One of the things I love most about Wendy Orr’s, Dragonfly Song, Swallows Dance and her latest Bronze Age novel,Cuckoo’s Flightis that they transport me to extraordinary places that I know very little about.
Wendy Orr is a master of setting. Her thorough research is reflected in the small details that allow the reader to step into the character’s world and feel like they are actually there.
Through the actions of the characters and their setting, Wendy reveals the beauty and brutality of this time in history and the inner workings of every day life in Crete during the Bronze Age.
Hand on her heart, Tail passes her a soft clay tablet, and she stamps it with her grandmother’s seal stone, hanging from a cord around her wrist.
From page 1, we are right there in the main character, Clio’s world and we are right there with her when her life is thrown into chaos by the sight of an approaching ship.
When a raiders’ ship appears off the coast, the goddess demands an unthinkable price to save the town – and Clio’s grandmother creates a sacred statue to save Clio’s life.
But Clio is torn between the demands of guarding the statue and caring for her beloved horses. Disabled in an accident, she must try to put aside her own grief at no longer being able to ride – and in the process, save a friend’s life and stop a war.
The characters in Cuckoo’s Flight are well drawn and each one has their own individual goals and traits that set them apart from the others and help the reader individually connect with them and their stories. Clio, the main character in particular, draws us to her with her courage and vulnerability.
Clio’s disability doesn’t define who she is, but it’s an integral part of the events of the story and is sensitively and powerfully woven into it.
As always, with Wendy Orr’s work, the characters are nuanced and relatable – all with their faults and weaknesses and even villains are given the chance to redeem themselves.
Cuckoo’s Flight is also a mixture of verse and prose and the two blend together seamlessly, giving the book an extra layer of language and meaning.
As well as family and friendship, Cuckoo’s Flight also explores themes of belief, trust and nature; providing a platform for robust discussion on these important topics.
I highly recommend Cuckoo’s Flight and it’s companion novels, Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance for readers aged 9+. They are a great way to introduce students to historical fiction because they are riveting stories in their own right. These books stand out not just for their great writing and content, but for their stunning covers.
A STORY OF NURSING AND CONNECTION IN THE TIME OF SOCIAL DISTANCING
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a book about Covid-19 yet, not when I was still trying to put behind me the loss, the separation from loved ones and the isolation that have been the lives of all of us for the last twelve months or so.
But all through the year I had wondered what it would be like to be a frontline worker, at the coal face, caring for Covid-19 patients and risking your life every single day to save the lives of others.
The Care Factor takes us into the life of ICU nurse, Simone Sheridan who not only retrained so she could take care of Covid-19 patients in ICU, but also provided support and training in domestic violence which sky rocketed during the pandemic, and gender awareness in the workplace.
I was moved, compelled and exhausted by her deeply personal accounts as she worked across a number of hospitals, barely sleeping, trying to make life better, easier, kinder for other people – trying to help them survive.
But The Care Factor wasn’t just about Sim. It was about the patients she treated, the staff she worked with and the support network around her, including her partner Emily whose performance and teaching career was stopped short by the pandemic and who worked as a ward clerk in Emergency at one of Victoria’s major hospitals.
Author, Ailsa Wild also shares her Covid-19 experiences with her partner and pre-school aged son, in lockdown in a two bedroom flat trying to juggle working from home, the needs of a small active boy and the loss and isolation from family and friends – not even being able to take her son to the park.
Both Sim and Ailsa are generous in their sharing of their Covid-19 lives, but the enduring friendship and the love they have for each other are the threads that tie this amazing book together.
The Care Factor helped me understand the intricacies of Covid-19 and challenges I’d never even thought of that were faced by our medical professionals as they fought to save lives. Simple things like being frightened to see your loved ones when you got home from work because of your fear of infecting them.
The Care Factor is a deeply personal story of love and hope during a global pandemic, and how connection and care can make a difference.
If you read one book about the pandemic, The Care Factorshould be it. This book will restore your faith in humanity and the power of friendship.
Hardie Grant Books will donate $1 from each copy sold to Drummond Street Services which supports families in times of need.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY – by Ailsa Wild
In March last year, as the hospitals in Lombardy were overwhelmed with Covid cases and numbers were starting to rise in New York, my friend Simone told me she was going to retrain in ICU as a nurse. I offered to be her debrief person, an ear on the other end of the phone, someone to tell her daily stories to, whatever those stories ended up being. And I asked if I could record our conversations. I felt like we were living a particular moment in history and she was going to be close to the action. I had a hunch there would be a story to be written.
By early August, in the middle of Melbourne’s lockdowns, when we were only allowed out of the house a single hour a day, I had written three chapters – enough to pitch a book.
My chapter outline was unfinished; it only went up to chapter six. At the bottom of the outline I wrote, ‘from chapter six to ten we still don’t know what will happen.’
I emailed a publisher and she responded that very night. She asked if I could get her a full manuscript in eleven weeks’ time.
I said yes.
And I did.
My partner and I put together a fiercely regimented schedule of times when I could be in the study/bedroom alone. I had thought it would be impossible to tune out my four-year-old’s raucous joys and tears, but I managed it. And it turns out I work better to a deadline. I left my unfinished junior fiction goofball horror manuscript languishing. Dragging myself to that document felt impossible. But this deadline from Hardie Grant set me on fire.
What I understand is that I’ve written a page-tuner, something that people gobble up quite quickly, and I suspect that’s partly because of the urgency of the deadline. I think it’s also to do with my background in children’s fiction and in circus. I’m experienced in keeping people’s attention. I’m terrified my audience will get bored and wander off to the playground or start chatting in the back row. I worked to make the story as immediate and pacey as it could be, while keeping all the information and heart.
The Care Factor is an issues book. It’s about the strength of women’s friendship, the care economy, the hours and expertise and training caring takes, and how much we, as a society should value that care. But those issues are written about very intimately. They are close to the body and full of tears. I hope this means it will touch a broad readership.
I’m looking forward to the conversations it might start.
Thanks Ailsa, yours and Sim’s journey in writing this book is as extraordinary as the story itself, and we’re really grateful to you for sharing it with us.
You can find out more about Ailsa and her books by visiting her website.
Louie lives with her brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a hotel run by their grandparents. It is one of Sydney’s grand old buildings, rich in history … and in secrets.
When a rose-gold locket, once thought lost, is uncovered, it sends Louie and her brothers spinning back in time. Back to a world at war: Budapest in the winter of 1944, where their grandparents are hiding secrets of their own
When Louie and her brothers find themselves back in Budapest in 1944 we are given deep insights into what life was like for the Jews of Hungary at the hands of the Nazis, and how terrifying it must have been for the children torn from their homes and families and trying to survive on the streets in the best way they could.
Susanne Gervay takes us inside the world of the secret underground where children were heroes, risking their lives to save their families and others.
When we enter the streets of Budapest, this gripping time slip is impossible to put down, especially when Louie’s little brother, Teddy goes missing.
I loved the relatable characters and the authenticity of this story. It’s clear from the writing that this is deeply personal for the author as she brings us into Louie, Bert and Teddy’s minds and hearts.
We are taken deep into the world of their grandparents Zoltan and Varushka who were children back in 1944 doing their part to not only survive, but to save the lives of others.
The beautiful writing in this book helps the reader picture the setting and empathise with the fear that the Jews of Budapest must have felt.
Like venomous spiders, the soldiers with their crossed-arrow armbands attack. People are running. Hiding in alleyways. Jumping into underground drains.
In spite of the hardship depicted in Heroes of the Secret Underground, there is also hope.
Verushka whispers, ‘Shush, Mamma. They may take away the candelabra, but they can’t take the light. That is always ours.’
The authentic descriptions transport the reader back to the world of Budapest 1944.
Louie and Bert look down from the stairs at the rabbit warren of makeshift alcoves. Families have set up tiny houses with their shoes tucked into the corners and brown suitcases in the other. Kids have made nooks and crannies and small places to hide. Some young people are studying with their books on the floor.
Susanne Gervay takes us deep into the lives of her characters so that we follow their journey every step of the way.
Arrows of sun push away the night. Louie opens her eyes in fright. Panic makes her urgently scan their hiding place.
Heroes of the Secret Undergroundis an important work of historical fiction told in a unique and compelling way with modern day characters taken back to 1944 to personally experience those harrowing times for themselves.
Culture, resilience, courage and the importance of family are strong themes in this book and provide great starting points for discussions in the family or classroom.
We’re so lucky to have the amazing Susanne Gervay visiting today. Susanne shares her secrets on how she wrote her new book.
How long ago did the idea for this story come to you?
This is a story I have been formulating forever. The first book I wrote was ‘Next Stop the Moon’ (HarperCollins) more than 20 years ago. It was about growing up with the complexities of the past impacting on the present, as the child of refugees in Australia. You can’t get it now, but this reviewer sums it up:-
‘I read this book years ago and it was one of those first books that recognised immigrants coming to Australia and making it their home. It was a really breakthrough and important book and totally loved Rosie who was 12 and set in the sixties with the first man on the moon.’
It was too early for our consciousness and identity. Hard to believe that, given the current climate of inclusiveness and diversity.
The story I wanted to write wasn’t there yet so I wrote a picture book published, ‘Ships in the Field’ (Ford Street Publishing). Again it was the story of war, escape, migration and finding home. That was published 2021. It received two Children’s Book Council Notable Awards:-
Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay & Anna Pignataro Ford Street Publishing ISBN: 9781921665233
With issues of immigration featuring heavily in news headlines over the past year, the release of this title couldn’t be more timely. Ships in the Field concerns one family’s experience of migration as seen through the eyes of a child. Forced from their homeland by war, the unnamed child and her parents embrace a new life in Australia. Once a farmer, Papa now works in a factory, while Ma, a teacher, takes in sewing. Despite the horror of the past and the unknown future ahead, this family is a joyful one—though something is still missing for our child narrator ….
This is a book that needs to be read more than once. Many of the layers weren’t immediately evident on my first read-through. The shadow of war haunting the family is only mentioned in two lines of dialogue between the child and her toy, Brownie, yet its positioning after scenes of family frivolity is stark. This added to Ma’s crying behind closed doors and the narrator’s fear of night delivers an impact that more graphic depiction could not. It is obvious that author and illustrator have worked hard to get the balance between darkness and light just right. While at first glance this is a deceptively simple story, it soon becomes apparent this balancing act was no easy feat. Hope is very much the prominent theme, but it is only visible because of the darkness behind it. Too much darkness and the light would be snuffed out. Ships in the Field is a book that will never date. It’s a story that will be every bit as relevant fifty years from now as it was fifty years ago.
Reviewer: Jenny Mounfield ***** 5 stars
The experience of war and migration weaves into so much of my writing. My adult short stories published in literary journals and anthologies are filled with it. I am particularly proud of my story ‘Days of Thailand’ in the India Australian anthology ‘Fear Factor: Terror Incognito’ (Picador) that sits alongside stories by Tom Keneally, David Malouf, Rosie Scott, Sir Salman Rushdie.
However my true driver has always been to write this story for young people, so they can meet challenges with resilience and know they can be heroes of justice. Finally it led to my four year journey to write ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’.
So the answer to your question. Writing ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’ took a lifetime.
What inspired Heroes of the Secret Underground?
Everything I write is influenced by what I see around me, feel, am passionate about. My new novel ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’ is deeply personal. Part autobiography, history, philosophy and fantasy, when you read it, you know me. No secrets. Ursula Dubosarsky the Children’s Laureate wrote.
‘This is a personal story that has huge meaning to all of us, beginning in a beautiful safe world which turns suddenly to chaos and terror. A child discovers for herself that there is history that can’t be hidden – it cries out in the darkness of secrets. But it’s also a story of light and love and exceptional courage.’
This is your first foray into fantasy and time slip. What were the challenges? What did you enjoy the most?
I now have total admiration for writers in this genre. Time slip is so hard to get right. Creating and maintaining two worlds that interconnect is challenging. Everything has to be balanced. In ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’, the bats from Centennial Park Sydney have their parallel in the bats on Margaret Island in the Danube, Budapest. The summer roses of Australia are paralleled by the winter roses of Hungary. The candelabra in Australia transported to World War 2 is worked and reworked so it is authentic in both times. There is nothing that is not thought about, assessed, connected, as time slip requires you to be true in both worlds.
Fantasy is another form I have never written. Like time slips, it is creatively challenging to intertwine fantasy and reality to make both believable and hold the themes of ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’. For example the mermaids of the Danube River which are folklore have multiple roles in ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’. They are part of the time-slip technique to travel from the past to the present. They contain the theme of their power to save and destroy, as what happened in The Danube in 1944. The mermaids are in the lyrics of ‘The Blue Danube’ by Johann Strauss that plays throughout the whole story reflecting culture, folklore and the power of music.
Did I enjoy it? I don’t know. It felt like a huge puzzle that challenged my mind and heart and gave me sleepless nights, as I tried to solve what at times seemed unsolvable storylines. In the end, I guess I was satisfied and that had to be enough.
How important do you think it is for writers to step outside of our comfort zones? Why?
As writers we have to continue to push boundaries, so we can create works that reach further into ideas. I often write before my time. When I wrote ‘I Am Jack’ school bullying was not on the agenda. When I wrote ‘Butterflies’ disability did not have the focus it has today. When I wrote ‘The Cave’ challenging sexual consent, Australia was not ready. However pushing the barriers, enables us to be thinkers and our readers to be thinkers too.
What’s next for you creatively?
I feel strongly that there is inadequate representation of people from the sub continent. They are part of my life and community here. As always I present kids with courage meeting the challenges of life. As always I present the importance of family and friendship. This new series is about the quirky and wonderful ways three young kids from different families as they relate and make a difference. I asked a sensitivity reader to check my very early draft for authenticity of the sub continent culture. She wrote:-
I absolutely loved the story — the fun, the friendships and the issues that you tackle. I love how you’ve combined whimsy with topical and important issues, all done in a very sensitive and inclusive way.
The serious subject of racism, how we should all be accountable for our actions and the need to stand up for those who are marginalised and whose voices are often silent. I identified with Hari so much – when I lived in the US as a child, there were kids and the occasional adult who bullied me and said that a ”chocolate” kid who wasn’t a Christian didn’t belong in that school. Back in Sri Lanka, I was bullied and thrown against walls because I was too quiet. As an adult, I’ve been the butt of racist jokes and comments (like a guy in a suit once calling me ”ethnic garbage” and when it happened, I was often just too shocked to question or to stand up for myself. So…a child would be dumbfounded, especially when the mean words come from an adult. When Hari said, ‘You are the best friends ever,’ I actually shed a tear…
Life isn’t straightforward and can be overwhelming for 11 year-old Alex who has autism. Sometimes his confusion and frustration lead him into trouble. But we can’t help but connect with Alex who always means well and hates knowing that he has upset people.
Alex is desperate to win a trophy with his adorable cockapoo Kevin at the PAWS dog show because he believes that this will make people want to be his friend.
He and Kevin have been training for weeks for the tricks and obedience categories but when Alex tries to enter the events they are full and his plans are derailed.
Alex doesn’t cope well with change. He needs order and predictability in his life to help him feel like he’s in control so he’s devastated at first.
If he’s to have any hope of Kevin winning a trophy, it will have to be in a category that he hasn’t previously considered. It takes great courage to step outside his comfort zone, and try something new and in the process, Alex learns that you don’t need a trophy for people to want to be your friend.
Full disclosure, I love dogs and clearly the author of PAWS does too, but that wasn’t the only thing that drew me to this heartwarming story.
The character of Alex is so endearing and well drawn that it felt as though he were sitting beside me as I read his story. I love his authenticity and how he grows and changes.
The writing is lyrical and beautiful and although PAWS is sensitively told, there is plenty of tension as the book moves towards the climax and we become more and more invested in Alex’s story and the outcome, which isn’t what you expect. The author uses gentle humour to add layers to Alex’s character and his story.
“The author based her story on real-life experience. After adopting a spoodle called Claude, he made an immediate bond with her youngest autistic son. He seemed to sense that her son needed someone to help him always feel safe and calm. Claude knew when he was sad or stressed or anxious and would become a barrier, sitting close by, even standing over him, and comforting him.
A story that demonstrates how autistic brains don’t always come with the templates of human interaction and emotion that neurotypical people usually have. And shows how many autistic people have to build these from scratch, learning through mirroring and masking and often hard emotional lessons and confusing rejection.”
It has been a really long time since I posted here. So much has happened in the last twelve or so months (both good and bad) and it has often been hard to find the words.
We will all be forever changed by Covid, but I still hang onto that hope that I felt in the early days of the pandemic – that with fewer cars on the road, and the reduction in other environmentally damaging activities, our world would get a chance to breathe.
Hope is what keeps us going as writers – it’s what keeps our characters moving forward against all odds.
Covid has been devastating to the arts, but it has given writers like me time out to create, and I have been buoyed by the kindness and generosity of the amazing writing community – the support of amazing readers, writers, podcasters and reviewers who have worked to get our books onto bookshelves around the country and the world.
Human kindness and the care that people have given each other during this difficult time has helped me feel optimistic about our world, even when there is still so much that needs to be fixed – that we need to do to save our environment – to protect the rights of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Our words make a difference – our words of empathy and kindness – our words of wisdom, knowledge and experience – our words that show we care – our words that alert people to what’s going on in the world around them.
So even if you’ve received rejections recently or you’re struggling with writer’s block or submission nerves right now, know that your words matter – that what you write could change someone’s life one day.
Author, Jackie Hosking is a master of rhyme and meter so it’s no surprise that her new picture book, Temper Tabitha is full of luscious language and rollicking fun.
We’ve all seen kids having a meltdown in public. Many of us have experienced it for ourselves, but when the adults around Tabitha join in the dispute over a simple hat, they prove that growing up doesn’t guarantee maturity.
Tabitha wants that hat and will stop at nothing to get it. Unfortunately, so does a boy in a tiger suit and neither of them is prepared to give ground. And when the adults take sides over who they think should have the hat, chaos ensues with hilarious results.
The side splitting illustrations by Leah Russack perfectly complement the text and make Temper Tabitha a joy to read for both children and adults.
This fun and engaging story will prompt lots of important discussions with young readers about mindfulness, respect and sharing.
The bright and colourful illustrations are divine and Jackie’s rhyming text keeps readers of all ages turning the pages.
Published by Larrikin House, this 32 page picture book would make a great Christmas gift for any readers aged 3+
There’s a beautiful line in Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson’s book, family that says, ‘Connecting to ancestors, to who we are, to who we will be.’
For me it encapsulated the beauty and meaning in this book and also the first book in their ‘Place’ series, respect.
Respect and family are simply and beautifully told hard cover picture books depicting the lives and beliefs of our First Nations’ people. They reflect the connection to country and to each other, and the connections within ourselves.
Family is stunningly illustrated by Darug writer, artist and teacher, Jasmine Seymour. The wonderful illustrations in respect were created by Lisa Kennedy, a descendent of coastal Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania.
These tender, thoughtful stories remind us of the importance of respecting others and ourselves and celebrating family. They show us the things to be learned from the past and from finding connections to who we really are.
Each carefully chosen word earns its place on the page, and the beautiful illustrations encapsulate the colour, beauty and natural environment of our country. They show us how family and place make us whole.
Respect and family are the first two books in the ‘Place’ series, published by Magabala Books, introducing young minds to First Nations’ cultural philosophies that Aunty Fay Muir, a Boon Wurrung Elder holds close to her heart.
Evocative, rich in colour and lyrical text, these books are a great way to introduce readers of all ages to First Nations’ culture. They introduce a code and way of life that we can all live by.
Respect comes with fabulous teacher’s notes with links to the Australian Curriculum. These beautiful books belong in every Australian school and home.
We’re very privileged to have Aunty Fay and Sue visiting DeeScribe Writing today to talk about their beautiful new books and Sue shares her tips about collaborating.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS AND THEIR COLLABORATION
Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson in conversation. Photo credit – Geelong Regional Libraries
Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir is an Elder and Traditional Owner of Boon Wurrung Country. She is the senior linguist at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages in Melbourne. Fay is working with her own Boon Wurrung language, recording and putting language into the database for future and present generations. She presents language-related workshops to community members who are reclaiming their languages, as well as universities and TAFEs interested in understanding the many and challenging aspects of language reclamation. She also visits schools to educate students about language and culture and to teach language. Nganga is her first children’s book.
Sue Lawson is an award-winning author who is passionate about encouraging young people’s love of writing and reading.
Her books are recognized for the sensitive way they explore the exciting and heartbreaking complexities of adolescence. Sue’s books have won the Australian Family Therapists’ Award for Children’s Literature and have been short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards.
The books that she creates with Boonwurrung Elder, Aunty Fay Muir, celebrate and explore Australia’s First Nations Peoples’ rich culture and history.
Sue Lawson’s books are recognized for the sensitive way they explore the exciting and heartbreaking complexities of adolescence. Her books include the award-winning Freedom Ride, and picture book, Respect, co-written with Boon Wurrung Elder, Aunty Fay Muir. Fay and Sue create books that celebrate and explore Australia’s First Nations Peoples’ rich culture and history.
SUE LAWSON TALKS ABOUT THE COLLABORATION PROCESS
What inspired you to write these books?
Fay and I spent time with our publisher, Maryann Ballantyne, talking about a picture book that would celebrate First Nations’ culture and introduce aspects of the culture and life to young children. All of us are passionate about knowledge, and believe that if children have the knowledge that other generations have missed, respect and recognition will follow.
Somewhere in there, the Our Place series was born.
Fay and I were keen to represent a variety of Aboriginal lifestyles and to do that we have a different illustrator for each book. Lisa Kennedy is a Trawlwoolway descendent, and Jasmine Seymour is a proud Darug woman.
How did you collaborate? In person, by phone, etc? Anything you’d like to share about your process?
Fay and I work in person, on the phone and via emails and notes. We meet regularly – well we did before Covid – and spend the day talking, (I ask questions, Fay shares, I listen) taking notes and generally bouncing around ideas. I draft our ideas then we begin the edit. Sometimes together, other times we work individually and then come back together to share our thoughts. Fay’s main focus is content and mine is structure and writing. It’s an open exchange of ideas and words.
What were the best bits about collaborating?
Everything. I love collaborating. I love bouncing ideas off each other and watching how that initial spark grows.
What were the challenges?
COVID. Because of the current situation, Fay and I haven’t been able to do our regular catch ups. Apart from anything else, I miss her company and humour. Apart from that, I thoroughly enjoy collaboration.
Any tips for other collaborators?
All the books I’m working on at the moment are collaborations. As well as working with Fay, I’m doing a number of non fiction books with other writers and again, am loving the process. I’m not sure I can offer any tips, as each is different, but equally rewarding. I’m lucky as my collaborators are also friends, so we have a strong relationship already.
Collaborating is just like working with an editor, in that we are all working towards the same goal – producing a great book.
Any general writing tips around working on books like these?
When you are the writer working with ‘an expert’, LISTEN. There is gold in the conversations.
What are the final two books in the series called and when will they be released?
At this stage there are two being illustrated, and perhaps more to come. The next two have been held up by Covid, but I think they will be out in 2021. Everything is a little unsure at the moment, just like the rest of the world.
Thanks so much for visiting, Aunty Fay and Sue. Respect and Family are available through the publisher’s website or at all good bookstores.
Today, the wonderful and talented Claire Saxby is visiting DeeScribe Writing to talk about her first historical fiction, Haywire, published by Scholastic Australia and she’s sharing some secrets about her writing process.
Claire writes award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. Her books include ‘Bird to Bird’ and ‘Dingo’, ‘Seadog’ and ‘There Was an Old Sailor’. Her books and poetry are published in Australia and internationally.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ HAYWIRE
In 1939, 14-year-old Tom lives in Hay where his family runs the local bakery. Max Gruber is nearly fourteen-years-old. He is sent to his Uncle Ferdy in London, but is then interred and shipped to Australia aboard the Dunera. He arrives in Hay and meets Tom. The two boys become friends and find their lives and their friendship influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe. (from the publisher – Scholastic Australia)
Born on opposite sides of the world, Tom and Max live very different lives that both long to escape. In this compelling tale of an unlikely friendship, the two boys have been brought together by war.
Max’s frightening voyage on the Dunera keeps us spell bound and even once he arrives in Australia, life doesn’t get much easier for him after he finds himself in the Hay internment camp, shunned by most of the outside world as an ‘enemy alien’.
In her novel, HAYWIRE, Claire Saxby documents a little known passage of the Australian WW11 experience.
Tom and Max are both well crafted and relatable characters and readers can connect with their vulnerabilities and the fear and uncertainty that war brings.
Tom’s family life is authentically Australian and rich in the detail and experiences of the time in which the story is set.
Although HAYWIRE is set in a time of great tragedy and fear, we are left with hope and a belief that life for both Tom and Max will turn out okay in spite of the situation and war that their countries have thrust them into.
This well researched work of historical fiction is for readers aged 9 to 12 and has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize. Congratulations Claire.
HAYWIRE – THE WRITING PROCESS
What inspired you to write this book?
I knew about the Dunera, the ship that brought so many internees to Australia in 1940, but I didn’t know much. I did know that a substantial number of the internees elected to stay in Australia rather than return to England once the British government acknowledged their wrongful internment. I did know that this was an extraordinary group of men, who contributed enormously to Australia. But I knew nothing about how they came to be in Hay and what the locals thought. And I wanted to.
Who/what inspired the characters of Tom and Max?
Max came first. I had this sense of a teenage boy picked up by a tidal wave and swept from his world to the world of war, where he is judged purely by his heritage, his accent. No one asked how he felt, what he wanted. And the size of the wave that carried him on allowed little time for him to even consider more than surviving. Until he reaches Hay. Tom’s life looks simple in comparison, but he too is caught up in the war at home and it tears at his life, his security too. He, like Max, has little time to really process what’s going on, and what he really wants. I wanted to show that the quiet ones are as ripped apart by war as those who shout loudly.
Can you talk us through the research process?
Research took a very long time and continued throughout writing and redrafting! There were two main reasons for this. The first is that it’s all fascinating and it’s so easy to disappear down paths that may well lead to more interesting information, but which don’t necessarily contribute directly to the novel. The second reason is because in order to represent both 1939/1940 Europe and Hay, NSW accurately I needed to know so much! I needed the timeline to WWII in Germany and England, in Australia in general, and Hay in particular. Then I needed to know what life was like in Hay at the time (and that involved spending a lot – A LOT – of time on Trove, reading the twice-weekly regional newspaper.
Each reading exposed holes in my knowledge and let to more research. I thought I’d done enough research and was somewhere in the middle of drafting (tenth draft?) when I had the chance to visit Hay (It’s on the way from Melbourne to Canberra, right?). Much of what I’d researched was right, but there were several fundamental errors on my part – and each of those meant that if I wanted the story to be as close to real as I could make it, I needed to rewrite a number of key scenes. Aggh! But ultimately it was worth it.
What Surprising Things Did you discover through the research process?
So many. There were so many things that I just hadn’t thought about, eg why did they chose Hay for the internment camps? (criteria included being far from the coast, having transport access, being built on sand to prevent escape attempts). Surprises were big and small and ranged from fathers being rounded up for internment in England, even when sons were employed by the army (and vice versa) to the camp having their own currency.
I met a man who had been a child at the time the internees arrived and he told me that there’d been Gatling guns set up inside the station, trained on the disembarking men. The same man told me about his father setting up on the chimney of their house, armed with several weapons and prepared to shoot if any of the men appeared on the street. Another surprise was that around 20 % of the internees were under 20 years-old.
Claire’s latest release, Kookaburra
I use an A4 workbook for my research, in addition to online research. I write notes in it, on only one side of the page, with reference notes (reference book details and page number or online reference details etc). Sometimes I print out pages too, glue them in and highlight relevant information.
Don’t have too many characters. After writing mostly picture books, I thought, here is my chance to have lots of characters, and it is, but beware of having so many that it becomes confusing. Tom had many more siblings, reflecting family sizes of the time, but not all of them had enough of a role to justify their existence. Some had to go.
Research broadly, from multiple sources. Trove was a … treasure trove! It allowed me access to several regional newspapers, each with their own focus. All were helpful. The internet is wonderful and so are books. Each provides some of the same information, which is useful for corroboration, but each also provides different information, which helps to flesh out the historical world I was entering.
As soon as I saw the premise of Lili Wilkinson’s The Erasure Initiative, I knew it was going to hook me in and keep me up late into the night reading, which it did!
Seven people wake up on a driverless bus with no memory of who they are, or knowledge of where they’re going or what they’re doing there.
The story is told by teen, Cecily, a compelling, intriguing and totally believable character, except for the fact that she’s not even sure that’s who she is. As some of her memories surface, we start to see the real Cecily appear.
Also on the bus with her are the well tattooed Riley, take charge Sandy, who might be the mother of hot teen Paxton, angry Nia, naïve young Edwin and harmless old Catherine. One of them is a surprise passenger, but everyone else on the bus has something serious in common … we just don’t know it yet.
Soon after they get on the bus, a series of tests begins, in which the passengers must each choose an outcome; majority wins. But as the testing progresses, deadly secrets are revealed and the stakes get higher and higher. Soon Cecily is no longer just fighting for her freedom, she’s fighting for her life.
The Erasure Initiative is a real roller coaster ride for both characters and the reader, and not everyone survives the journey.
It’s quite a simple concept, but Lili Wilkinson’s thrilling new YA novel is full of suspense and unexpected twists.
I loved the way each character was thoroughly explored and unique, and we grew to care about each of them in their own way.
The Erasure Initiative invites us to look below the surface to who people really are … and explore the questions of do we have potential for change and how can this affect our destiny?
The well-drawn characters, compelling scenario and fast pace of this novel keep us wanting more from each page – and we’re not disappointed.
The Erasure Initiative, written by Lili Wilkinson and published by Allen & Unwin is recommended for readers aged 14+
Much loved children’s author, Katrina Germain and illustrator, Tom Jellett have a wonderful new book due out next month!
Shoo You Crocodile! is a fun, raucous tale for imaginative young readers and small, brave adventurers. The story offers space for discussion around play, real and imagined stories and families can use the book to play their own make-believe monster games and learn about rhyming words. The book also teaches young readers about working together, being brave, facing challenges and problem solving. (from the publisher) Little Book Press
Katrina says, The story was super fun to write. Escaping invisible crocodiles is like dodging molten lava; it’s an imaginary game that is played universally by children. I had the idea for this story while watching a group of children play in the sandpit. They were pretending that crocodiles were coming to get them. The book has noise and action with themes of imagination, teamwork and courage. The rhythm and rhyme is lively and there are crocodiles on the loose! What could be more fun than that?
As with every picture book I write, I want to appeal to both adults and children but my primary focus is the kids. Hopefully, young children will love this one because it’s playful with amusing elements of danger. As it was inspired by pre-schoolers exploring ideas together (creating a game about overcoming danger) it’s not about what adults want to tell children; it’s about what children want to tell themselves. There’s also something about crocodiles that intrigues young readers and always draws everyone in.
If educators and parents would like to use the book for other learning experiences there are opportunities to explore language and rhyming words. The main themes include working together, being brave and facing challenges with friends. The illustrator, Tom Jellett, has set the story in a museum, which adds additional, rich layers of meaning to the story. Families could spend ages examining the pictures and pondering the artefacts in the artwork. The book would be great to read before or after a visit to the museum.
THE WRITING PROCESS
What were the challenges of writing a story like this featuring a scary creature in a book for young children?
Great question! Books and play are wonderful ways for children to explore scary situations in a safe manner that makes them feel powerful. (There’s always a happy outcome at the end!) Tom Jellett’s entertaining art perfectly creates the right atmosphere. The crocodiles are running around on their two back legs so they’re not overly lifelike. The story is dramatic and suspenseful but the crocodiles never actually catch the characters or touch them; the children in the story successfully frighten the crocodiles away. The book has a child narrator and the tone is upbeat and energetic. I think all those thing help.
Can you give us 5 tips on how you wrote this book?
I tend to use different processes for different books but this one went something like this…
Let children be the inspiration.
Observe and listen to children. Think about what’s important to them and what ideas they’d like to explore.
Make it fun!
Do this through the use of captivating characters, action and drama and interesting language; use onomatopoeia, rhyme and colloquialisms.
Edit and polish.
Rewrite and rewrite till your story is tight. (SHOO YOU CROCODILE is just under 200 words.)
Trust the illustrator.
Don’t attempt to explain every aspect of the story in the written text. The illustrator will create a visual narrative that completes the story.
Trust the readers.
Don’t spell out themes and messages in a boring, laborious way. Tell an engaging story and let readers discover aspects that interest them. If your book is authentic, layered and interesting readers will find ways to enjoy it.
Thanks Katrina for sharing these great tips.
Katrina Germein is a best-selling picture book author. Published worldwide, Katrina’s book Big Rain Coming has remained continuously in print since it was first published in 1999. Her popular title My Dad Thinks He’s Funny was Highly Commended in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Thunderstorm Dancing is among many of Katrina’s CBCA Notable Books to have featured on children’s television programs such as Play School. In 2019 Katrina received the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award for Let’s Go Strolling. Katrina is an ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia, a Books in Homes Role Model and a Premier’s Reading Challenge Ambassador. New titles in 2020 include Tell ’em! and Shoo You Crocodile! Katrina holds a Bachelor of Education and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She continues to teach part time.
You can find out more about Katrina at her website.