Peaking

Bookweek is peak school-visit time for writers and illustrators and over recent years, the ‘week’ has (fortunately) extended to a much longer time. This year has been a doozy!

It began for me in early August with Papua New Guinea, where Tina Clark and I spent just over a week working with students and teachers. The week culminated with a presentation to parents and families of the work they’d been doing (and a fabulous birthday celebration for Tina!)

We were also lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterfly breeding program that is hoping to return these world-biggest butterflies to their land.

Next up, I travelled to Vanuatu as guest of Port Vila International School. What a wonderful whirlwind! In addition to working with the students at PVIS, I also visited an island school via banana boat and another primary school (both schools were on holidays but opened for our visit), a French school and an independent school. In between, I snorkelled, swam in the bluest lagoon, watched sunrises and sunsets, cruised the harbour and sampled some of the finest food. I also learned that the duration of a land lease there equalled the life of a coconut tree! Having lived in Bougainville in my childhood, there were many familiar experiences, but so many new ones too. I was welcomed so warmly by the school community it was hard to say goodbye.

 

I flew home on a Friday afternoon, switched clothes and resources and was on a plane to Sydney on Sunday afternoon for a week of school visits in Sydney and Newcastle, organised by The Children’s Bookshop. 

Back in Melbourne, I visited schools very near and about as far from my house as is possible and still be in town.

Throw in a trip to Vietnam, edits on an upcoming novel and an upcoming picture book and it starts to explain why I’ve not blogged for a bit. I am so lucky to work in the world of words, teachers, librarians, children and their families. But I am looking forward to some time at home.

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A coupla pics

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Thank you Robinsons Bookshop (Werribee) for supporting my visit to Tarneit Library.

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The wonderful Tarneit (Wyndham) Library. Thanks for such a warm welcome.

 

From here to there

I am halfway through a schedule of four events in less than 7 days. Not that I’m thinking this is necessarily a heavy speaking load, but it is taking some planning.

You might think I can use a single talk for all of them, but of course life isn’t like that. And that’s okay, but I’ve needed to make lists and pack bags early to be sure that I have the right resources for each.

Yesterday I visited a lovely local school. The initial brief was that I’d be speaking for an hour with a group of Yr 1&2s who have just completed their unit on writing narratives. That grew to include all the preps, and then on the day, there were also some Yr 4s! Flexibility is the name of that game!

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Today I was a Books in Homes Ambassador at a school about 40 min away. This time the audience was the entire school body and the duration, 15 minutes. Afterwards, I and three representatives of the sponser Mainfreight, had the lucky job of personally handing out bags of books to students.

There were too many students to photograph, so here is a picture of one of the occupants of the tank in the reception area.

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Tomorrow I’m at a library about half an hour away, doing storytime for an hour, for a group that is currently unnumbered but could be around 100. Preschoolers mostly and their siblings and carers.

And to round out my week, on Tuesday next, I’m guest speaker at a Christmas in July event at a RSL club north of the city. I have no idea of numbers but I do know which book I’m talking about.

Paperback Writer

It’s been a week or so of parcels. I love parcels. Who doesn’t? Each one of the parcels has contained books. There were paperback editions of Koala (Australian)

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Dingo (US)

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and a new-cover Old Sailor (Australia).

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There have also been emails confirming:

1. Seadog will be back in paperback soon

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2. Wild Pa will soon be available in paperback

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3. Meet the Anzacs and Meet Weary Dunlop will be appearing for the second time in ALDI

And as if that weren’t enough excitement, there was a Royal Mail sack, complete with special security tags, containing Walker UK editions of ‘The Anzac Billy’.

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My cup runneth over.

 

Oh, what a night!

It started with a – no, not a kiss, although it’s possible that my header suggested a song.

It started with a ‘The Anzac Billy’ event at my wonderful local Hobsons Bay library, Altona Meadows branch, with attendees from Queen of Peace primary school. We talked all things 1915, WWI, children missing absent parents, Christmas treats and the multiple uses of a billy.

Then, I was out the door quicker than you could say, ‘I have a plane to catch.’ I was off to Sydney for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards presentation night at the NSW State Library’s Mitchell Library.

Made the plane with at least 10 min to spare. Plane was on time. Taking off and landing. Made the train with 3 min to spare. Booked into hotel. Rapid costume change. In and out of the hotel in less than 15 minutes. Made the pre-event meeting with 12 min to spare. Made the event time within 2 min of start time.

Ahh. Relax.

Well as much as you can relax when your book is shortlisted and there’s going to be announcements. Concentrated on greeting familiar faces, and meeting new ones. (Sharon Kernot – love ‘The Art of Taxidermy’)

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We’d been briefed to have a 1 min acceptance speech. Such a tricky thing to do when you are desperately trying not to imagine winning because every book in the shortlist deserves to win. Including ‘Leavetaking’, by friend and writing buddy, Lorraine Marwood

We sat alongside the illustrator of Dingo, Tannya Harricks, who I’d met for the first time only minutes before.

Then this happened …

‘Leavetaking’ and ‘Dingo’ were announced as co-winners of the Patricia Wrightson Award.

 

There’s some fog around the next hour or so, but it included the pre-prepared speech, much hugging and a bit of pinching. And look at the other company our book is keeping!

Visit here, for the complete list of the wonderful short list and winners.

The Anzac Billy: Post-book-release research (or … Should I have known this earlier?)

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I visited the Alexandra Club on Wednesday and spent a wonderful hour there learning more about the club’s involvement in the sending of billies to Gallipoli in 1915.

It seems the club had already begun planning to send treats to send soldiers for Christmas when a club member heard (letters home?) that there was a need for billies. Rather than just send a single billy, or a couple, they decided to send 20,000! Within a time so short it seems impossible, they had organised the manufacture of billies, moved the furniture out of their club room, lifted carpet, set up trestle tables and put the call out to members and non-members alike. If they were to reach the soldiers in time for Christmas, they needed to leave Melbourne in October. The scale and ambition of this inititiave is staggering. Even thinking about the logistics is mind-spinning.

Donations arrived from everywhere. There are stories of one member driving around collecting billies until there was barely room for her in the car ! Members in rural towns organised and inspired their local communities. Other groups around Australia and New Zealand took up the challenge and by Christmas 1915, around 55,000 filled billies had made their way across the seas to the warfields. A staggering feat.

Should I have known this before writing? What’s the point of doing this research now? I’ve been thinking about this and whether I should be spending my time researching new projects. Sure, it’s interesting, but do I need to know this?

I may not NEED to know more, but I WANT to know more. This knowledge wasn’t necessary for the writing of The Anzac Billy. When I write, my aim is to stimulate curiosity in readers by presenting them with stories they may not have encountered before. When Mark Jackson and Heather Potter illustrated this story, they added so many layers of information in the illustrations. They induce curiosity in me, wondering at what is the same now and what is different. Discovering more about how these billies came to be, I understand more about a time other than my own. Understanding more helps me to bring it to life for young readers when I visit classrooms. The book must stand on its own, of course, and I hope it induces curiosity in the reader, as well as engaging them in a story about family and a boy missing his dad.

I have no control (and neither should I) in what someone takes from my words. Those words are now fixed in print and will have their own life. I read recently that a reader contributes about 40-50 % to a story, by what they bring to the reading of it. I like that. And I’ll keep being curious.

 

 

The Anzac Billy and more …

I missed April 1 this year. It sailed right on by with nary a peep …

Not that I celebrate it particularly, but I just didn’t notice it, nor connect the day with the date at all.

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Happy Launch Day to The Anzac Billy! Officially released on 1 April, I launched it at Dromkeen as part of the Dromkeen Literary Festival. Mark Wilson was to launch it but last minute events saw Corinne Fenton stepping in. Big thanks Corinne!

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We’d just returned from a week up north, but despite being far away, the news of Dingo’s shortlisting for the CBCA New Illustrator Award filtered through. How exciting! Very happy to see Tannya’s work being noticed – it’s so beautiful.

We were doing some sorting up north and turned up many treasures. There were letters I’d written when our boys were small and when we were contemplating living without a toilet and shower for the duration of renovations. Amazing what you forget!

In preparing for the release of The Anzac Billy, I’d been searching out artefacts to include in a billy, but had been unable to find a razor from the time. But I found one! Still in it’s box and identifying it’s owner, it’s identical to the one Mark Jackson has drawn in the endpapers. What a find!

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I know this post is jumping forward and back, but just consider it a reflection of my mind. Scary? You betcha. Stream of consciousness …

At Dromkeen, I met a lovely library tech and her daughter who are sending me some of the current (or almost current) contents of army ration packs. I’ll take them to schools with the billy to help students understand the life of a soldier. All these things help young students to imagine a time other than their own, a life not like theirs.

Ration pack items