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This might be the happiest time of my life.

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Suddenly, a year ahead for me
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.

Wombat 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
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

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 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.


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.

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Ages: 14+



A tale of love, espionage and passionate heroism. Inspired by true stories, this is a take on 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. The reviews have been wonderful, and the comments too: ‘literally unputdownable’; ‘you HAVE to read this.’
I very much hope you do, and I am two thirds through the next one…..

Millie Loves Ants
Ages: Everyone



With the glorious Sue deGennaro, we dreamed this up three years ago while watching her daughters explore the valley.

The Secret of the Black Bushranger
Ages: 8+




The third in the Secret History series. Barney has finally been given his farm, making him the youngest landowner in the colony. But is the escaped convict he helped a laughing villain or a freed slave who cannot endure chains again?  Who was John ‘Black’ Caesar? The result of years of research into this previously unknown corner of our history, this book combines adventure with insight into the early years of our first colony.

Schedule 

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

 

Awards

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, 

 

 

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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