Jackie French News March 2014

Our wonderful author, and Australia’s new Children’s Laureate, 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
  • Laureate Day 58 (ish)
  • Latest Books
  • Pete the Sheep: The Musical
  • Awards and Shortlistings
  • 2014 Schedule
  • The March Garden
  • Recipes: Tomatoes!


The wombats are not happy.

Someone has been moving dirt – and it is not them. Someone has been moving rocks too. Wild Whiskers now sniffs each stone suspiciously as soon as she wakes each dusk, and Small Whiskers won’t come out at all until at least two other wombats have inspected the area thoroughly.

It’s my fault. Every visitor takes photos of the wombat hole under the bedroom, the one featured in Diary of a Wombat, begun by Mothball, Wild Whisker’s mum, abandoned when it filled with water, moved back into when we built the new bedroom above it, thus giving her a waterproof roof and a giant back veranda.

Mothball enlarged it a few times, but it didn’t become the commodious residence it now is till Phil got to work on it. Phil now lives in the wombat mansion further down the orchard, a vast interlocking series of tunnels and holes with a view (or scent) of the creek.

Bryan put up a ‘Wombat at Work’ sign to celebrate, but otherwise it’s always looked like a bit of a construction site, both human and wombat. Then last week I asked Anne to make it slightly more garden-like – a small rock retaining wall instead of the half-decayed sleeper; some edible hibiscus planted against the tank, and then the self-sown apple mint, Marvel of Peru and the echiums weeded.

So she did.

Now the wombats are seriously discommoded, just to create photo opportunities. I feel guilty. But not too guilty, as I now get to look out at the new garden from my study window. Hear that, oh furry folk? That garden is mine, too.

The wombats will get used to it, I suppose. Though they probably won’t forgive us, at least not till it all smells properly of wombat again. Only Phil approves, possibly because he spent so much time with humans while they tended his injured leg as a baby.

Meanwhile we warn guests to wear jeans and gum boots and to keep an eye out for wombats. When Wild Whiskers is annoyed she bites. Hard.

You need to run fast.

Laureate Day 58 (ish)

Finished packing for Melbourne, Perth, Fremantle and Sydney: three festivals in a week and then the launch of Pete the Sheep: The Musical by Monkey Baa in Sydney.

Finished I Spy a Great Reader, a book on how to teach kids to read, help kids with reading problems and hunt out the ‘magic book’ that will turn unenthusiastic kids into book worms.

Finished the most recent laureate blog, an article on the rights of children to be taught to read, and have the books they need, this newsletter, and the novel which will come out on December 1.

Wondered why I have slept so well this week …

Book News

Coming soon: The Hairy-Nosed Wombats find a New Home (with Sue de Gennaro)

Fire (With Bruce Whatley)
Fire is what happened when Bruce and I have three years to produce a book, not three weeks as we had to do with Flood to raise money for the Queensland Premier’s flood appeal. Fire is astounding: Bruce’s artwork goes from genius to sublime. Only Bruce could do a centre-spread of fire that sparkles with red and make it beautiful, makes even the terror beautiful. It is always the most extraordinary privilege to work with him.

A young man survives a freak wave and arrives in the Australia he had dreamt of. But his companions in the game on the beach come from many different times and have their own Australia. Together they learn to accept reality and each other.

Let the Land Speak: How the Land Created Our Nation
This 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.

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 far more profoundly than 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.

The Road to Gundagai
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.

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.

Wombat Goes to School
The wombat is back! It’s simple and hilarious and showcases Bruce Whatley at his wickedest. The scene outside the Principal’s office is priceless. We had enormous fun with it. And I suspect that kids will have even more.

Pete the Sheep: The Musical

This hilarious, woofing, baaing and toe-tapping version of Pete the Sheep is by the glorious Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People. It opens at the Darling Harbour Theatre on 29 March and school performances begin on Monday, 31 March. Teacher’s notes are available too and there’ll be video-link workshops.

Bruce and Rosie Whatley and Bryan and I will be at the first two performances. You might just also get to meet a bloke called Pete…

As composer Jonathon Biggins says, ‘Ewes will love it.’

Awards and Shortlistings

Refuge has just been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards (Sci-Fi and Fantasy). Enormous thanks to everyone.

2014 Schedule

There are more bookings still being finalised to be added, but this is what’s been confirmed so far. If I can’t get to your school or preschool, then a video conference may be possible, arranged through HarperCollins. Please contact Jacqui Barton at jacqui.barton@harpercollins.com.au

You can also download videos of talks about various books or workshop ideas from the excellent HarperCollin’s Teachers’ Hub. Go to www.harpercollins.com.au and click on Teacher’s Hub (there are also excellent teacher’s notes for most of my books) or contact Jacqui Barton, Education Manager, HarperCollins at the email address above.

Invitations to speak should be sent to the Laureate Office, or check the Laureate web-site, www.childrenslaureate.org.au, for schedule updates. If I’m in your area then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations.


April 4: Talk at the Sydney Jewish Museum

April 8: Dance to Dinosaurs Love Cheese Braidwood Library & Dance to Dinosaurs Love Cheese Bungendore Library

May 6-8: Adelaide, talks to schools

May 9: MANTLE conference (annual professional conference for teacher librarians in the Maitland, Newcastle, Taree, Lake Macquarie and Central Coast districts), Newcastle

May 11: Araluen, Open Garden day: contact Open Garden Scheme.

May 17-18: National Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) conference, ACT

May 19: CBCA visit to our property

May 21: National Story Time at the National Library, ACT

May 23: History Council of Australia panel at the Sydney Word Festival

May 24: Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, Australian Society of Authors, Melbourne

July 9-12: : ALIA conference, Darwin, and other talks in the Northern Territory

August 8-10: The Bendigo Literary Festival, VIC

August 23-26: Sessions at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, VIC

August 27-28: Christchurch Writer’s Festival, New Zealand

August 29- September 2: Storylines Festival, Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand

October 22: Launch Children’s Day, ACT

October 28-30: Conference, Southport, QLD

November 8-9: Araluen Open Garden Days. Contact the Open Garden Scheme

Nove 14-22: Port Hedland WA

The March Garden:

It’s rained. And rained. Actually not all that much rain, but enough that the valley is green again. The wallabies are fat, their fur fluffy. And the garden has gone bananas. Well, not bananas – they haven’t flowered yet. But paw-pawed – it’s a rare year we get a paw-paw crop in this climate. The limes are getting plump, as are the oranges, and the Japanese maple has decided to put out new green leaves instead of prematurely turning red as it was a month ago.

And I have been planting – red cabbages, winter lettuce, garlic, quick-maturing round carrots, pansies, Iceland poppies, chrysanthemums, Easter daisies and shallots.

And eating. Salads of gated carrot and newly tender parsley; vast amounts of tomatoes, plus for some reason fresh dates, not ours – our date trees are a couple of decades from cropping – but for some reason I have a passion for them which should evaporate soon. Maybe they balance the tomatoes.

The freezer is full of tomato puree and tomato soup. The cupboard is well chutneyed. And the cucumber vines are putting out both new leaves and fruit when I thought they’d been mildewed almost to extinction. The pumpkins are setting fruit…

Life is good.

What to plant in March

Hot climates:

Plants to eat: Plants for beauty:
Avocados Calendula
Bananas Hibiscus bushes
Capsicum Poppy
carrots Primula
cauliflowers Snapdragon
citrus Sunflower
Chili Salvias
Custard apples fill bare spots with ferns.
Paw paw
Strawberry plants
Star fruit
Silver beet
Sweet corn


Plants to eat: Plants for beauty:
Avocado trees Agapanthus
Beetroot Alyssum
Broad beans Dianthus
Broccoli Iris
Cabbage Jonquils
Carrots Liliums
Cauliflower Ornamental shrubs
Celery Pansies
Citrus Primulas
Garlic Salvias
Leeks Poppies
Macadamias sweet peas and stock
and fast-maturing Asian veg like tatsoi, pak choi and mitsuba

Cold climates:

Plants to eat: Plants for beauty:
Broad beans Anemones
Brussel sprouts Daffodils
Cauliflower Freesias
Garlic Hyacinths
Mitsuba jonquils
Mizuna Pansies
Onions Polyanthus
Pak choi Primulas
Seedlings of broccoli Ranunculi
Spinach Seedlings of Iceland poppy
Strawberry runners Sweet peas

Jobs for March:

o   Plant potted fruit and other trees now while it’s still warm but not blisteringly hot

o   Plant LOTS of parsley and silverbeet now so you can pick home-grown greens all winter

o   Snip off dead roses and other flowers to keep plants blooming longer

o   Tip out the ‘concrete’ in your pots and hanging baskets, and repot your plants with fresh potting mix, mixed with water-retaining crystals and slow-release plant food

o   Give the lawn a good soaking then mow a week later, to help thicken it up for winter

o   Hunt out autumn and winter-blooming, easy care salvias at the nursery

Recipes: Tomatoes!

Thick Simple Tomato Soup

 You’ll Need:

  • 8 kg tomatoes, very fresh and not refrigerated (chilling a tomatospoils the flavour)
  • 1 pk frozen onions or 8 red onions chopped (freezing dos not affect onions’ flavor much, only their texture, which doesn’t matter here)
  • 4 litres chicken stock
  • 6 carrots peeled
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 bulb garlic, peeled (yes – bulb, not clove)



Boil till soft


Add freshly chopped basil

Serve hot or cold


Best Tomato Salad

Serves 1 greedy person.

  • 8 of the best tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp French mustard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 hunk very good bread


Mix dressing

Add to tomatoes

Leave for half an hour

Place the bread on a plate

Cover with tomato and dressing

Let the bread soak up the juices

Eat slowly, with great joy, it’s sunlight on a plate


Cheese and Tomato Toasted Sandwich with a Difference

Serves 2


You’ll Need:

  • 4 slices thick good bread – not pre-sliced
  • 4 slices of your favorite cheese, cutthick
  • Many cherry tomatoes, with a cross cut with a sharp knife in the top of each one
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • fresh black pepper


Top the bread with cheese and scatter chives

Cram on as many tomatoes as will fit, sliced side upwards

Place at the top of the oven on the highest setting for about 10 minutes, till the tomatoes blacken at the edges

Remove from oven. Grate on pepper

Eat hot

The cheese will be runny, the tomatoes’ juices have leaked into the bread… and the whole lot will be divine.

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

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