Jackie French News May 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.

A note from Jackie

My web helper was away sick, so unfortunately the April newsletter didn’t go out as planned last month. He has promised me to get it out soon as well, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy the May update!


  • Wear Whiskers for Wildlife Month
  • Other Wombat News
  • Latest Books
  • Recent Awards and Shortlistings
  • Schedule for 2014
  • The May Garden
  • Autumn Recipes
    – Crepes
    – Custard
    – Crab apple jelly

Wear Whiskers for Wildlife Month

It is impossible to look at a wombat and not grin. When they walk the front half goes one way and the back half the other, though both go in the same direction when they run. Or decide to bite your leg, which adds a certain spice to turning the hose off at night here. You never know if a brown lump is going to materialise out of the darkness and go chomp.

I became a director of The Wombat Foundation, set up to raise funds to help preserve one of the world’s most endangered species, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat – even more endangered than the panda – without ever having met a Northern Hairy-nose. I still haven’t, though the funds we raise have paid for the DNA hair census (which enables the identification of each individual by analysing the hair left on sticky-tape strips left at all burrow entrances) that shows that the species is slowly recovering, from about 35 individuals to almost 200 at last count.

It is a true good news story. Give wombats the things they love – dirt and grass and safety from predators – and they’ll do what wombats do best – eat and dig and create new baby wombats.

But the Hairy-noses are far from out of the woods. They need more woodlands – forest with the right soil of the right consistency for their massive burrows – and grass free from weeds. Weeds are now bringing Southern Hairy-noses to the point of being critically endangered too. Far more research is needed to save them.

So this May, wear whiskers for wildlife! Ask friends to sponsor you for wearing whiskers for a day to raise money for wildlife – any whiskery endangered wildlife – though the proceeds from my new book with Sue De Gennaro, The Hairy-Nosed Wombats Find a New Home, will go to The Wombat Foundation.

Sue’s artwork is enchanting, glorious and so deeply funny. Kids can spend an hour on each page and every kid sees something different. I love the wombat we’ve named Denis most. Or Bulldozer Girl. Or the bouncing baby wombats in nappies … I love them all.

If you’d like to help the Northern Hairy Noses too, go to www.wombatfoundation.com.au. And if you do wear whiskers for wildlife, send us your photos. We’ll put them up on the Wombat Foundation website. The most wonderful will win a copy of the book.

More Wombat News

They’re fat and furry and ready for winter. Two new holes under a fallen tree – one dug that stops about 30cm down, the other so deep I can’t see the bottom of either hole or wombat, though from the amount of dirt I doubt it’s more than one metre or so. But it’s good to see that they have the energy for digging. It also means that now the tree is a wombat door lintel we can’t chop it up for this winter’s firewood. But there are usually enough trees fallen over the road to provide that.

And it’s chilly enough now for a fire. The first fire of winter is always special. It takes a while to light the stove again after a long gap – much easier when the metal and chimney are slightly warm and draw better. The room slowly fills up with the kind of dry, pervasive heat you don’t get from electricity or gas, drying out damp walls, warming the floor so I can go barefoot again.

I make pancakes usually the first time the wood stove is lit each winter. I’m not sure why. Memory of childhood winters, maybe, when Mum would make pancakes with lemon and sugar.

Wood stove and writing in ugg boots, and soup instead of salads for lunch. I have a new coat this winter, a long one made of thick black wool, intensely warm, which means my old one becomes my walking in the early morning coat, still with the gloves Jean knitted for me forty years ago – only two moth holes – so all of me is warm except my nose no matter how snug the rest of me is.

I wonder if wombats’ noses get cold, bare amidst all that fur? The babies I’ve felt have all been warm, but then they’ve been warm in their pouches too. I’d feel Wild Whisker’s nose next time she comes hunting carrots, but might lose a few fingers in the attempt.

Book News


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

Celebrate Hairy-Nosed Day on May 8 and wear Whiskers for Wildlife to raise money for endangered animals with this new book. It is a good news story – how the last 35 individuals of the world’s most endangered species, the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, began to turn into a growing, thriving population as volunteers raised money to protect their home. Now the wombats need a second home and with Sue’s enchanting pictorial interpretation (those whiskers are divine) they set out to find it…

Have a look at the Wombat Foundation website to find out how you can join in Hairy-Nosed Day. All my proceeds from the book will go to the Wombat Foundation helping to ensure a safe future for Hairy Noses – and other whiskery wildlife too.

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.

Awards and Shortlistings

Refuge has just been named a Notable Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Award in both the Patricia Wrightson and the Community Relations sections. It was also shortlisted for the Best Children’s Book in the,  Aurealis Awards (Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards).

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.


6-8 May: Talks to schools Adelaide

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

11 May: Araluen, Open Garden Day: Contact Open Garden Scheme

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

19 May: CBCA visit to our property

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

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

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

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

8-10 August: Bendigo Literary Festival, Bendigo

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

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

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

1 October: History Teachers Conference, Brisbane

22 October: Launch Children’s Day, Canberra

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

14-22 November: Port Hedland, WA

The May Garden:

The broad beans are in, the garlic tops are green, the bok choi is maturing, the pea seeds in. It will be time to put in onions soon, early white onions, sweet red ones, long-keeping browns. Perhaps more artichokes and asparagus, but perhaps not. The weather bureau is predicting a hot, dry summer. The angophera trees have predicted a hot one – an incredible shower of seeds this year, a true rain of them, which means heat to come. But I won’t know what the summer will bring till I see the indigofera blooming. If it’s a pinky-purple tide down the hill it is true drought to come. Masses of seeds on the blackwood wattles mean that too, as do flocks of gang gangs eating them.

Massed black wattle seeds this year would have meant a bushfire year this coming season. But the black wattles gave even fewer than most years, possibly due to a late frost. There may be other signs – I’m sure there are. But none I know clearly enough to read. Or maybe I am looking for confirmation of the weather bureau’s forecast and it isn’t there.

Either way, this is probably not a winter to plant lots of trees. Not unless you know that water will come from your tap or, at least, that there will be plentiful recycled shower water, all summer long.

Autumn Recipes


A crepe is really slightly diluted egg. Crepes are light, crisp and nutritious. You can fill crepes with a cream sauce; with sautéed vegetables and a cream or cheese sauce on top. Or you can serve them with stewed fruit and cream, or maple syrup, or lemon or lime juice and brown sugar. It would be easy to write three volumes just on crepes.

Note that crepes are not pancakes. Pancakes are thicker and heavier. They are not American flapjacks either, made all thick and filled with holes and baking powder. Crepes are thin and light. The most perfect crepe I ever saw was in Brittany simply brushed onto a giant table-sized metal plate over a charcoal fire. It was left for 3 seconds, then rolled up. It was exquisite.


These can be multiplied as needed.

I use:

  • 1 large egg per person (or two small ones)
  • 1 level tablespoon plain flour (you can use buckwheat flour rather than wheat if you prefer, but the mixture is harder to handle, and the crepes more prone to breaking.)
  • 1/2 cup of milk


Beat the flour into the egg until smooth.

Slowly add the milk, stirring until even smoother.

Leave for 30 minutes if you are organised enough, so that the flour swells in the milk.

Heat a thick pan (thin ones often heat unevenly and crepes can burn).

Throw in a very little butter, but if the pan is smooth it won’t need it. Don’t butter the pan until it is hot, or the butter will burn before the pan is ready for the crepe. Now add a very, very little batter and twist the pan rapidly so it spreads all over. As soon as the top looks shiny (you’ll see what I mean), flip it over, leave for a few seconds while the edges frizzle and bubble and turn crisp, then flip out onto a plate.

If your pancake sticks, either the pan wasn’t hot enough or it had a sticky residue on the bottom. Or perhaps you need more egg in your mixture.

Try again. The first pancake is rarely as perfect as subsequent pancakes.


Custard (the old fashioned sort to eat with stewed fruit or cover fruit tarts)


  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup cream
  • a dash of real vanilla essence
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar


Beat all the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Heat as slowly as possible.

You can use a double boiler for this, but you don’t have to if you keep stirring and the temperature is really low.

As soon as the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, take it off the heat. It will continue to thicken for a few minutes.

Serve hot or cold.


Crab Apple Jelly

This is one of the greatest of all jams and jellies, almost glowing in the jar. Different crabs will give slightly different jellies, some red, some pink, or orange or gold. It’s impossible to give accurate quantities, as the juiciness varies.


  • Crab apples
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Empty jars, with lids
  • A very large pot – jellies rise like magma in a volcano
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sieve
  • Large bowl
  • A clean cloth

Optional: Mint leaves if you want to make mint jelly; dark red rose petals for rose and apple jelly; grated ginger for ginger jelly.


Place crabs (and any optionals) in the pot. JUST cover with water.

Simmer till tender. This can take half an hour or two hours.

Mash a bit with the spoon.

Pour it all into the bowl, or several bowls, if there’s too much for one. Suspend the sieve over the pot and line it with the cloth, then pour the crabs and liquid into the sieve. (Don’t press down- let the clear juice drip into the pot overnight).

Next day throw the crabby mess to the chooks. Measure the liquid in the pot. For every cup of liquid add ¾ cup of sugar. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring so the sugar dissolves before it boils. It will rise up in the pot at first, then settle down and glop like a volcano. At this point it may be ready. Drip a little on a cold plate and push with your finger- if it jellies it should be right. Turn off the heat, let it cool in the pot, and see if it’s jellied. If not, cook for another 5 minutes and test again. If it jells, bring to the boil, then while still as hot as possible pour into the jars and seal at once. Store in a dark, cool place for at least six months, and possibly a decade. Throw out if it changes colour or ferments. (Not to the chooks, or they may end up seriously dead.)

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

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