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This might be the happiest time of my life.

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I have pondered long in the land I love
What the land I love can be
And the greatest gifts we can give each child
Are courage… and history.
(With apologies to Henry Lawson)

It has been a summer of magic and beauty and happiness: a small boy explaining to his friends that ‘the police can’t come onto Grandma’s whatever we do so that’s why we don’t have to wear seat belts’ (a few hundred metres down the drive, at about 1 km an hour, between two adults). I can just imagine his school wondering if Grandma has a meth lab in the garage or is an international jewel thief.

Actually the police did arrive at the property next door — 50 of them, raiding a $9 million illegal tobacco crop, using a drone to follow the foreman as he fled into the bush where they found and arrested him, arresting all the others too. The valley is still eager for the next installment of the melodrama.  But by then the kids had gone home, so that story, at least, won’t be told in ‘what I did on my holidays’, though the dead chook and the dead fox might feature.  I did try to keep the kids from the tragedy in the chook house (all the other hens flew up high and survived) but the kids all dashed to see their favourite chooks before we could stop them. ‘Cool!’ they yelled at both the fox and the dead chook – not any their favourites: Snowy, Freckles, Roo Roo, or Policeman Guard Rooster; who bravely fought the fox off.

 

There were also a lot of stories, and games, like Santa-Claus-is-attacked-by-a-horde-of-dinosaurs-but-saved-by-a-racing-car; and tree climbing and fruit picking-and-eating and egg collecting and throwing-sticks-into-the-creek-to-see-which-floats-fastest, and rock climbing in the creek too. But I have a feeling that none of those can beat the ‘no police, whatever we do’ and the dead chook and fox.

 

January began with the raid and then sudden quiet, which is always for me the best time to write — 144,000 words in three weeks. It is the ‘last’ in the Matilda series, except the series is going to go back to 1814, with short stories about Jed and Scarlett et al.  Lisa at HarperCollins has read it — it is always a nail biting time before she reads the mss. And she likes it — loves it — was enthralled by it. And I am deeply, incredibly relieved because I knew it was either very good or unintelligible, spanning 100 years, and the entire Matilda series, and attempting to show the essence of our nation, our culture and our land.  And if Lisa is right (Lisa is always right, and life is always better when everyone accepts this) it is the best of the series, and, possibly, the best I have written. One of the consolations of getting older (as well as the joy of seeing wonderful new generations) is that if you are a writer your work gets better; deeper; more threads drawn together, more craft, more love. A bit like cooking, really. (The Christmas pudding this year was the best ever. So was the lemon slice).

In Praise of Lounging

I’ve become an inadvertent lounger. Surgery gone wrong means one of my legs needs to be above waist level for most of the day. At first I was worried that my subconscious would think ‘aha, propped up on pillows. Brain will now go into relax mode and shut down.’

But it didn’t. To my surprise I found I was working longer. My body wasn’t as strained after eight hours of writing as it would be on a chair, as lounging also means you move around more often, sometimes cross-legged, sometimes in the type of odd pose a yoga instructor might possibly name ‘flying wombat aiming for the sky.’ Then there was the lovely New Scientist article that said that subjects solved puzzles 13% faster when they did them prone.

I have a feeling my desk days are done. Even if I could manage to sit at a desk all day now, I think it is laptops and lounging for me. As to the ‘why’, I have finally had to accept that the knee surgery has left me unable to walk much, or stand for more than a minute without agony or collapse, and yes, it is time to accept wheelchairs if I want to cook or nurse a baby. But I am deeply lucky, as I can work with my legs up and escape to the most wonderful worlds. I can spy on wombats from the sofa and still laugh with friends.

New Books (and Books Out Soon)

Dippy's Big Day Out
By Jackie French & Bruce Whatley, concept by Ben Smith Whatley
Age range: 3+

Dippy is a delight, a picture book with Bruce Whatley based on an idea by his son Ben, based 100,000 years ago in the age of megafauna, which gets missed out, but is as fascinating for kids as dinosaurs.
Dippy is a diprotodon, the BIGGEST, friendliest wombat, who lived 100,000 years ago.
All Dippy wants is happy friends, a place to sleep and lots to eat.
Who knew that could be such an adventure?


The Secret of the Youngest Rebels
Age range: 7+

 

This fifth title in The Secret Histories series uncovers the secrets that the colonial government hid for over 200 years.
Frog is an orphan, a pickpocket, starving on the streets of Parramatta in 1804.

But when the tall, commanding Irish rebel Mr Cunningham talks of freedom from tyranny and the lash, Frog creeps out to join the rebels, the 10,000 convicts who will take over the colony and proclaim the Republic of New Ireland.

Will farmers like Barney and Elsie Bean join the battle against the corrupt New South Wales Corps? For the fate of the colony – and Australia – will be decided at Castle Hill.

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is possibly the most real and most well-based account of the Vinegar Hill rebellion you will find, and, written as fiction, hopefully the most exciting as well as accurate. (Tip: Major Johnson lied about what happened that day, as he broke the law and would have been liable for prison or even hanging in Britain. Also we may already be a republic…)

The Lily in the Snow
Age range:14+
Out: April 2019

\

1929: Jazz, parties and an endlessly rising stock market. But an insignificant politician called Adolf Hitler plans blackmail – and even murder – to snare Miss Lily, her espionage network — and the British royal family.

The Lily in the Snow is enthralling and you will not expect any part of this book, the third installment in the Miss Lilly series. It is The Crown meets James Bond but with deeper history than either.

When the War is Over
(Illustrated by Anne Spudvilas)
Age range: 8+
Out: March 2019



When the War is Over with Anne Spudvilas is so moving I cannot read it without tears at the beauty Anne has created. It is not about wars, but the endings of those wars, from 1918 until today.

Now the war is over
And they say the world is free,
Though somewhere guns are snarling,
You've come back to me.


War may never truly end, but there can be homecomings.

 

The Last Dingo Summer
Age range: 12+

 

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.

Books out now

Just a Girl
Age range: 11+

                                    


The 'author is terrified and needs to explain this book to everyone’ book is about to be published.
It is set in Judea, in 72AD, as the Roman army move like bloodthirsty locusts swarm 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 of the old woman 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; 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 most readers will expect. It's not there because much of it had not yet been formulated.

 But Mary/Maryiam of Nazareth took what might have been the most tragic story in the world, and yet she made it one of joy, 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 history has dismissed or diminished, thus woman was never 'just a girl’.

Koala Bare
(illustrated by Matt Shanks)
Age range: 3+

Some bears wear pants and live in cottages in the woods ... but this koala is out to prove to the world that he is BARE!

And that never, ever, ever can a koala be a bear...

The Lily and the Rose
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.

his 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.

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies
Age range: 8+
 

 

June 1798

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.
 

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, 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.
 

Facing the Flame
Age range: 12+

 

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

 Facing the Flame  is the seventh in the Matilda series, 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, this book 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.

 Facing the Flame is written for both teenagers and adults. 
More books can be found here.

Schedule 

Some events this year 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, please see:
Speakers Ink for QLD
Booked Out for WA and Victoria
vincent.hermann@brighton.sa.edu.au  for SA.
For more information on the terms of talks, workshops and school visits, see the Bookings page.

13 – 16 February: Tathra bushfire renewal talks, with cooking schools and give-aways of  books from the wonderful 'Book Love for Tathra' appeal (see last year's May blog), Tathra, NSW
28 February – 1 March: Australian Children's Laureate Summit, Sydney
22 March: Gundagai school talks, NSW
23 March: Jugiong Writers' Festival, NSW
28 March: Playgroup Conference, Melbourne
4 April: Currie Lecture, Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), Canberra
6 April: Creative Kids Tales Writers' Festival, Sydney
7 April:Launch of This is Who We Are book of poetry for young people created with the brilliant Tania McCartney at the Australian National Library, Canberra
14 April –15 April: Australian School Library Visitor's Conference (ASLV), Canberra
5 May: Panel on ‘Why We Must Remember’ with Morris Gleitzman and Marcus Zusak at the Jewish Museum of Australia

 

Zucchini!

As Broccoli Bill says in The Last Dingo Summer, you can never have too many zucchinis.

Cheese and Zucchini Puffs

Stuffed Zucchini
Zucchini Slice
Sweet and Sour Zucchini Sauce for Pasta or Noodles
Prawn and Zucchini Salad
Spectacular Vegetarian Timbale
Spectacular Zucchini Chocolate Cake
Zucchini Fruit Slice
Leeks in Sour Cream
Potatoes and Sour Cream
Lemon Slices
Summer Recipes
Magic Micro-Greens for Happy Munching

They’re tiny, tasty, and make the best salads in the universe. They’re ‘micro-greens’— baby leaves picked before they have time to turn tough or bitter; and it’s very very easy to grow your own.
To read more, go here






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