Cuckoo’s Flight – a story from Bronze Age Crete

One of the things I love most about Wendy Orr’s, Dragonfly Song, Swallows Dance and her latest Bronze Age novel, Cuckoo’s Flight is 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.

THE CARE FACTOR

A STORY OF NURSING AND CONNECTION IN THE TIME OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

REVIEW

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 Factor should 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.

Ailsa (left) and Simone – this book also reflects their special friendship

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.  

Ailsa Wild is also the bestselling author of books for children

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.

A Gripping and Unique Holocaust Story

review – HEROES OF THE SECRET UNDERGROUND

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

Heroes of the Secret Underground was inspired by bestselling author Susanne Gervay’s family and their flight from Budapest, Hungary during the Holocaust.

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.

Author, Susanne Gervay signing her new book

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 Underground is 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.

Heroes of the Secret Underground is for readers aged 9+. A detailed glossary at the back provides historical context for the story, and a teacher’s guide is available from the publisher’s website.

WRITING HEROES OF THE SECRET UNDERGROUND

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?
Susanne’s parents were refugees from Hungary

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. 

Budapest Opera House

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?
Susanne’s daughter, Tory in a traditional outfit made by her grandmother.

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:-

Dear Susanne, 

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…  

Samantha Sirimanne Hyde

WHERE TO FIND SUSANNE IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD

Website: https://sgervay.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/sgervay

Twitter-   https://twitter.com/sgervay

Instagram – https://instagram.com/susanne_gervay/

Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/user/sgervay

Linked in –  https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanne-gervay

PAWS – A story of friendship

Paws, Friends Are What Happen When You're Making Other Plans by Kate Foster  | 9781760652661 | Booktopia

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.

Author, Kate Foster with PAWS

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.

This is a heartwarming story of friendship and courage from Kate Foster and Walker Books Australia.

ABOUT THE CREATION OF THE BOOK

“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.”

HAYWIRE by Claire Saxby + Some Writing Secrets

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Writing tips

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.

You can find out more about Claire and her work at https://clairesaxby.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

The Erasure Initiative – A Nail Biting YA Thriller

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+

Historical Fiction Set in WWII

READERS STILL CONNECT WITH WWII

This year marks seventy-five years since the end of World War II, an important part of our heritage. And perhaps because of the pandemic and other modern day hardships, books set in WWII seem to be more popular than ever.

Stories of WWII heroines and heroes continue to inspire us.

When working on another book set in Paris, I stumbled across true accounts of Muslims at a Paris mosque who saved Jewish children during WW2, and it became the inspiration for my new book, Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust.

Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust

In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family.

One hint of Ruben’s true identity and he’ll be killed. So will the people trying to save him. But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.

Family stories about my grandfather’s time in Dachau and my father’s escape from Austria after Kristallnacht, made me want to write about the Holocaust and when I came across the true life interfaith solidarity story of Muslims saving Jews from the Nazis, I knew I had to tell it.

REVIEWING THREE GREAT WWII HISTORICAL FICTION WORKS

Today I’m featuring three amazing  books set in WWII –  Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci released in 2017 and two new books out this year, The Deceptions  by Suzanne Leal and Red Day by Sandy Fussell.

CONSPIRACY OF LIES – ADULT HISTORICAL FICTION

When Claire meets the mysterious Marcel, she knows there will never be another man like him in her life. But he’s not the man she thought he was and by the time she realizes, it’s too late. She’s already in love with him. When she takes on a pivotal role in the Resistance, Claire is risking her life for both her man and her country, but ultimately she must choose between them.

Conspiracy of Lies

Conspiracy of Lies is rich with suspense, and interwoven with complex relationships, both past and present. The dual timeline story keeps us turning the pages as we discover the truth alongside Claire’s daughter, Sarah.

This is a book for adult readers with the relationships explored on both an emotional and physical level. The characters are so well drawn that we feel like we know them, even the minor players.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the way the incredible historical detail was woven seamlessly into the story. The story starts in Brittany in 1940. The Phoney War is over and the real war has begun in France.

Author, Kathryn Gauci’s depiction of occupied France and life in the Resistance is so visceral that we can imagine ourselves right there in the story.

Kathryn and I talk about the research behind our books, Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust and Conspiracy of Lies here.

THE DECEPTIONS by Suzanne Leal

I interviewed author Suzanne Leal on my blog on 17 April so I already knew some of the background to The Deceptions and the fact that it was inspired by true events, and perhaps that’s why the authenticity of the story and setting shine through.

The Deceptions

It is both tragic and inspiring as we follow the survival story of Hana Lederová taken from her home in Prague in 1943, and imprisoned in a ghetto where she accepts the advances of a gendarme in return for his protection, but soon discovers that nothing and nobody can protect her from the Nazis.

This is another dual storyline as we follow the stories of Hana and her modern day granddaughter, Tessa who is suffering the same kind of manipulation by a man in power.

When their two worlds come together, secrets of the past are spilled and deceptions revealed that have far reaching consequences.

Suzanne Leal draws us into Hana’s life of fear and hardship, and we take each step with her, wondering what new horror is around the corner and whether she can survive it. We know she does because she has a granddaughter, Tessa, but we wonder whether her life can ever have any semblance of normality after what she has gone through.

Powerful characters, suspense and the eloquence of the narrative kept me turning the pages of The Deceptions and made me ponder at the end whether truth really is more important than anything.

RED DAY by Sandy Fussell

Set against a backdrop of the 1944 Cowra Prisoner of War Camp breakout, this powerful story explores an important part of Australia’s past and how it informs the future.

Set in a modern-day small town among the remnants of a Japanese POW camp, this is the story of Charlie. Charlie has synaesthesia and hence sees and hears differently: people have auras; days of the week are coloured; numbers and letters have attitudes. But when Charlie meets Japanese exchange student Kenichi, her senses intensify and she experiences flashbacks, nausea, and hears unfamiliar voices in her head pulling her back to the town’s violent past.

Red Day

Main character, Charlie isn’t looking forward to the arrival of Japanese exchange student, Kenichi, especially seeing as he’ll be occupying the room that used to be her brother’s.

Charlie is determined not to like the new arrival, but they have a connection that she has no control over, and he seems to have special abilities just like her.

As their friendship develops so does the mystery and intrigue in the story, and the widening gulf between Charlie and her mother.

It’s only through exploring the past that they can possibly find some resolution to the events that have come between them, and find closure for Kenichi and his family too.

I loved the uniqueness of Charlie, the main character and the way this story transports us between different worlds in such an unusual and vibrant way.

There’s also a strong theme of family and here again we see the effects of war through the generations. Red Day not only transported me into the fascinating world of synaesthesia but also Japanese war history of which I had very little knowledge. And it depicts an Australian experience of WWII.

With its elements of fractured families, fear and prejudice, Red Day is very relevant in today’s world.

Haywire

I have another book on order set in Australia in this era and also for young readers – Haywire by Claire Saxby and I’ll be interviewing Claire right here so keep your eye out for this post.

Have you read any other great books set in WW2II that you can recommend? Please let us know in the comments below.

 

Can You Have Too Many Friends?

Too Many Friends is the beautiful new verse novel from Kathryn Apel, author of the acclaimed Bully on the Bus and On Track.

       

Having no friends is hard, but having a lot of friends can make life difficult too. By the end of  Kathryn’s book, you’ll have formed your own conclusions about whether you can have Too Many Friends.

And at the end of this post, Kathryn provides some fabulous tips on writing.

Kathryn Apel in Antarctica, the setting for her latest WIP.

Too Many Friends is a gentle book about friends, about making and breaking friends, about true friendship.

It’s for kids who find it difficult to juggle the needs of the people around them … to keep all the people they care about happy. (And that’s something that most adults find difficult too.)

It’s easy to warm to Kathryn Apel’s main character, Tahnee who wants to be friends with everyone, and who wants all her friends to be friends with each other. This causes tension and heartache, but Tahnee won’t budge from her goal.

I love Tahnee’s generous inclusive nature. Lucy is shy and a bit of an outcast, but Tahnee is determined to include her in their friendship group, even if it risks existing friendship.

And when Tahnee has a birthday, EVERYONE must be invited.

‘You can’t have that many friends!’
Mum gasps.

Tahnee has 23 on her list.

‘I don’t want anyone to feel
                                    left out,’ I say.

Soon Mum and Dad are involved in the excitement of the party plans.

Meanwhile, at school, Miss Darling has the children conducting a science experiment.

During Science
we start testing
the effects of force
on toys.

The push and pull of the experiment is symbolic of what’s happening with Tahnee and her friendships.

I love the way author Kathryn Apel adds depth and meaning to her work using these kinds of devices that young readers will easily relate to.

As well as introducing common dilemmas for kids, Too Many Friends introduces a whole range of fabulous classroom activities for teachers both within the book, and inspired by it.

Too Many Friends is lyrical and sensitive. A beautifully crafted story that will warm your heart.

Kathryn Apel uses words and shape, symbolism and rhythm to create this easy to read, but absorbing verse novel for younger readers, published by UQP.

Page 47

 

Below, Kathryn shares some fabulous tips on how she wrote Too Many Friends.

KATHRYN APEL’S WRITING TIPS

Kathryn Apel – Five Writing Tips for ‘Too Many Friends’

Listen: Life is made of experiences that can shape your writing. Sometimes a story needs to find you. Listen! I wrote a story-note on my phone after a conversation with a friend about her daughter; ‘a story about a girl with too many friends’.

Play: Throw words around. Juggle them. Try a new word for shape and size. Play with form.

Remember the big picture; whilst a word might be the best choice for that given situation, if that word is also the best choice in numerous other situations … you have a problem! (Related: Smile. Lots. In real life. But not too much in your writing. No matter how many friends your main character has – or how lovely your editor is – you can’t get away with too many ‘smiles’!)

Have a Joke: One poem (jokingly named ‘The BIG Smile-ing Thing’ – See Point 2) was written during final edits and became one of the heart-warming turning points of the book. You’ll probably never guess which poem it is (once it served its purpose, it was renamed) – but I’ll remember the laugh I had with my editor when she saw that title.

Prioritise: Unexpected circumstances meant ‘Too Many Friends’ had to be at typesetters a month earlier than planned. The pressure was on – and I couldn’t work with life and family continually disrupting. First time ever, I took time out and went away. By myself. For a week! (I won’t rhapsodise too much …) The tightly coiled spring inside me unravelled, the words stuttered … and flowed. I wrote – into the night, and halfway to sunrise. I slept late, wrote more then pottered along for a week at my night-owl-pace … and met the deadline. And my family coped.

Bounce Back: One of my favourite poems (and my editor’s) was a shape poem – and it was perfect! … Until it came back from typesetters and we made the awful discovery that we hadn’t considered line-spacing! My pièce de résistance was cut in half and spread over two pages – and completely unrecognisable! I will always love the original Duck, Dad – and share sneaky-peeks at author visits – but the revised version is even better suited to this book!

Why “How to Bee” is creating such a buzz – PLUS great writing tips

How to Bee, the new book for readers aged 8-12 by Bren MacDibble has been creating quite a buzz in bookstores, libraries and homes … and that’s no surprise.

Dealing with a contemporary concern, the extinction of bees, the main character, Peony has such a unique voice and fierce, determined personality that she quickly draws you into her story.

I’ll be telling you more about How to Bee and my thoughts on it later, but first, Bren MacDibble has some great writing tips based on how she created this wonderful book.

BREN’S TOP WRITING TIPS

1.  The setting for How to Bee was a future world that evolved over time via facts picked up from reading articles and attending cons and listening to people speak on food security. So my tip is pay attention to interesting things, and things that are important. Nothing is more important to us right now than climate change and food security, so why not set a book in a world that shows the effects of our current direction? Kids are not deaf and blind, they worry about things like this too. A book showing possible effects of bee loss can help them think about those fears in a non-threatening way.

2. How to Bee has a very direct plot line. It’s for 8 to 12 year olds and it is tightly focussed on what the main character wants, and she drives the plot like she’s got hold of a bulldozer and can’t reach the brake. The plot pretty much just goes forwards, with a couple of pauses to catch the reader up on how things got this way. So there’s a straight path through the story, keeping the reader following, even though it’s set in a complex world they’ve never seen before.

3. How to Bee is in first person so the voice of a 9 year old girl who’s never been to school a day in her life and only lived in an orchard, can never let up. She’s the narrator. It’s in her head. It’s in her dialogue, and it’s different to the dialogue of the people around her, except the other kids on the orchard. I can’t tell her story in my voice, I’m too old and have a different vocabulary. Her vocabulary is simple and full of slang, and shaped by the children around her. Find your protagonist’s real and honest voice and use it.

4.  Likewise, her point of view can never let up. Peony is determined and strong, but she is naive. There are things about her mother, or people she doesn’t know that she can’t hope to understand, and when she guesses, she’s often wrong, and that’s okay, because it’s honest. Don’t put adult thoughts in your protagonist’s head. Be honest.

5.  Thinking about everyone in a new world, and what they might value, can add surprising details that add colour to world-building. Like that all the orchard children are named after fruit and flowers because they are what’s precious in this new world. Likewise, for the very rich, life had not changed at all. They were able to insulate themselves and afford the rising food prices, whereas middle and low income people mortgaged their homes and quickly join the ranks of homeless poor. Of course neither of these things can be said from the point of view of a child narrator, but they are shown to a point and left to the observant reader to figure out. When Peony meets Esmeralda, one of the first things she says is, “What kind of name is that?” You or I might think Peony, Pomegranate, and Mangojoy are strange names but in this world, the name Peony thinks is strange is the old name of Esmeralda. There should be a logical flow-on to the whole world if values change.

WHY I LOVED “HOW TO BEE”

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. Real bees are extinct, and the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony’s greatest wish is to be one of them … but nothing is ever certain in her world.

In How to Bee, author Bren MacDibble has taken us so deeply into this world of the future, that as readers we feel we are truly part of it.

We desperately want things to work out for Peony, but when her mother takes her off to the city, we know there’s going to be trouble ahead.

In spite of her fierce dislike of living in the ‘urbs’, Peony forms a friendship with rich city girl Esmeralda that transforms both their lives.

Peony’s voice is so strong and unique that you can hear her in your head and picture her as if she were standing in front of you..

“I wrap my body around it like I am the tree and the tree is me, and hang on.”

There’s plenty of action in How to Bee, but it also has vulnerable sensitive moments that allow the reader to reflect on Peony and her situation and empathise with her story.

How to Bee is sad and poignant and joyous and life affirming all at once.

Peony deals with some difficult realities in How to Bee, but many children have hardship in their lives. Some will relate, others will gain greater understanding by sharing Peony’s journey. All will admire her resilience.

How to Bee is a story of love and hope. It’s about the things you can’t choose in your life, and the choices you can make.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Peony. With her grit and determination, her hard edges, her courage and her capacity to love.

How to Bee is a great read for anyone who likes strong, unique characters, an original plot and a story world that’s so real and fascinating that you want to stay in it.

How to Bee is published by Allen & Unwin.

Smile Cry – A Beginner’s Book of Feelings

Smile Cry written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft is a wonderful book to introduce  discussions about feelings.

smilecryfullcover-smallYoung children find that a cry can quickly turn into a smile and vice versa so it’s an ideal blend to have these two feelings showcased in the same book.

Our society often has a negative response to tears so it’s refreshing to see this emotion presented to children as a ‘normal and acceptable’ way to feel.

The way these emotions have been introduced allow the reader to empathise with others and learn that everyone has feelings.

Smile Cry presents the concept that we feel things for a reason.

The simple and powerful text and emotive illustrations make this book relatable and relevant for young children.

The gorgeous pictures represent feelings in a fun, non-threatening way – providing reassurance to young readers.

piglet bunny cat double picFeaturing a very cute pig, rabbit and cat, the emotions of the characters are simply yet strikingly depicted in the illustrations.

Smile Cry is a ‘flip about’ book, symbolic of how emotions and feelings can flip. ‘Smile’ starts from one end and ‘Cry’ from the other, and the feelings meet in the middle.

Smile Cry is an important book, introducing young readers to the complicated world of feelings in a compassionate and memorable way.

Published by EK Books, Smile Cry is currently available in Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.

If you’re looking for the ideal Christmas present for the youngest readers in your life, this could be it.