Haywire shortlisted

Well, as if having a new book (Kookaburra) release isn’t enough wonderfulness at this tricky time, Wednesday 5 August brought its own special magic. Around the middle of the day, when Victoria was waiting for the daily new infection numbers, the NSW Premier’s History Award shortlists were announced.

And Haywire was there! Shortlisted for the Young People’s History Prize, with two other wonderful books. Visit here for more details and for the judges’ reports.

While you take a look and a read, I’ll be dancing wildly around my house, and possibly my back yard … maybe around the lemon tree in my front yard too!

Thanks Clare Hallifax for loving Tom and Max and their stories. Thanks Omnibus/Scholastic for publishing this book.

Hello Kookaburra!


I am joined today by the wonderful Tannya Harricks. August 1 is release day for our new Walker Books Australia Nature Storybook picture book collaboration, Kookaburra. We are thrilled to add this story to the Nature Storybook series, which celebrates Australia’s diverse landscape and wildlife.

Kookaburras are well-known to many, or most, Australians by their distinctive call. But there’s so much more to these amazing birds beyond their (fabulous) vocalisations. And that is what we hope to offer with ‘Kookaburra’. We invite you into their world, ask you to look and listen, and get to know kookaburras a little more deeply.


To celebrate Kookaburra, we’re going to be having a competition on this blog! On Monday 17 August, we will ask readers and students, teachers and librarians to become kookaburras!

Okay, maybe not.

We will, however post an outline for you to download and make as kookaburra-y as you can, using whatever art medium you prefer. There will also be a writing activity (which could potentially evolve into a performing opportunity!).  

Entries are encouraged from individuals and from classrooms.

The entries we love best (two art, two writing) will win a copy of our book, Kookaburra.

But wait, there’s more.

The class contributing the most entries will win a book pack from Walker Books. 

Help us fill the blog, the world, with fabulous kookaburras.

Meanwhile, we’re off to practice our kooka calls …

Claire and Tannya

Kookaburra Flies

I wrote the first complete draft of Kookaburra in late 2017, but not before I had delved deep into kookaburra physical, social, environmental information.

I learned about their amazing monocular and binocular vision.

I learned that females are just a little heavier than males, which is related to the energy required to produce eggs.

I learned that adolescent kookas can be quite clumsy in a nest.

I learned the reason fledgling kooka feathers remain sheathed until the last possible moment.

None of that makes it explicitly into this dual narrative, narrative non fiction picture book. But I need to know all of this to before I can begin to write. These facts support my story as surely as foundations stop houses falling down. Invisible but essential.

photo Barb Wilkins

Tannya Harricks has again taken my words and added her special palette of magic to give life and colour to Kookaburra. Her work sings.

Kookaburra is a new title in the Nature Storybook series from Walker Books Australia. I am ever grateful to Walker for helping me share our wonderful Australian animals with readers around the world.

The first sighting of the actual book is always very exciting. In book evolution terms, nearly three years is not so very long, but it does feel it.

Welcome, Kookaburra. (cue kooka-song)

Release date 1 August 2020

Stories are everywhere

We went to the beach today, for tomorrow we lock down again for six weeks. Point Cook Coastal Reserve has a long shallow beach front that stretches for many kilometres. The sky was blue, the tide was low, the seagulls were dancing in the water margins.

Wait, what?

Yup, the seagulls were dancing. Advancing to the very margins of water/sand and doing a quick two-step patterpatterpatter, then pouncing on whatever they disturbed. If the numbers there and the squawking is anything to go by, it was the equivalent of an easter egg hunt. They were exuberant!

But that’s not the story I started to tell …

Further along the beach we wandered from the sand to the gardens of the Point Cook Homestead. This was a beach house for the Chirnsides of Werribee Mansion. It would have been so much cooler in summer to be right there on the beach. We wandered around the garden and outside the house and other buildings. There we encountered a grandfather and his grandson.

Grandfather had lived in the area all his life. His grandson had clearly met this man before, and was calming sitting waiting for him to finish his tale, his chatter. It took a while, so after a few minutes I wandered over to the boy.

‘There’re some shoes in the tree,’ he told me.

So there were. I asked him who he thought they belonged to, but that was too big a question so I started again.

‘How old was the owner of the shoes?’

At first he shrugged. Then I guesstimated with my fingers and set them close to his shoes.

‘Mine are bigger,’ he said.

‘A bit,’ I agreed. ‘How old are you?’


‘Do you think the owner might have been five?’

He nodded enthusiastically. ‘Yes.’

And so began our storymaking. We decided that the boy’s shoes had become wet while playing at the beach and his teacher had hung them in a tree to dry while they lunched at a nearby table. They had then forgotten them when they left.

Story done.

But then, as grandfather kept chatting, we investigated some other storylines. Could they have been blown into the tree? Could they have been there for fifty years? We examined each scenario in detail. There would have had to have been a hurricane to blow the shoes so high and that was unlikely. The style of shoe suggested they were less than fifty years old, but the wear patterns suggested they weren’t brand new. We agreed that the fading colours of the uppers could be misleading.

We then started to wonder at a set of gates that stood alone in the middle of the grass. We found the road that used to lead to the gate, and another that now bypassed it. We decided that perhaps it was a horse paddock for the horses that then slept in the stables nearby.

Then grandfather called him and he was gone. Apparently grandfather brings him to a nearby forest too – just beyond the homestead.

A forest! That’s where we’ll be heading next time.

Aussie Stem Stars – TA-DA!

How do you catch a star and pin it down?

Or rather, pin HER down.

That’s been my challenge for this recent project with Wild Dingo Press in a new series called Aussie STEM Stars. Georgia Ward-Fear is a wildlife warrior, a reptile biologist, conservation ecologist, a goanna wrangler, a traveller, a conservationist, an adventurer, an educator, a scientist, a Superstar of STEM (the integrated study of science, technology, engineering and maths).

Georgia lives in Tasmania, works in the Kimberley, has family in NSW and Queensland, speaks at conferences around the world. It was never possible to know just where she might be when she read my emails, or answered a phonecall. It may be true that her mother used to call her Mistress Mayhem, and that the name may still fit …

Georgia’s story is one of three titles in this new series from Wild Dingo Press. Dianne Wolfer has written the story of Munjed Al Muderis, surgical inventor. Cristy Burne tells Fiona Wood’s story. Hop on over to Cristy’s and to Dianne’s website for more about these talented writers. Each title offers the opportunity to get to know a scientist, including how they came to be leaders in their respective worlds. All three are set for release on Sep 1.

Georgia’s PhD involved teaching goannas to avoid eating cane toads. But you don’t just wake up one morning as a child and decide that you’re going to try to save goannas from toxic toads. How did she get there? What was she like as a child? Who helped her along the way? Why did she make the decisions she did? Did she get everything right always?

The Aussie STEM Stars series is written for 10- 13 year olds. It does show young people some potential pathways into STEM careers by detailing the journeys of three inspiring scientists. But first and foremost, each story is intended to be a great read about fascinating individuals. Settle down and dive in. Why not collect all three?

Out September 1, 2020.

Portable Magic

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by friend and fellow writer, Sue Lawson. Now, Ms L has had a diverse and varied career in addition to writing, and one of those was as a radio interviewer. And she’s really good at it! It’s just like having a chat, even when it’s via Zoom.

Today, Sue posted our interview here. In it we journey back to where it all began for me, and I may or may not reveal gross habits of some of our most iconic Aussie animals.

Sue is building up a collection of interviews with people in the book world, and the interviews cover various topics, but are all fascinating. You can subscribe to Portable Magic, and never miss an interview.

Formerly Nee

A little while ago I was asked to play with clay, an invitation to contribute to an exhibition about female antecedents and how their lives were affected by the roles they were expected to play.

There is also a video and a poem.

The project is the brainchild of Jacqui Gordon, a local Melbourne visual artist. It has been Covid-shaped, and is now totally online. Participants range from historic to contemporary, the emotions range widely, wildly. Their work, their interpretations, their words are fascinating.

You can view the exhibition here

A very coolish draft

I love taking pictures, particularly of gum flowers and gumnuts. There are so many different shapes, sizes and colours. Even on the same tree there can be different shapes and sizes, like the gumnuts here. I have no idea whether there are male and female, or why the smaller ones have longer stems.

But, you guessed it, I’m going to link this pic to storywriting. In the time directly after submitting a ms, I come up with a million brilliant story ideas. Hilarious, that one! Fascinating. Compelling. But for all sorts of reasons, unknown to me, the vast majority of these ideas fail to bloom. (watch out, there could be more of these … )

There are so many stories, but they float through the air like a wisp of fragrance half-smelt or appear and disappear before I can make out the form they might have. It’s frustrating, no, downright annoying sometimes.

Perhaps it’s part of the writing process. A percentage game. Yano, 50 ideas for one first draft or something?

So here’s the connection to the title.

Ideas are wonderful. Awesome. Fabulous.

But they alone, do not a story make.

A story needs an idea explored, ripened, extended, flipped, ripped apart and more.

And right now, I think I’ve finally hit upon a very coolish first draft. Which is a rubbish draft, but enough of an idea to get my teeth into.

That’s a very big PHEW! from me.

Over and out. Time to warm up.

Filling the Well

Writing can drain your brain. Well, it certainly can drain mine. I try to keep topping up during a project, but when I’ve handed in a project, or finished editing I find that it’s helpful to consciously refill the well. That means walking and really looking at what happens around me. Whenever I find myself worrying that I’ll never have another workable idea, I look intentionally. It’s one of the reasons I take photos. I want to look at the everyday, the otherwise invisible and see just how extraordinary the ordinary really is. Or what we take for granted.

Okay, this set of stepping stones is never ordinary. I just love the way they seem to float in the 3m water. They’re rock solid (see what I did there?) and big enough for giants.

Sometimes there’s too much noise, too much to look at, to be able to see anything. It’s just the same in story. Too much detail can swamp a story, and I find it useful to really think about how much of a story is enough. What is left out or taken out is as important as what is left in. Rather than crop this photo, I framed it with the tree. The picture is within the picture. Inside the frame is more important for this image than what’s outside. For this picture. This story.

Autumn has offered us the most amazing sunsets this year. This wasn’t the best picture I took, but it’s the one that really sets the cars on fire and that was interesting to me. I’m not sure why, but it just was.

In this in-between-story-well-filling time, I had the chance to be part of an art project. Each participant was given some clay and some pigment powder. The idea was to represent their grandmother/s or a significant female in their life. The results, a photo of the clay and the explanation for the piece will be part of an online exhibition through Kingston Council. I used some handmade lace from my one of my grandmothers (representing the finework she made, and the strength inherent in the delicate frame) and strong seams from my other grandmother (who made suits and could be very direct).

I’m not quite sure why I like this picture, and perhaps it would be a face if I rotated it, but the knots look like they are pupils in the middle of crusty eyes – perhaps a monster, perhaps just a reminder of how trees work when they lose branches.

I take pictures sometimes only discovering afterwards just how marvellous things are. Look at these ants! I didn’t even see them when I framed the shot, but I think they’re quite happy not to be noticed. I’d been entranced by the curling, the unfurling, the flame colours. The ants are a bonus.

I often write at the junction between fiction and non fiction. My inspiration comes from reality and the spinoffs it allows me.

And at the end of the well-filling, I’m looking forward to starting a new project. It’s nothing to do with stepping stones, trees, sunsets or flowers, but it’s inspired by them all.