ones will work.

 

Fuel for Writer's Workshop

- 1 million ideas waiting

- 6,742 slices

- 90,000 cupcakes

- 1 megalitre coffee

- a portaloo by the peach tree

 

 A Writer’s Daydreams:

- A device that painlessly removes book from brain & places it on page

- Self-renewing coffee pot

- A spellchecker that doesn’t replace ‘camel’ with ‘condom’

- A small trained dragon who collates old envelopes scribbled with good ideas & incinerates the lame ones

 

We don't tell our 13-year-olds they can't watch Games of Thrones because they won't understand it. We forbid them because they will understand it, but without the wider framework to put it into moral/emotional context.

 

Slightly off topic:

And the winner of the most toxic school bag of the holidays goes to Caligula Furgle, of Wombat Snout, for his outstanding collection of banana peel, orange rind and orange sludge that may have been hummus.

Caligula’s mother, Ms M Furgle, is said to be out of intensive care

 

Good evening, here is the news:

Dogs have resigned as man’s best friend.

Cats claim theirs was only ‘a short 6,000 year acquaintance of mutual convenience.’

Wombats have expressed interest in the now vacant BF position but wish clarification on the number of carrots that will be involved.

Rabbits have yet to comment.

 

I am afraid:

- That every lie a leader tells nibbles at the trust that holds  society together

- That every cut to those in need erodes the empathy that keeps us human

- That every racist claim which goes unchallenged helps us forget that we must work together to save the life on our small blue spinning planet

 

Awards and shortlistings

 

The Ghost by the Billabong

2017 Shortlisted, NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult’s Literature

 

Cyclone (with Bruce Whatley)

2017 Notable, Children's Book Council of Australia, The Picture Book of the Year 

2017 Shortlisted, Australian Book Design Awards, Children's Illustrated, (Nicole Stofberg, designer)

 

Fire (with Bruce Whatley)

2017 Shortlisted, YABBA, Picture Story Books 

2017 Shortlisted, KOALA Awards

 

Pennies for Hitler

2017 Shortlisted, KOALA Awards

2017 Shortlisted, YABBA Awards, 

 

 

Books out now

 

 

 Koala Bare, illustrated by Matt Shanks

Age range: Everyone!

 

 

Koala Bare! An hilarious koala tail, sorry, tale, with the brilliant Matt Shanks.

 


 

Facing the Flame

Age range: 14+

 

 

 

As grass dries and the hot wind howls, Gibbers Creek will burn. But if you love your country, you will fight for it.

 

This is a book the next 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 obliterate 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 Gibbers 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.

 

Goodbye, Mr Hitler

Age range: 10+

 

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 emails and letters have begun to arrive by people who both love it deeply and feel that it matters deeply, too. I have never had so many letters and emails where the readers struggle to express what this book has given them. I am beginning to feel that just possibly, I have written a book that achieves what I hoped it would.

 

This quotation from the last chapter explains why it is one that so many need to understand, now, today, before the world begins another insane spiral that, as an 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.

Live well.

 

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies

Age range: 14+

 

 

 

Downton Abbey meets espionage, love and passionate heroism. Inspired by true stories, this is 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 think Book 1 is a success …

 

 

Third Witch

Age range: 10+

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Millie Loves Ants

Age range: All ages

 


Millie Loves Ants, with the glorious Sue deGennaro, is a story we dreamed up three years ago watching her daughters explore the valley.

 

 

Schedule for 2018

With my ongoing knee troubles I still may be limited in what I can take on.  See the website for details about bookings.

 

4-5 March: Adelaide Writer’s Festival, SA

14-16 March: Somerset Literature Festival, Gold Coast, QLD

27-28 March: Events organised by HarperCollins in Sydney, NSW

24 April: Opening of Josephine Wants to Dance: the Musical at the Darling Harbour Theatre, Sydney , by Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People and Royal Australian Ballet. The rehearsal clips I’ve seen have been brilliant, hilarious, extraordinary ...

18 May: Possible SPELD event, Brisbane, QLD

20 June: SEATA, Adelaide, SA

10 July: ALEA conference, Perth, WA

 

 

A few cool recipes

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Fruit Crush

Peppermint Cream Chocolate Shortbread

Bitter Almond Shortbread

Plain Lemon Shortbread

Double Lemon-Lime Shortbread with Crystalised Violets

Apple Pancakes

Lemon Slice

Zucchini Fruit Slice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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