Happy World Oceans Day!

How wonderful are our oceans? From the beach to the rock pools to the deep dark trenches, there is so much to love, so much to wonder at. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that the ocean has been a feature of many of my books.

It’s also appropriate that this is the day that another ocean-connected book advance copy arrived in my letterbox. Great White Shark (Nature Storybook), illustrated by Cindy Lane, published by Walker Books Australia, is an introduction to the wonder of sharks in general and this one in particular. It’s also a reminder why we should be less scared and more in awe of these wonderful creatures. Out August 4, 2021.

Iceberg was released in February and is set entirely at sea. Treasure! released in April, is set in a lighthouse surrounded by sea.

Here are some more of my ocean-connected books:

A Clean Desk

… well, to be perfectly honest … a clean-ER desk.

… but nowhere near as clean as this one.

I’ve just submitted a picture book manuscript and now the waiting begins. This story nearly killed me! Dramatic? A touch, perhaps, but I found it very difficult to find the voice, the starting point and the ending. What DID I have? I had the ‘colour’. I had a single image that encapsulated the world I wanted to write about, but I really struggled to find my way in.

I read books. I watched videos. I researched online. But like a bubble of mercury, the idea kept slipping away from me, while also enticing me with shiny ‘what ifs?’.

I drafted. Redrafted. And so on. I think I had done ten complete drafts (well when I say complete, I mean not-quite-complete-but-exhausted-partials) when I decided to put the project away for a few days. I was not going to think about it. La-la-la fingers-in-ears not listening/thinking/trying. I was even beginning to entertain the idea that I should abandon this project altogether, even though I desparately wanted to do it.

And it worked.

Once I let it go, and stepped away, I found my answers. I found my voice. I won’t say the writing was easy from then on, but progress was steady and now it’s done. It’s out of my hands both literally and figuratively.

Hence the cleaner desk.

Now to decide which of the projects that were waiting in the wings to spend time with. Whichever way I go, I know my desk will soon return to its much more familiar messy state. And that’s okay. When I’m in the middle of a project, peripheral mess is somehow invisible.

That’s my excuse anyway.

Treasure!

Pirates and octopuses, parrots, hats and boats. Families and more pirates.

Today, I did a reading of Treasure in the beautiful Williamstown Botanic Gardens courtesy of their fabulous Friends group. There are so many corners and little nooks in these gardens that we were able to set up in the least windy spot. This is not to say that the wind didn’t find its way down paths and through garden beds, but it mostly waited until the end of my session.

Participants were encouraged to turn up dressed as pirates and that they did, one with a hook hand and another with both a parrot and an octopus! Such riches! We speculated what a pirate might look like and a few hardy souls donned jacket, stripy trews that I’d brought with me.

After the reading, we made hats and then, using the simple magic of paper folding, turned them into boats.

I told two new pirate jokes and I collected a few more.

Sail on Treasure!

Heroes of the Secret Underground

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Twelve-year-old Louie lives with her two brothers and their Hungarian grandparents in the Majestic Boutique Hotel. It’s a life full of love and family, although Louie wishes their famous musician parents didn’t have to be overseas so often. The family is very close, but there are secrets here. When Louie finds a locket, she’s is determined to solve its mysteries, but her investigations see her transported with her brothers back to 1944 Budapest during WWII. They meet their grandparents as young people and find themselves caught up in Underground activities. The past connects to the present in an exploration of war horrors and the cost of keeping secrets.

‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’ by Susanne Gervay, takes history on a wild time-slipping ride and explores a lesser-known story of resistance in Nazi-occupied Budapest. It is inspired by Gervay’s own family history and imagines what it would be like to ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of others. Literally as well as figuratively. What inspired her grandparents’ responses to war? What was the cost? Why do they not talk about it? Louie and her brothers are exposed to the best and the worst of human behaviour, in the most extreme circumstances for civilians in wartime. Courageous Louie, resourceful Bert and delightful little Teddy are a formidable team, united by love. For mid-primary to early secondary readers.

Treasure!

About eight years ago, I wrote a picture book story based on an ‘auto-correct’ phrase. Not one I made, but one that another poet conjured when we were part of a summer poetry blog called A Poem A Day. A Poem A Day was set up by Kat Apel and ran every January for several years. (In fact it continues still, but in another form). I have a whole folder full of poems written over Januarys past.

But I digress. I don’t recall who the original poet was (feel free to remind me if you are reading this) but I did ask permission to play with the phrase that became ‘a bag of pirates’.

Imagine, I thought, if you found a bag of pirates on the grass close to your house. Imagine if you took them home, like so many stray kittens. Imagine if, instead of being grateful for your cleaning and mending and feeding, they took it for granted and then began to wreak havok.

And that’s what I did. I imagined the trouble that could fill the house if pirates roamed unchecked. Clearly, someone had to take charge.

About four years ago, Ana Vivas at Scholastic thought it would make a fun and funny picture book. Tull Suwannakit imagined my pirates and added a very curious extra character. I laughed out loud everytime I saw a sketch or a colour page. His work is so fabulous! Along the way A Bag of Pirates became Treasure!

And here, finally, on April 1, Scholastic Australia, Tull and I are more than happy to share Treasure! with you and yours. It’s bright and shiny, colourful, silly and fun and rhyming.

Ta-da!

The March of the Ants

There’s not always time to stop and think about why I do what I do. I suspect it’s the same for other book creators. And even if we did, would we be able to articulate it? I’m not sure. If pushed, I can say that I want to stimulate curiosity and wonder, as well as explore some of the amazing aspects of who we are and how we connect with our world.

But, it’s more than that, and for that I have fewer words. Which is why ‘The March of the Ants’ is such an interesting and compelling picture book. Authored by Australia’s current Children’s Laureate, Ursula Subosarsky and illustrated by Tohby Riddle and produced by the team at Book Trail Press, ‘The March of the Ants’ offers an explanation for, an exploration of, what stories and books are all about and why they are important.

The ants are off on an expedition. Each ant loads up with a tool, or some other element clearly essential for an expedition. The destination, if there is one, is not named. The leader scoffs at the suggestion that a book will be in anyway useful , but the littlest ant refuses to give it up and so, in the name of expediency, is allowed to bring it.

Every part of this book, from the golden sunshiney cover, to the marching ant textured endpapers is wonderful. Like all the best picture books, the text is deceptively simple, big ideas couched in accessible words. The industrious ants are expressive and the march through the valley of despair has so much to offer observant readers. Cooperation and teamwork are wonderful things, but we also need individuals who follow their own path and enrich us all.

Iceberg: the story of a real, live, in-the-flesh book launch.

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Organising booklaunches can be tricky at the best of times. Whatever time or date chosen, there are going to be calendar clashes, prior engagements, other priorities, venue restrictions. Add in a 5-day lockdown just as Melbourne was beginning to settle into new-normal and there was an extra level of challenge. Could it go ahead? How many could join us? How would we manage? It was Wednesday evening before we could be sure that the Saturday launch could happen. Wednesday was a day of phone calls and emails, text messages and not a little floor-pacing!

The wonderful Ella from Younger Sun Bookshop (with help from Kate and Pele) made sure it was hiccup-free. (Apart from two early attendees slipping in through a side door – yes, it was my parents!) Numbers were capped, attendee registration was required, as was hand-sanitising, masking and on-the-day registration. But, there was also a freshly-carved (as opposed to freshly-calved) iceberg, an iceberg cake, blue-and-white coconut ice, bergy bit meringues and some penguin-carrying fruit pieces!

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And there were people! Real people, in the same room, able to chat with each other. Safely distanced, waving-not-hugging people. It was so lovely to gather with friends and family and booklovers and share the celebrations for a new book. Judy Horacek did the honours, officially and fabulously welcomed Iceberg into the bookworld. Jess and I spoke a little about the making of this Iceberg, and there were quizzes with prizes.

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Just like it takes a big production team to make a book, there is a big support team of family and friends and others who make it possible to make books. Big thanks to them all. Sail on, Iceberg!

Footprints on the Moon

It’s 1969 and Sharnie has just started highschool. She feels like her world is changing too fast and in directions she doesn’t understand. Man is about to walk on the moon. War is raging in Vietnam and here in Australia opinions about local involvement in the conflict are sometimes violently polarised. The people she loves seem at war with each other and she’s not sure what to think.

A new verse novel from Lorraine Marwood is something to be savoured. Devoured and then reflected upon. Revisited. Fast and slow. This, for me, is the strength of verse novels in general, and Lorraine’s work particularly. Verse novels offer as rich a story as any novel but cut away description and allow access to readers who struggle with prose texts. They offer all readers the opportunity to experience the best of poetry, with line breaks adding extra depth of meaning. They show young poets (and prose writers) that plain language, arranged in the best way, is as powerful as fancy words. Sharnie’s uncertainties and determinations drive this novel and bring to life a tumultuous time in our history as surely as they explore a girl exploring who she is and who she wants to be. Perfect for upper-primary, early secondary readers. Out February 21.

Iceberg

Picture books do not happen overnight. No books do. But man it’s exciting when they finally do make it into the world. What begins as a word or an idea, and grows and changes endlessly before submission. This story began as a poem which was published by The School Magazine over a decade ago. This rewriting, which took the sensibility of the poem and added seasons, food webs and more, was as fraught if not more than most picture books. I knew the ‘shape’ I wanted it to have, but I wanted to add the changing light (including the Aurora Australis), the wakening of phytoplankton, the explosion of krill numbers … everything! … all the way up to the appearance of the whales, all the while playing with the wonderful language of ice and icebergs. All in a picture book length text – in this case, just over 500 words.

But a picture story book needs more than words. Enter Jess Racklyeft and the team at Allen & Unwin. Jess’s ideas grew into sketches (and other technical idea-presentation forms that this non-illustrator only partially understands) and into the wonderful art that now fills the pages. Look at that colour! Look at the light, the atmosphere. Suddenly the words had music.

This is a visual ‘song’ I’m very proud of and very happy to be able to share with the world.

There’s not much that’s more exciting than holding a finished book in your hands. Except of course being able to share it.