New Books (and Books Out Soon)
This is embarrassing. There are about six books coming out in the next few months, making about 12 coming out this year. This is not an excess of productivity but coincidence – partly because I couldn’t work much for the months of infection after the first surgery, and so projects were delayed, but also because the partners in some of the books also had reasons why they couldn't work on them for a while too. And suddenly a lot of diverse books were read, some of which were written as long as five years ago.
Happy Birthday Wombat
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Age range: 3+
Out: May 2019
The latest the Diary of a Wombat series. It’s just plain, enormous fun. Look for the free activities, too, ‘pin the carrot on the wombat’ and the wombat birthday wrapping paper. I cannot wait to pin the carrot on the wombat.
To the Moon and Back (revised edition)
Written with Bryan Sullivan
Age range: 10+
Out: June 2019
This was really written by Bryan, the man who downloaded those first incredible images of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon. To the Moon and Back is the story of the extraordinary Australians at Honeysuckle Creek, ACT, who sent men to the moon – and bought them back – a vital role that had never been made public till Bryan first write the book about 15 years ago. This is a new edition, and finally, we have added the astonishing contributions of the women of the Apollo program, which were kept hidden at the time.
I’ve spent much of my career putting women back into the history they have been left out of, but despite many hours searching, those women’s contribution remained a mystery to me, as the technical culture of the time was still too male oriented.
But then the first crack appeared, with Hidden Figures, and now … well, read the book. Those were extraordinary days, brilliant people completely focused and dedicated, inventing the internet (which others would take credit for, as their work was classified), biometrics and much else, all for quite small salaries, working for humanity, not profit.
Pirate Boy of Sydney Town
Age range: 10+
Out: June 2019
There’s a carefully hidden part of Australia’s history … for about a decade Sydney town was a pirate port, where farmers supplied the ships that raided the fabulous treasure-laden Dutch traders heading to or from Batavia. We will never know how many ships were destroyed, the crews killed, the ships sunk, but the situation was serious enough for Governor Maquarie to appeal for extra troops in case the French sent a fleet to retaliate. (Holland was then under the control of Napoleon.
Enter a ripping yard that also rips open a hole in our hidden history. Twelve-year-old Ben Huntsmore is the son of a ship owner, an only child who loves the farming life on his family’s estate, Badger’s Hill.
But when Ben’s father loses their ancestral home to pay a gambling debt, Ben reluctantly joins his father in a desperate venture to win it back, capturing enemy trading ships off the west Australian coast.
Ben faces not just the giant waves of the Southern Ocean but also Dutch guns, as well as unexpected treachery. Only the friendships of the mysterious convict Higgins and the young Indigenous sailor Guwara will help Ben survive, as well as show him the true meaning of loyalty and riches.
This book is possibly the most adventurous I’ve ever written. It also has a cameo appearance from Tom Appleby (now a prosperous farmer) and his wife and son and especially, daughter.
My Name is not Peaseblossom
Age range: 12+
Out: July 2019
Fairies are cute. Fairies are sweet. Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can have happiness and true love just by squeezing a little juice into their eyes, ensorcelled to love the first person they see thereafter.
Fairies dance and sing and play magic tricks and can fly around the world in seconds.
But there are drawbacks to being a fairy.
You must do what you are ordered by the kind or queen – and royalty in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be capricious, just as they were in Shakespeare’s day, when the wrong words might have you chained in the stocks and rubbish thrown at you if you were lucky. If you weren’t, your head would hang on Traitor’s gate (after your innards had been pulled out while you were still alive).
And what if you didn’t want cute and sweet?
What if you preferred pizza to fairy bread and fell in love before the magic juice had been squeezed into your eyes?
What if you’d rather be known as Pete, instead of Peaseblossom?
I began the Shakespeare Series writing about Romeo and Juliet from the point of view of Juliet, adding scenes that might have happened, while staying true to the play. Ophelia, Queen of Denmark is Hamlet but with a happy ending and a lot of cheese – but true to the play too. Third Witch is Macbeth, but with no witchcraft, only pretense and mistakes – and a happy ending (for some, at least).
My Name is Not Peaseblossom is the last in the series, and the first from the point of view of a man. It’s a comedy, just like the audience laughed at A Midsummer Night’s Dream back when it was performed in Shakespeare’s Day. But like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, My Name is Not Peaseblossom has deeper questions at its heart. A Midsummer Night's Dream can be seen as tragedy as well as a comedy, how both mortals and fairies suffer under the whims of two kings, Oberon and Theseus and two Queens, Hippolyta and Titania.
At its heart is a question as relevant today as it was when the play was written.
Which would you rather have, real life or faked happiness?
Whether we choose to spend all our free time on vicarious adventures with a DVD or flower drops in our eyes to give everlasting love?
Do we want to face the problems the world faces, or even the heartbreak of our friends, or stay in happy ignorance?
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.
The Secret of the Youngest Rebels
Age range: 7+
The fourth book in the Secret History series, is possibly the most real account of the Vinegar Hill rebellion you will find, and 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
Out: April 2019
The next in the Miss Lily series The Lily in the Snow is enthralling, exciting and unpredictable – The Crown crossed with James Bond but with a deeper history than both. Sophie, now Countess of Shillings, Nigel and Miss Lily are blackmailed by Hannelore to travel to Germany to meet the man the Prince of Wales thinks may bring peace to Europe – Adolf Hitler.
It is not easy for an author to write down the racist words of Hitler, or those of the poor foolish Edward, Prince of Wales, corrupted by both too much power and too little, but they are necessary to show how lies can eat the truth, in 1929 as in today.
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.