October 2021: Shh.. A secret interview with Miss Lily, plus books & the most elegant hanging baskets
An Exclusive Interview with Miss Lily by our raving* reporter via multidimensional time machine**
Now you can read the entire Miss Lily series, we thought you might like an interview with Miss Lily herself. warning: there may be spoilers. Or are there? Miss Lily has been foiling 'spoilers' all her life...
Dear Miss Lily, if you don’t mind the familiarity….
Of course not. Milk and sugar? Or a slice of lemon?
Milk please, no sugar. I’ve just finished Legends of the Lost Lilies. It is extremely kind of you to agree to answer questions.
Not at all, my dear. Please ask any question that you please.
How do you feel now that Jackie French has finally revealed your identity?
The tea is Darjeeling. I was there in 1908. Quite spectacular views. There is nothing quite like a high altitude tea.
Were you there in an official capacity? As one of James Lorrimer’s agents?
Dear James. So nice that he has settled down at last. Will you have a crumpet?
But back to your identity…..
Violette designed the wedding dress. That was before the war, of course, long before James dared to propose. Violette always did see more than many people suspected. There is a core of goodness in that girl. In everyone of us, of course.
But Violette was a psychopath!
Some of my best…acquaintances…have tendencies. Can you imagine a Prime Minister with the gift of empathy? Or a surgeon weeping every time they wield the knife? The best psychopaths are the ones who know exactly what they are. No one cuts her cloth like Violette.
We *are* talking about fashion here?
There is a fashion in all things, my dear. War may be in fashion, and then we change to peace. One day love may be in fashion too. I’m glad I will not live to see the day. Fashion is always superficial. Let me butter your crumpet…to be stingy with butter is a crumpet, especially with crumpets.
Oooh, that does smell good…
Crumpets should always be tasted by an open fire. Applewood, if you can find it, though I miss the gum tree scent of Australia. Honey?
Yes please. As I was asking, about your identity…
Ah, I can see an incisive mind there. Were you always so perspicacious?
Well, my mum said I was precocious. This really is good honey.
Shillings honey, though Sophie sent me a trunk packed with Thuringa honey just before the war. An almost golden clarity, just like Thuringa sunlight. I miss the light, sometimes.
I suppose I’m really asking if Jackie’s book was accurate, if it’s not impolite to be direct.
Not at all, my dear. Another crumpet?
Yes please. Do you mean her book was nor correct, or you’re not offended the question?
Yes. Let me refresh your cup. Oh dear, is that the time? The carol singers will be here any minute.
But it’s only October.
They like to practice, and I love to hear them. Children’s voices are so sweet. I’m not even going to ask you how you’d like your crumpet buttered. Some questions need not be asked. Don’t you agree? More honey?
Thank you, Miss Lily.
*No, we don’t mean ‘roving’. How many sane time travelling journalists have you met?
** Patent pending, possibly circa 2484
Mrs Goodenough’s famous Cherry Cake as featured in Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies (More Recipes below)
The grass is lush, the wombats fat, and the nights are cold. The wombats emerge about midnight, munch, growl, and go back to bed, which is where I stay too.
There have been some longlistings this year: a ‘Notable Book’ for The Fire Wombat, from the CBCA; and the latest is a longlisting for the Sisters in Crime ‘Children’s Crime Novel of the Year’, for The Ghost of Howlers Beach, the first of the Butter O'Bryan mysteries. There was also a longlisting for the Book Links Award for Children’s Historical Fiction, for The Schoolmaster’s Daughter.
It's been a strange year to be a writer, just as it has been a strange and often terrible year for so many people. A writer always has to send a book out into the unknown, but after that you get to see the faces of readers at festivals, and book launches, and talks at libraries or halls.
I’ve been doing several Zooms a week, but it’s not the same, possibly because on Zoom the audience can see and hear me, but I can’t see them except in glimpses.
The books are selling. I hope they are loved, or are, at least, entertaining. But it's still strange to have so little connection with those who have read the books, or who are going to read them.
The Ghost of Gibbler's Creek
Out: December 2021 (Free!)
A story for those who can’t leave Jed and Scarlett and all the others in the Matilda Saga, which includes me. So this will be in the blog in December.
Clancy of the Overflow finished with both Jed and Scarlett pregnant. Now the ghosts have been heard at the billabong again; the babies are due; and Matilda’s priceless collection of half a century of fashion is vanishing from the now deserted Drinkwater.
William may no longer be a policeman, but this is a crime close to home and heart. Nor will Jed let Matilda’s memory be desecrated. The ghosts may have their own opinions, too…
Out: End of November 2021
Some girls are born to be loved,
Some are born to be useful,
And some are born to be bad …
Indulged and wealthy Kat Fitzhubert is ‘sold’ in an arranged marriage to a colony across the world. Viola Montefiore is the dark-skinned changeling of a ducal family, kept hidden and then shipped away. Titania Boot is as broad as a carthorse, and as useful.
On the long sea voyage from their homeland of England, these three women are fast bonded in an unlikely friendship. In the turmoil of an 1850s-Australia reinventing itself from convict colonies to a land of gold rushes and elusive riches, one woman forges a business empire. Another brews illegal hooch with a bushranger as the valleys and indigenous lands around her are destroyed. The third vanishes on her wedding day, in a scandal that will intrigue and mystify Sydney's polite society and beyond.
HarperCollins are describing it as ‘a magnificent and broad sweeping saga’. I profoundly hope it might be. It is a book that defies the myth of colonial women as ‘merely’ wives or servants, petty thieves or whores. Instead, this book shows them as business-women, farmers, bushrangers and illegal brewers, as well as arbiters of a destiny far richer than the glitter and lure of gold.
Book News: Out Now
It’s 1932, and Joey and Ellie and their parents are droving ‘the long paddock’ in the drought. How will Santa find them on the long and dusty road? And will there presents and pudding and a tree in the morning?
But Joey knows that Christmas always comes.
This is a story about finding joy and beauty where you least expect it, and how kindness can create miracles.
Legends of the Lost Lilies (Miss Lily #5)
This is the fifth and final book in the Miss Lily series, tracing the major shift in how we have seen ourselves as women from 1900-1976.
It’s also the story of Sophie, Violette, Hannelore, Green, Ethel, Rose and Miss Lily herself; because there is no one ‘women’s story’, nor, indeed a conclusion. But: this was a beginning. Each book is based on women that have been ignored or deleted from the historical records, from the vital work of women in World War I – most of it unofficial, like the majority of the medical and provisioning of the armies, plus transport in many cases too – to this final book, the espionage agents of World War II.
The women of SOE, sent to aid French resistance groups, have been celebrated, but the longer term work, both covert and in the war Ministries, again has been deleted, partly because some operations, at least, were still ongoing in the Cold War that followed World War II. But other work was carefully hidden, as it showed too clearly the deep incompetence of a male hierarchy, where jobs were still given to ‘one of us’ or ‘a chap I was at school with’. Which still happens, of course, but now we deplore it instead of applaud it.
It’s hard to leave the world of Shillings and Thuringia, to leave Sophie and Hannelore, to see Rose and her daughters stride out into the world and not follow them. But the Miss Lily series was written backwards -- this book came first, and I had to write the others that led up to it before I could publish this one. It is from a time when ‘the lovely ladies’ knew irrevocably they were the strong women they had always been, and that at least, for their daughters, both of heart and body, there would be no turning back.
The Vanishing at the Very Small Castle (The Butter O'Bryan Mysteries #2)
A story of adventure and mystery and some hilarity in the 1932 depression, with a castle, a monster, eccentric aunts and the beginnings of modern movies, an industry in which, for a while, Australia led the world.
Out: May 2021
This is based on a real Cobb & Co night mail journey from Braidwood to Goulburn in the 1870s. Young Jem Donavan takes the reins when his father is injured, facing floods, mist, mud, and the secrets of seven passengers.
The seventh secret may be deadly.
There is also a hidden treasure – a real one, which may still be waiting to be found. The book might just give you clues about where it could be...
A picture book. This is the true story of a small wombat who staggered towards us from the smoke at 2 am in the 2019-2020 bushfires, and of the animals she led to safety. It is also a story of uncounted volunteers, of hope and renewal. Longlisted for the ABIA awards and made a CBCA Notable.
Henrietta Bartlett, an assistant surgeon from the Napoleonic wars at a time when women were not surgeons, nor, officially, on battlefields, seeks and finds love, a challenge and a chance to continue the science of medicine in a colony at the end of the world, and in ways she never expected. It is a story of how the Napoleonic wars shaped colonisation and the nature of our nation; of how British military culture met with the Australian indigenous concept of war needing to finish by nightfall to limit collateral damage. It also tells of how, at certain times and in some places, there was friendship, love and exchange of knowledge between indigenous and colonial women. The history of tragedy and slaughter of indigenous people must be told, but these stories need to be remembered too.
It is also, of course, a story of the many roles of women throughout history that are only now being acknowledged, from Hen’s surgical skill to Elizabeth’s farming, from Mrs Cook’s indomitable ability to survive to Jessica’s deep indigenous knowledge. It is a story of adventure, mystery, and above all love -- for each woman in this book has her own love story, as well as love for the land on which this book was written.
Please read it. (I have never asked that before).
The October Garden
Mulberries heavy on the branch
Weed, mulch and keep on feeding – the more it rains, the more the garden grows, and the more tucker it needs. Do not waste a season like this.
Plant everything too.
(I think that just about covers it)
‘Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where
The birdies is.’
A Basket of Joy
I love hanging baskets.
Hanging gardens are rarely invaded by weeds. People don't tread on them, kids don’t roller blade on them and possums find them too unstable to attack. In addition it’s easier to remember to feed and water a garden that's just above your head instead of down the back and a garden hanging just outside your window means that you'll always have colour and greenery around you.
If your garden is tiny, plant flowers or veg in hanging baskets instead. You can hang them on a balcony- or even by a sunny window! And if you don’t have time- or water- for a big flower bed, two hanging baskets either side of the front door will give you enormous joy.
Choose big baskets -- the bigger the better! Anything smaller than a 36cm diameter will dry out too quickly -- and your poor plants will get hot and cold too fast too, with less soil insulating their roots.
Mulch! Use sphagnum moss o even better, coconut fibre or even a pebble mulch to stop the soil drying out.
Line wicker and wire baskets with plastic. This will help stop the soil drying out so fast too.
Don’t use just any soil in your baskets. You can buy specialty hanging basket mixes, or better still, use a good quality compost. Add slow release fertiliser and water storing granules too.
Replace the compost in your basket every year or two, to keep your plants growing strongly.
Water! Baskets dry out faster than garden soils. If they get very dry he soil may even repel water. Try soaking your hanging baskets in a tub of water once every week or two, to really let the water penetrate and soften the soil
Hanging baskets can be heavy! Make sure that anything you hang them from is sturdy enough to cope with a wet basket -- especially if people walk or sit underneath. Look out for rotting supports, too.
Hanging baskets are great hung under eaves or along the edge of a balcony. But remember they may not get any rain there- as well as watering you’ll need to spray the leaves now and then to get rid of dust.
What to Grow in Your Hanging Basket
Flowers and Colour
Try dwarf bougainvillea -- more colour for less work and water than any other plants, and perfect against sunny alls. Or any of the ‘patio’ roses that will turn your basket into a mound of blooms.
Massed of nasturtiums can look spectacular, as do masses of perennial petunias in hanging baskets. The flowers trail down in a mass of colour in all but the coldest months of the year. You need to cut them back a little each winter, or the flowers will trail on the ground leaving a bare mass of stalks up top - but for ease of growing and masses of flower they’re hard to beat. In shady spots try baskets of coloured leafed bromeliads.
Annuals are great in hanging baskets, too. Plant your baskets with masses of primulas or pansies in late summer, to bloom all through winter and spring, then Californian poppies in spring. Californian poppies come in a wonderful range of colours now and both will bloom for at least another 12 months or more if trimmed and regularly fed. A froth of alyssum also looks lovely, and will bloom for at least a year.
The trick with all hanging baskets of flowers, though, is to choose ones that give lots of blooms- or at least coloured leaves or bracts- over a long time.
Try lettuce – small ones like red mignonette or red cos lettuce, or big frilly ones that you pick leaf by leaf- silver beet, tomatoes, chilies, celery, rocket, zucchini, cucumbers.
Veg can look lovely too. I adore ornamental kale - all red and green and curly or variegated cream, ferny parsley, red and gold stalked rainbow chard. If you didn't know that tomatoes were edible you'd think their bright berries were there purely for show.
But for sheer productivity, you can't go past two zucchini plants and a punnet of rainbow chard (just like silver beet, but with bright coloured ornamental stems in a couple of big baskets. You’ll be swamped with zucchini for months- and nibbling the chard for almost a year.
Try lots of strawberries, especially the giant fruited Japanese ones. I also grow rhubarb in my hanging baskets. You can even grow gooseberries in cold areas; cape gooseberries in places with only light frost or none, and blueberries if you’re sure you can keep your baskets moist and well fed.
Just about any herbs are great in hanging baskets, from thyme to tarragon, prostrate rosemary, parsley, mints, basil. Grow lots of chives and spring onions, too- they can be used wherever you’d use onions. Just make sure you keep rampant growers like mint away from the more mild mannered herbs like tarragon. It’s all too easy for tarragon or thyme to be smothered by an overenthusiastic mint plant.
Shade lovers: Impatiens, pansies, ferns, many palms, fuchsias, polyanthus, Cape gooseberries.
Hot and Dry Survivors: Any cacti or succulents; geraniums/ pelargoniums, erigeron, white or purple alyssum, daisies, rosemary, lavender, sage, calendula, petunia, gazania, tomatoes, wild, native or Warrigal spinach, marigolds, tiny golden nugget pumpkins.
Project of the Month: Potting a Grass Tree
Grow a grass trees on the balcony, or in large pots against a hot dry wall.
Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) are survivors, but be prepared to pay up to $100 (hopefully much less) for a good-sized specimen.
Grass trees are very slow-growing – the ones you’ve seen may be hundreds of years old. You’ll have to pay for many years of growing. They only flower every three years or so, but are mostly grown for their elegant shape and dramatic foliage. They’ll grow in full sun or light shade, so will be perfect for your balcony. Water them once or twice a week, and make sure the pot is very well drained. Feed with a low phosphorus (native) fertiliser in spring. Don’t mulch them – the grass tree is one plant that loves being surrounded by sand, gravel, or pebbles.
PS Never dig up wild ones – it’s illegal, and the plant will almost certainly die if taken from the soil it’s been growing in.
The October Garden
Food garden: Choko, lemongrass, sweet potato and passionfruit vines, Jerusalem artichokes, paw paw and Cape gooseberry seeds. Also the seeds of artichokes, basil, beans, beetroot, capsicum, carrots, celery, celtuce, chicory, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, tropical lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peas, peanuts, pumpkin (not in humid areas), radish, rosellas, sweet corn, tomatoes and salad greens like mizuna and mitsuba.
Plants for beauty: 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 and Temperate Climates
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.
Plants for beauty: 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 snapdragon.