Leading up to Anzac Day

On Tuesday, I drove from Melbourne to Avoca to visit their primary school to talk about ‘Meet the Anzacs’. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, I presented to all grades and finished up with a presentation to adults at the local library.

As always, there are questions that make me laugh (Can I have some more of that hard tack biscuit? It’s yummy!), some that make me want to cry and the one that stumps me. Sometimes I’m stumped because I don’t know the answer, sometimes it’s because of the depth of their understanding. And there’s never, never enough time. The Grade 5 & 6 class wrote poignant poems about the 24 hours after learning their war is to begin. They also tested me on Army leadership structure. Luckily, I had notes and could answer their questions! Every class was prepared and keen to learn. A joy to be there.

In between, and overnight, I was reading Sally Murphy‘s new book ‘1915‘.  ‘1915’ begins where ‘Meet the Anzacs’ leaves off, overlapping its first few days with the last few in my book. I liked that her main character, Stan, had a twin sister, Elizabeth at home in Bunbury who was teaching his class while he was away. This allowed the reader to know the effect of his enlistment on those left behind. Stan is a thoughtful and level-headed bloke, who makes friends readily and who is prepared to do as he has been asked, despite the challenges that presents. I did have to stop reading on Wednesday morning, or I would have had red puffy eyes leading into my school sessions. I think I would have struggled to talk about Gallipoli at all. Sally uses a variety of techniques to include many viewpoints on war. There are those of soldiers, of his parents, his sister, of ‘enemy aliens’, and of the Turks. War correspondent, Charles Bean, has a word or two to say as well, and there is discussion about what will become ‘The Anzac Book‘. Stan is a teacher, a brother, a son, a poet and a young man trying to make sense of war while simultaneously trying to survive it. I was cheering hard for him and holding my breath. Congratulations Sally on a fascinating and moving novel for young readers.

To Anzac Day. Tomorrow, at about 10.40 am, I will be ‘appearing’ on ABC Melbourne, as part of the live broadcast from Fed Square in Melbourne with Jon Faine, to talk about ‘Meet the Anzacs’.

How do you explain how good a conference is?

I’m freshly returned from Sydney and the CBCA NSW State conference, mind-boggled, yet also head-cleared.

Make sense? Hmm. No, probably not.

The state conference was organised after the scheduled National CBCA conference was cancelled. It was held at Menzies Hotel in inner Sydney. I think there were around 400 delegates. It was a two day program that seems to have been both much shorter and much longer than that.

Speakers included many of Australia’s superstars from the children’s literature world, from Marcus Zuzak, Jackie French, James Roy (hilarious after-dinner speech), Libby Gleeson, Bruce Whatley, Armin Greder, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas, Bob Graham, Shaun Tan and many more. There were also appearances from newer writers and illustrators who are rapidly rising in prominence.

Highlights for me included hearing three picture book ‘teams’ talking about their processes. What was fascinating was the different ways these partnerships work. Some collaborate before the work begins, some during its creation and others not really at all.

Another highlight was seeing friends make their conference ‘debuts’ as speakers. Sally Murphy and Sherryl Clark talked poetry. Dee White and Sandy Fussell were full of information on creating an online presence.

But as always, the best part of the conference is the mingling and chatting and eating and drinking with fellow writers and illustrators. There’s no way to measure the benefit of this part of the conference, but I always come home reenergised and raring to get going on my own projects.

And as at the last few national conferences, Sally Murphy, Sue Whiting and I had a sleepover. A fantabulous way to wind down and absorb the fun of the conference, before the return to ‘normal’ life. Thanks Sue!

I wish I had pictures but I forgot my camera! I’m sure I’ve missed stuff…will add as I recall…

The thing about poetry

Sally Murphy recently released her new verse novel, Toppling (ill Rhian Nest James, pub Walker Books) and as part of her promotion, she invited guests to talk about poetry at her blog. There’s a month worth of poetry and thoughts about poetry over there. Worth a look.

I’m March 12.

btw Toppling is a touching story about a young boy dealing with the illness of his best friend. Beautifully written.

Kinder kids

I went to my local kinder for my fortnightly reading session this morning. I was running late and grabbed a handful of books to take with me. One of them was I Spy with Inspector Stilton by Judith Rossell.

Usually my main audience is girls with a couple of boys flitting in and out as their restless legs will take them, but today the balance was different. They LOVED Inspector Stilton, boys and girls both. I had boys fighting over the right to find the things on the page and several times had to halt the ‘finding’ to get the boys to remove their heads and bodies from the page!

After Inspector Stilton the boys stayed too, for me to read different books, ones from the kinder bookshelves. That led to a conversation about me having to go home and do some work, that work being writing stories.

I’ve been going to the kinder with this group all year, and it’s the first time most of those boys have come to join the reading with me, let alone ask questions about who I was and what I do. They were intrigued with the notion of someone actually writing stories as a job, and also with the idea that I’d brought books written by people I knew.

One other link…I’d taken Sally Murphy’s ‘Pemberthy Bear’ illustrated by Jacqui Grantford and also another story ‘Squeezy Cuddle, Dangly Legs’ Jacqui has illustrated. They were very interested to see a picture of ‘Pemberthy Bear’ book in ‘Squeezy…’ It seemed to make sense of the notion that books are created, do not merely appear.