Jackie French News October 2013

Our wonderful author Jackie French writes a blog post each month with news about her books, events, but also with recipes, gardening tips and updates on her own real life wombat visitors! Each month, we’ll be posting her updates here, but you can see past month’s blogs, other information and subscribe to recieve these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.


  • Introduction
  • Wombat News
  • Book News
  • Recent Awards
  • Geelong?
  • Schedule for the next 12 months ( sort of )
  • The October Garden
  • A Few Recipes: Recipes for the Slices I’ll be Making in the Next Few Weeks
    –     Chocolate Fudge Slice
    –      Jam Squares
    –     Chocolate Honey Oat Squares


The bushfire smoke is sifting like flour across the ridges. It billowed this afternoon, but then dispersed. I feel guilty sitting here in comfort, tapping this, when things are so hard for so many just now. We have checked the gutters, ready to fill them, try to keep the debris raked from about the house, though when the wind whips up to gale strength that is hard. Thirty-five years of climbing rose growth collapsed on the front gate two days ago. I spent the afternoon like Prince Charming hacking his way to Sleeping Beauty so we could get out. A tree is over half the road, which Bryan will clear tomorrow. The fire pump is ready, the tanks full. This is the other side of living in the bush. If the winds are bad …

I don’t think it will come to that, not this year. The years of doing the bushfire fighting are behind me. When the winds die down, when the fires ease, we will all be working out how we can help.  King fire has a short, harsh reign. Good things grow again.

Wombat News

The wombats are fat and stroppy, Wild Whiskers especially. She is Mothball’s daughter, and I thought her stroppiness might be because she had a baby in her pouch. But the baby is out now,  munching grass and she is still stroppy, pursuing me down the orchard going ‘Hrnnff’, which is wombat for ‘I want food. Now.’

She is not going to get it. There is plenty of grass for wombats, wallabies and bower birds. The only wombat who gets a human-proffered snack is little Phil, who is no longer so little, but still a bit thin. But he only turns up once a week or so, possibly when he remembers we exist.

There are six wombats in the garden and orchard just now, ranging from the brown (and bossy) through to grey, to Phil’s almost-white. Plus there are two baby wombats, still unnamed, a wallaby and her joey, one well-fed echidna, three golden skinks lurking by the front door, a long but youngish brown snake (a year old I think, and hopefully just passing through), the elderly and grumpy possum who sleeps above the living room and snorts if we make too much noise and wake him during the day. Plus us, and all the other species … but none as stroppy as one brown wombat wanting carrots.

Book News

Let the Land Speak: How the Land Created Our Nation was released in October. ‘Released’ sounds a bit like letting a dingo out of its cage. ‘Hooshed’ is closer to the mark, with editors hunting typos till it goes to print, and the warehouse at Moss Vale  valiantly distributing the printed copies. ‘Launched’ is rarely applicable either, because I rarely do launches, on the theory that my friends expect me to give them a copy, rather than be invited to a speech and the opportunity to buy one.

Back to Let the Land Speak. It is a reinterpretation of Australian history, focusing on how the land itself, as much or more than social and political forces, shaped the major events that led to modern Australia. It is also a book about loving our country, and learning how to read its past and future.

Our history is mostly written by those who live, work and research in cities but the land itself has shaped our history far more powerfully and significantly than we realise. Let the Land Speak reinterprets the history we think we all know – from the impact of indigenous women, who shaped their nations’ landscapes far more profoundly than any firestick farming, to Eureka and to the role of the great drought of the 1890s in bringing about Federation, the land has shaped our past. Let the Land Speak also provides insights into ways we can read the land, predict the future – and survive it.

Refuge has just come out. It’s … different. But the reviews are good and the emails from kids have begun. Usually it takes a year or so to get the first emails. And I am beginning to think just possibly it has worked. ( PETAA have also just uploaded a fantastic Teaching Guide on their website! )

The Road to Gundagai will be released in December. It’s the third in the Matilda saga, following A Waltz for Matilda that began in 1892 and continuing with The Girl from Snowy River set in 1919. Each book can be read separately or as part of the series. ( PETAA also have a Teaching Guide for The Girl from Snowy River up as well )

In The Road to Gundagai, Blue Laurence has escaped the prison of her aunts’ mansion to join The Magnifico Family Circus, a travelling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Great Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costume; but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. The unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. The bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. A headless skeleton dangles in the House of Horrors.

And somewhere a murderer is waiting… to strike again.

The Road to Gundagai is set in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. Matilda is still running Drinkwater Station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times and Joey, from The Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery.

And the wombat is back! Wombat Goes to School was released in October too. ‘Released’ is probably an accurate word for this book. It is Bruce Whatley at his wickedest. The scene outside the Principal’s office is priceless. Suspect that kids will have even more fun with it than us.

Recent Awards

Pennies for Hitler has just won the NSW Premier’s History Award for Young People. (Dingowas shortlisted for the same award.) Pennies also won the CBC Honour Book for Younger Readers earlier this year. A Day to Remember with Mark Wilson was shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year. Pennies was also shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award as has Dingo. The Girl from Snowy River was made a CBC Notable Book in both the Younger and Older Reader categories.

Nanberry: Black Brother White and Baby Wombat’s Week have also been shortlisted for the Yabba (Young Australians’ Best Book Awards, voted by young people across Australia.)
scene outside the Principal’s office is priceless. Suspect that kids will have even more fun with it than us.


Help! Since our hard drive collapsed last year, I’ve lost the invitation I accepted ages ago to go to Geelong in August 2014. If you asked me, or you are expecting me, would you mind emailing me at jackiefrench72@gmail.com? And apologies for lost emails!

Schedule for the Year to come

The schedule below doesn’t contain all the next year’s bookings as I’m waiting until December when I have more free time before working out what I can accept for next year,  so I can look at the times and places and work out how to do it most efficiently. Many apologies if this leaves next year’s planning till too late for some invitations.



I’ll be a guest blogger at www.insideadog.com.au and www.readalert.blogs.slv.vic.gov.au The blogs entries will go up every three days. You can leave comments and I’ll answer them. The first one will probably be ‘Where do you get ideas, and 86 chocoloate frogs?’

November 2:

Opening paediatric conference, Canberra

November 2, 1.30 pm- 3.30pm:

Book readings and signing with other Canberra authors at Electric Shadows Bookshop, ACT.

November 9-10:

Open Garden Workshops here. Contact the Open Garden, who organise it, for bookings: act@opengarden.org.au (But I think they are booked out)

November 13:

Talk to the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) members, Canberra, Gorman House, 6 pm. Contact the ASA at for details.


March 29:

Pete the Sheep: The Musical opens at the Lend Lease Theatre, Darling Harbour, with the magical Monkey Baa Theatre Company. They’ll then tour all Australia, so it’s pretty certain there’ll be performances near you, from Alice Springs to Toowoomba, Ipswich to Devonport, Darwin to Wangarratta, Hobart to Canberra, Bunbury to Perth, and about 50 other theatres. Might see you there. For information go to their fabulous website: http://monkeybaa.com.au/
Also, I’ll probably be at the All Saint’s Festival, Perth and MANTEL in Newcastle


Possibly the CBC in the ACT


ALEA in in Darwin


The Bendigo Literary Festival, VIC

There’ll also be visits to Brisbane (contact Speaker’s Ink info@speakers-ink.com.au), Sydney (contact Lateral Learning bookings@laterallearning.com.au), Adelaide (contact Carole Carroll bookings@literaryaustralia.com) and Melbourne (contact Booked Out bookings@bookedout.com.au) during the year.

The October Garden:

Plant. Then plant some more.

A friend mourned it was too late to plant strawberry plants last week. It’s not too late to plant anything, with care and watering and, if it’s really hot, sheltering till established under shadecloth.

The best time to plant, or prune, is when you get around to it. The time to mulch, on the other hand, is when the soil warms up after winter i.e. now. And the time to fertilise is when the soil is moist. Too much fertiliser on dry soil, with a bit of drizzle soaking it in, can burn the roots and lead to a dead plant. I have only done it once, to a poor grapefruit tree more than 30 years ago, but the sight of its poor yellow leaves then the bare dead twigs, made me vow not to ever do it again.

If you’re not sure of your or the sky’s watering possibilities, stick to slow release fertilsers. And now is the time to apply those too, while plants are growing and before the worst of summer hits.

Simple Solutions For Problem Spots

The shady side of the house

Fill it with ferns. Or tree ferns. Or native ginger (make cordial from the roots or use them in cooking, bake fish in the leaves and eat the berries). Or a hedge of tamarilloes that love shade. Or ferns AND tamarilloes AND native ginger. Or lillypillies.

A hot wall under the eaves

Lavender or rosemary – they’re one of the few plants that don’t get mangled by mites if they don’t get rained on. But do water them sometimes – even lavender and rosemary like to drink and to have the dust washed off. Lots of fruit salad sage, or pineapple sage or tequila sage … masses of flowers and scented leaves and birds after the nectar. Or dragon fruit – a climbing, fruiting succulent that loves heat.

A Steep Slope

Fill it with hardy trees like olives, ice-cream bean trees, pears, plums, quinces, loquats, then plant fast-spreading hardy ground covers underneath the trees such as prostrate grevilleas, rosemary or juniper, gazanias, a groundcover rose (or six).

Ask your local nursery for suggestions for your area. Or for a more labour and cost intensive solution – design and build some terraces.

We had a bank of blackberry. I planted fast-growing silver poplars, then as they shaded out the blackberry thickets I planted ginger lilies under the trees; then planted avocadoes. We are finally getting rid of all the silver poplars – they sucker badly. But they did the job.

An ugly laundry, shed, compost bin etc

Put up a lattice and cover it with clematis, wonga vine, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, choko, grapes, or even a vertical garden

An ugly wall

Again avertical garden, either a commercial one or home-made, with 30 hanging baskets all at different heights, and a dripper system to water them, turned on for an hour each night.

Hot paving

Cover with a pergola planted out with deciduous grapes, hops, kiwi fruit or wisteria

A barren garden

Find a nursery where it looks like they love their plants. Smile sweetly and ask for two dozen low maintenance shrubs then spend the afternoon getting your hands dirty and having fun.

Well Sliced: A few recipes for slices I’ll be making in the next few weeks

Our Open Garden workshops will probably be over by the time you read this. But I am currently making slices for them. And more slices. Some gluten-free, some vegan, some vegan, gluten- free, some dairy-free. But mostly, just plain delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Slice

 You’ll need:

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 200 gm butter
  • 1 tbsp vanilla paste


  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp water
  • Extra coconut to sprinkle


Preheat oven to 180 ºC
Melt butter. Add the rest of the ingredients to the butter. Spread onto baking paper on an oven tray.
Bake for 20 minutes at or till browning at the edges. Do not over-bake or it will be chocolate concrete.
When cool, spread thickly with icing.


Mix ingredients.Spread. Dust with coconut while still moist

Jam Squares

You’ll need:

  • 250 gm butter
  • 1/3 cup icing sugar
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornflour
  • 1 tbsp vanilla paste
  • 2 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 10 tbsp jam


Preheat oven to 200 ºC.
Melt butter. Add everything except the jam, gently. Spread onto baking paper on a baking tray.
Mark into squares, then press a teaspoon into each square, then fill with jam.
The markings will vanish while cooking, but the jam drops will stay regular.
Bake at for 20-30 minutes, until not quite turning brown. Cut into squares again while hot, but don’t remove till they are cool as they are fragile while hot.
Store for up to a week in a sealed container. They’ll last longer, but will progressively taste staler.

Chocolate Honey Oat Squares

You’ll need:

  • 1½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup sultanas or dried cranberries
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup chocolate-coated blueberries (or extra dried fruit and ½ cup dark chocolate pieces)
  • 250 gm butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tbsp honey


Preheat oven to 200 ºC.
Melt butter. Add other things. Press onto a baking tray covered in baking paper.
Bake for 20 minutes, or till just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cut into slices while hot.
Leave in the tin till cold, as they are fragile when hot. Lasts up to two weeks in a sealed container.

For more information from Jackie, please go to her website: www.jackiefrench.com

Leave a Reply