November 2018: Giant Kangaroos
Christmas 1914: two lovers, one war, and the beginning of what would be the most successful resistance movement in World War I, dismissed by history, and almost entirely female. This is a cross between Downton . And some readers may work out who the two lovers are, though you won’t know for sure till The Lily in the Snow in April.
The Tale of the Giant Kangaroos
This is not the giant kangaroo in question ...
It was not my fault. (I think I’m going to have that printed on a tee shirt).
I was driving peaceably down a straight stretch of road when about 5 km in front of me I could faintly see a giant roo, leaping right down the middle of the road.
I turned off the engine, pulled out my iPad, and waited to take its photo. It seemed almost hypnotised, incredibly thin, heading down to the area's only remaining water. It came nearer, and nearer. I turned on the video ... And it hit me, right on the driver’s side.
It bounced back, blinked at me a few times, then leapt down the road, over the fence, and down to the water. I looked back to see it finally having its drink. It was fine.
My car wasn’t. I was shaken too, having seen about a square metre of kangaroo chest at the window. But the car started, so I drove it home, rather shakily and then found my door wouldn’t open, so Bryan helped me out with a crow bar and I crawled out the other side.
I still thought it was just a small ding, till the next day – the front caved in, the grille broken, the side door buckled, and a very small tuft of kangaroo fur in a cracked bit.
The car has been at the repair shop for the two months, while they wait to get parts. Turns out I shouldn’t have driven it – they took one look, saw broken bits in the engine, and refused to let me get back in, in case it exploded.
But back to the roo. I’ve seen it twice since then. It’s just as tall, but a bit fatter, hiding under the willow trees during the day and coming out to graze at night. In retrospect my mistake was leaving the lights on –the poor animal must have been dazzled and swerved to avoid them, into the darkness that happened to be car, not road.
The roo peers out as I pass now, in Bryan’s ute. I didn't think it would recognise me, but it does look a bit nervous. Maybe it’s nervous of every vehicle now, which is a good thing. I’d like to apologise to it, too – even if it didn’t fall down, and still moves easily, that bump must have hurt. And of course, the loss of the tuft of hair.
How the last two months vanished
The last two months been taken up with:
Video and social media support for the teacher librarian and support our libraries campaign
Composing a poem for Millfield School's 150's birthday that came from a visit to disadvantaged schools and small bush schools in the Hunter Valley
Community talks too on literacy and to encourage library membership
Millfield Public School
Many Q and A phone sessions with students, betting several thousand kids that their librarian, or teacher, or I, can find the 'magic book' that turns them into a reader – and if not 'll give them $5 or a packet of excellent chocolate frogs. Have had a few pernickety ones this month but have finally succeeded so well they want 'more'- and expect me to find them! (have also explained inter library loans)
Spoke at the ACEL Conference in Melbourne – that resulted in a Teacher-Librarian writing to tell me that their principal had realised how important the library was and had decided to retain the library and staff and ensure that the entire staff would make the library and literacy central to all their teaching. (Felt liking crying at that one, and did cry).
Travelled to Tasmanian schools and community centres for disadvantaged schools and communities – a grandpa had told me proudly that his 12-yr-old grandson was the first person ever to learn to read in their family, but convinced him that he too will soon be reading. (We both choked up on that).
The Poem for Millfield's 150th birthday:
A school is more than walls and faces
More than desks and other places
Library, oval, office, hall
Our school is opportunity
Born of our community
150 years of everyone
Working for us all.
Just a slab hut long ago
Students’ families come and go
As mines opened, closed, or drought-browned paddocks
And yet our school would slowly grow.
We’re still small if you count faces
But we’re vast if you count hearts
Gum trees, possums, big book cases
Velvet ducks with muddy bills
Chickens, cows and vegie tasters
Roos that dance on sapphire hills
Our school is now a million places
That our imagination grows and fills.
Buildings never last forever
But our school will go wherever
Each of us may go from here
Every rich and strong endeavor
Comes from this place we hold dear.
The latest in the Matilda Saga. A killer lurks amongst the kindness of the Gibber’s Creek community. Merv Ignatious’ body has been found in the burnt out church – but other bodies lie below him.
Many had good reason to kill Merv, the man who so viciously assaulted Jed at the age of 15, and who tried to kill her and her unborn child in the bushfires – a fire he had lit. But who would kill him on that day, or leave his body in a sacred place?
Fish Johnson fights to clear suspicion from Jed and Sam McAlpine, and from Scarlett, now finally taking steps from her wheelchair. But Fish too has secrets: the disappearance of an unknown man who recently appeared as her Vietnamese refugee father, but who has now vanished again.
This is a story of secrets, but also of love: love of family, of friends, of community, and the land about us.
Age range: 10+
The ‘the author is terrified and needs to explain this book to everyone’ book has been published. The reviews so far are wonderful, but I am still unsure if I should have written it, or written it that way.
Just a Girl is set in Judea in 72 AD as the Roman army move like bloodthirsty locusts through the land. Two girls, an old woman, a Roman slave left for dead and a goat shelter in a store cave.
All of which is fiction. But interwoven are the memories the old woman tells of her childhood in Nazareth and marriage in Jerusalem, and a woman called ‘Maryam’. And these parts of the book are based on decades of study and research of possibly the most famous but least known woman in history, be she known as Mariam, Maryam, Maria or Mary.
Which is what terrifies me. This book is set before the Christian gospels were written, apart, possibly, from the Letters of Paul; before Islam and in a time of turmoil, with young protagonists who would not know or be able to perform the duties of their religion.
It is a book about a central religious figure, but without the religion some readers will expect. It isn’t there because much of it had not yet been formulated.
But Mary/Maryam of Nazareth took what might have been the most tragic story in the world, and made it one of joy. She was a woman of extraordinary courage, a teacher; and very much an historical person that we know of from primary as well as secondary sources. Her life can also be seen as testimony — like so many others of her sex whom history has dismissed or diminished, this woman was never ‘just a girl’.
Age range: 14+
World War I is over, but can there ever truly be peace?
Sophie Higgs, Australian heiress, faces the revolutionary turmoil of Europe to rescue her fellow student, Hannelore, the Prinzessen von Arneburg.
And what of the mysterious Miss Lily? Can she ever return?
Even love seems impossible, as the women who helped win the war are expected to forget all they achieved on the battlefields. Sophie is torn between her very different feelings for Nigel, Earl of Shillings; Dolphie, patriot and enemy; and ‘John’, the man who carves stone crosses on Sophie’s Australian property for every man who has died under his command.
This is the second in the Miss Lily series, a cross, perhaps, between James Bond and Downton Abbey, as well as following not just the changing role of women, but how we see ourselves.
Age range: 8+
Barney Bean now has his dream, his own farm. But when Elsie suddenly falls desperately ill, the secret of why she will not speak is revealed.
This story reveals more of the secrets of our past: the French invasion ordered by Napoleon, and the women like Jeanne Barre who disguised themselves as men to take part in great scientific adventures on voyages across the world.
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.
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, 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.
Some events are ‘possible’, i.e. not confirmed yet or details still being organised. While I’m travelling again now, my legs were damaged in surgery last year, so I need to travel with a crutch, which puts limits on how long I stand or sit. I’m trying not to let the damage stop me, but it does mean there’s a bit more involved in travel these days.
For bookings, check the terms on the website and/or contact Booked Out.
20 January: Free workshop at our place in the valley entitled, ‘This is where the stories come from’ with the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA). Date to be confirmed when the family work out their January plans
31 January: STEM event at the South-Weston Professional Learning Day, ACT
February: Dippy's Big Day Out Published (with Bruce Whatley)
February 28 - March 1: Sydney Laureate Summit, NSW
April: Happy Birthday Wombat (with Bruce Whatley) and the Lily in the Snow are published
6 April - 7 April: Creative Kids Tales Conference, Sydney
14 April - 15 April: Talk at Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA ALEA Conference and subsequent visit by 50 delegates to JF’s place for ‘The Land Behind Stories'
Also next year: several other events are already booked, including Book Week in Charter’s Towers. More details closer to the time.
The November Garden: Ten reasons to grab a spade
(Not necessarily in the right order)
Money: Even a small vegie garden can give you salad or green veg every day of the year; shrubs, trees and beauty can add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of your house.
Happiness: Humans are happiest with greenery around them, less stressed and less prone to illness.
Forget the gym membership: An hour planting, picking, mowing or mulching will give you a superb workout.
Health: Regular exercise helps a range of problems from arthritis to obesity – plus you get a healthy dose of Vitamin D (but do wear a hat, too).
Family and friends: Conversation indoors can be interrupted by the TV. Outdoor chats over a cuppa or something cool tend to be more about laughter, the meaning of life, and extremely good gossip.
Your dog: He/she will enjoy your company as he/she pretends to be guarding you from the pack of lions that might just possibly appear down the road. The cat will also enjoy your company, though she’ll pretend you are only there to provide a comfortable lap.
Kids: can yell ‘Hey, watch this!’ as you plant silver beet.
Community: You might meet the neighbours and discover that not all communities these days need to be online.
The smells: The scent of spring flowers, freshly mown grass, newly dug soil, even the rich smell of well-made compost as you turn it.
Serenity: Sometimes it is good to sit back and watch the bounty of the earth, the fruit trees, lettuces and roses to soothe and delight you.
November is the time to:
Vegies for a year of glorious eating, flowers to delight you all summer, shrubs for beauty and the birds.
Soft little red mignonettes, curly heat hardy ‘miner’s lettuce’, sturdy leafed Red Cos that you can pick leaf by leaf as you need them for the next year.
Think summer herbs
Home-grown coriander, parsley, tarragon and fennel for sophistication and basil for every day, in salads, home-made pesto for pasta, on pizza or tomato salads – and purple-leafed basil and ruffle-leafed basil and Thai basil.
Think potted pelargoniums on the window sill or patio, for glowing flowers even if you forget to water them or summer frizzles us all.
Before the soil dries out or washed away by summer storms.
Nibble Plants Kids love to nibble their way around the garden. Grow a hanging basket of cherry tomatoes by the back door, so they can pick a few every time they pass and another hanging basket of snow peas. I bet that even if your kid says they hate veg, both tomatoes and snow peas will vanish every time the kids pass. Plus, of course, strawberries to eat sun-warmed as they come in the gate from school.
What to plant now:
Choko, lemongrass, sweet potato, granadilla, chilacayote and passionfruit vines, Jerusalem artichokes, paw paw and Cape gooseberry seeds. Also the seeds of artichokes, basil, beans, beetroot, capsicum, carrots, celery, lettuce, chicory, cucumbers*, eggplant, endive, fennel, tropical lettuce, melons*, okra, parsley, peanuts, pumpkin*, radish, rosellas, sweet corn, tomatoes and salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba, winged bean, warrigal and Malaba spinach, watermelon and zucchini*. * not in humid areas
Flowers: Seeds or seedlings of ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, carnations, celosia, coleus, cosmos, dichondra, echinops, erigeron, gaillardia, gazania, gloxinia, gourds, hymenosporum, impatiens, nasturtiums, phlox and salvia.
Cold, Temperate and Sub-tropical: Food garden: Seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, choko, strawberries; seeds of artichokes, asparagus, basil, beans, beetroot, broccoli, burdock, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celtuce, chicory, collards, coriander, corn salad, cress, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, kale, kohl rabi, leeks, lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peanuts, pumpkin, radish, rosellas, salsify, scorzonera, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba, and zucchini.
Flowers: Shrubs if you can water regularly over summer; achillea, ageratum, alstromeria, alyssum, amaranthus, aster, balsam, Bellis perennis, bells of Ireland, brachyscome, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, carnation, celosia, clarkia, cleome, coleus, coreopsis, columbines, cosmos, delphinium, dichondra, echinacea, echinops, erigeron, euphorbia, foxglove, gaillardia, gazania, globe amaranth, gloxinia, godetia, gypsophila, helichrysum, heliotrope, hellebores, honesty, lavender, marigolds, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, Flanders poppy, portulaca, rudbeckia, salpiglossis, salvia, scabious, sweet William, viola, zinnia and snapdragons.