Browsing Tag

Where the Heart Is

Fergie reads my book!

16 July 2021

What a few weeks it has been! My latest picture book, Where the Heart Is, illustrated by Susannah Crispe, came out last month and I had no idea that it would result in possibly the greatest moment of my life. None other than the Fergie, Duchess of York, selected our humble little book to read on her Storytime channel. And it is blowing up. As I write this is has been just a little over 24 hours since it went live and already it’s had 20K views!

The reading features Paddy the dog and a complementary fruit platter that may look a bit like something other than palm trees. It’s a little wacky and a lot thrilling. And it is in fact the childhood dream that I didn’t know I had.

Paddy loving Where the Heart Is (for about two seconds)

When I was 11, like every other little English girl, I watched Princess Sarah Ferguson walk down the aisle and practically drooled over her satiny confection of a dress. Afterwards I sat on my floor and made a ‘book’ all about the wedding. I cut out pictures from magazines and wrote my best royal reportage.

Now that princess has read a real book that I wrote and it all feels completely surreal. She even pronounced my name right. All of this would have my 11-year-old self hyperventilating or screaming with joy or jumping up and down on the bed. Actually, probably all of those on rotation. Needless to say, even adult me has been riding a Fergulicious high.

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But before that came another high in the form of our book launch. We managed to sneak it in just before mandatory masks were brought in, and Dymocks Civic did the most amazing job of dressing up the shop in Where the Heart Is paraphernalia. We had a great crowd of small and big people – as Susannah said, we couldn’t have fit another person in.

 

It was such a joy to share this story, and I suppose I should tell you what it’s about! It’s based on a true story about a man named Joao who rescued a penguin, who he named Dindim, from an oil spill, just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They developed such a close bond that since his rescue, Dindim has spent eight months of every year with Joao, leaving in February for the Patagonia coasts of Argentina and Chile, and returning in June. The trip back to Joao is an extraordinary 8,000 kilometres. Scientists have never seen anything like it. So you can see why this heartwarming true story inspired me to write Where the Heart Is!

 

If you want to get your hands on a copy it’s available in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada, in stores and online.

Where the Heart Is backstory

17 June 2021

Some time ago now (I’m a bit hazy on the details) I read a newspaper article about a man named Joao who rescued a penguin, who he named Dindim, from an oil spill. The chick washed up on an island village beach just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, near Joao’s shanty home. They developed such a close bond that since his rescue, Dindim has spent eight months of every year with Joao, leaving in February for the Patagonia coasts of Argentina and Chile, and returning in June. The trip back to Joao is an extraordinary 8,000 kilometres. Nothing of its kind has ever before been witnessed.

After reading this incredible story I immediately felt the spark of a picture book arrive. The bond between human and animals (wild or domesticated) can be so special and I’ve experienced this myself with elephants in Thailand (I am an Ambassador for the Save Elephant Foundation). I’m also passionate about wild animals remaining in the wild, but this can only happen if humans do not destroy their habitats. In this case, the oil spill that threatened Dindim’s life. But we are also losing many penguin colonies to climate change. That is, perhaps, a story for another day, but it’s been wonderful to hear that early readers are already using the book to spark conversations around conservation and caring for animals and our environment.

Where the Heart Is officially hit stores yesterday. And it’s the very first book baby for illustrator Susannah Crispe who has so beautifully brought this story to life. I’m a sucker for endpapers, and she has created the most adorable and funniest endpapers ever (I might be a wee bit biased, but readers reactions confirm it!). Susannah has her own backstory about Where the Heart Is, and when I heard it I knew she was the perfect fit for this book. The synergies with the story I had written were like a sign!

So here’s Susannah talking about her experiences:

About 10 years ago, I spent several months travelling in South America. I relived that time a lot while working on Where the Heart Is, having spent time on Brazilian islands, including Joao’s island, and seeing Magellanic penguins like Dindim in the wild in Chile.

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Time in Brazil influenced the illustrations. Photo: Susannah Crispe

The Island of Chiloé, just off the coast of Chile, is a truly magical place filled with incredible birdlife. I had heard about a penguin colony on a tiny island nearby, but at the time I was travelling there weren’t any options for tourists to visit it. I negotiated with a taxi driver to drive along the coast (sometimes along the beaches themselves) to the bay opposite the Islotes de Peñihuil. There he negotiated with local fishermen to take me to the island to see the penguins.

I had been learning Spanish for a few months at his stage, but it turned out the fishermen only knew a handful of Spanish words, speaking one of the many indigenous languages instead. Despite this, they tried valiantly to point out various bird species to me. As we pulled up close to Peñihuil in their tiny battered boat, several small black and white heads popped up from burrows in the grass. Magellanic penguins were happily going about their day, in amongst Humboldt penguins, ducks, gulls, shags and terns.

Seals in Chile who inspired the illustrations. Photo: Susannah Crispe

It was an incredible experience, not least because of the beautiful and generous fishermen, and made even more special by the very friendly sea lions and otters who came to say hello.

Joao, the old man from Where the Heart Is, lives on the other side of the continent on an actual island paradise. I spent several weeks exploring and lounging on Brazilian beaches and islands, and Ilha Grande — Joao’s home — was by far my favourite place. There were no cars or roads on the island, just walking tracks leading from the port and town up and over mountains thick with jungle to a seemingly infinite number of pristine beaches.

The jungle there was an incredible place, filled with howler monkeys, marmosets, squirrels and birds. It was quite different to the Amazon jungle where the air’s thick with humidity and insects, and the wildlife makes so much noise you can’t think. On Ilha Grande, the jungle animals seemed almost as calm and relaxed as the people. I remember hiking to a waterfall one morning with a banana left over from breakfast in my bag. The instant I split the skin to open it, a dozen small furry faces materialised from the trees. As I finished the last bite, the tiny monkeys faded back between the vines as if they were figments of my imagination.

Honestly, I completely understand why Dindim returns to the island every year. I would too if I could!

It was pretty special being able to use my own source photos to develop the characters and landscapes in Where the Heart Is. Despite my truly rubbish photos, the memory of this day is still so vivid, and working on Dindim’s story feels like a tribute to this trip and the people who made it so memorable.

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Where the Heart Is has been simultaneously released in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada. If you happen to be in Canberra on Saturday 26 June we’re launching at Dymocks in the Canberra Centre. Susannah has created a stunning window display, and if you come along at 11am there’ll be a book reading, craft and cupcakes. Hope to see some of you there!

 

The dance between character and place in fiction

11 March 2020

Place is so important in fiction writing. It is more than just setting, more than just a space that characters inhabit. The way each of us views a place is different, filtered through our subjective experiences. And the way characters interact with the space around them can reveal so much about their interior lives. So, for me at least, place is intrinsic to story.

Usually the characters and their setting arrive in my imagination in tandem. They are already entwined. But occasionally the characters arrive in search of a home. Before I travelled to South Africa, I had a trio of characters playing in my head who I knew were destined for a short story. And on a trip to Boulders Beach, near Cape Point, I found the perfect space for them — a place that offered echoes for the things my characters were wrestling with.

My brother and I took the train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town. It was the most glorious ride and the footage below gives you a glimpse of why.

 

From Simon’s Town we walked to Boulders Beach, which was swarming with tourists and penguins. I’m not a fan of tourist traps but it was worth battling through selfie sticks to see these cute little guys. African penguins look very similar to Magellanic penguins from South America, who feature in my next kids book, Where the Heart Is (June 2021), so it was extra special to see them sunning and squawking and swimming. We also smelt them, oh how we smelt them.

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But back to the short story, which is called ‘Pole pole’. The way each of my characters experiences this particular place in South Africa is specific to them, with all their worries and joys and frailties. It is not my experience, or my brother’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. It belongs only to Dexter and Adelaide and Lix. The title is a Swahili saying (pronounced ‘polay polay’) which means ‘slowly slowly’. You’ll have to read the story to find out the significance of this saying, and how the characters and the setting (with its tuxedoed inhabitants) interact. It’s in issue 7 of StylusLit and you can find the full story online. I do hope you enjoy it.

And if you’re interested in reading more about how place informs writers’ work, Angela Meyer, Angela Savage and Leah Kaminsky wrote some wonderful words about their literary travels previously for this blog.

Contracts, contracts, contracts!

18 October 2019

Okay, there are actually only two new contracts but the rule of threes works better and, besides, excitement levels require it. Rejection is part of a writer’s staple diet, so when you have two big wins in the space of a week it’s time to splash champagne around like a rock star and happy dance everywhere.

Note: If you have children they will be embarrassed by said happy dance and will likely roll their eyes at you. What’s more, after picking my three kids up from school and telling them about book contract 1 their response was: ‘That’s cool, Mum. What’s for afternoon tea?’ Did not miss a beat.

Book contract 1!
So I’m thrilled to share with you, dear reader (who does not require me to provide afternoon tea), that I have been made an offer for my debut novel! I can’t give you a title yet as my working title will likely change. I care about this novel so deeply and I’m so glad that I’ll be able to share it with you soon. Well, not that soon. Publishing moves at a glacial pace, so it’ll be out August 2021. But when I finally have that book baby in my hands I can assure you that I will be drinking all the champagne (again — any excuse). And I will not be making afternoon tea.

Book contract 2!
Just a few days after the excitement of book contract 1, I received word that my fifth picture book, Where the Heart Is, had made it through acquisitions. It’s based on a true story that is so extraordinary that I began writing a first draft immediately after hearing it. The illustrator, Susannah Crispe, has her own personal experiences that link so incredibly to this story — there couldn’t be a more perfect person to partner with. More on all that closer to release because, again, it will be June 2021 before it’s sitting on bookshop shelves.

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My kids received said news with similar levels of enthusiasm to book contract 1. Luckily the bloke made up for it.

Book contract 3!
But before both those books, my fourth picture book, Seree’s Story, will be out with Walker Books in September next year. And yes, I signed this contract forever ago but I wanted to mention it here because I have been watching the uber-talented Wayne Harris’ illustrations develop with something like awe. Okay, exactly like awe. In short, I am madly in love with them — they have such heart and are so utterly beautiful and moving. I’m itching to share them with you, but you’ll have to wait.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here enjoying another glass of bubbles.