Jackie French News July 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 and Wombat News
  • Laureate News
  • Latest Books
  • Awards
  • Schedule for 2014
  • The July Garden
  • A Few  Recipes:
    • Onions and Mango Chutney
    • Hearth Cake

Introduction & Wombat News

Wild Whiskers is not happy. My crimes are thus:

Being absent without leave from the wombats, thus depriving them of carrots in mid-winter, when a bit of crunch is most needed.

Deliberately pruning the salvias, winter jasmine and passionfruit, which temporarily blocked easy access to the carrot garden, forcing her to the sidetrack under the roses.

Apologising insufficiently for the crimes above.

A wombat has to keep an eye on humans. Or, at least, a vigilant nose. Next thing you know, they’ll be mowing the grass, which obviously belongs in an unmolested state to the wombats. I’ve tried to explain I only mow the weeds, keeping the mower on high, thus improving and encouraging more grass, plus the eighty or so varied native groundcovers we call a ‘lawn’, but Wild Whiskers refuses to accept my apologies. After she lunged twice at my knees in the past week I have decided to wear gumboots for protection. Or to use the garbage bin lid as a shield.

The other wombats are more understanding. Phil, who was raised by humans, only gives me a nip when he forgets I’m not a wombat. Big Grey and Medium Grey don’t care one way or another. I’m useful for carrots and pretty innocuous otherwise. Small Whiskers is still nervous of anything that smells or sounds like a human, but Flat White just trudges down, eats her carrots, then plods back up the hill.

Wild Whiskers is Mothball’s daughter. Her mother and I had an understanding. If I fed Mothball carrots now, at once, she wouldn’t destroy the front door, doormat or garbage bin. But at least she never bit the hand that fed her. Or the knee …

Actually, Small Whiskers looks identical to Mothball. But Mothball had more bounce, pounce and determination, even as a ten-month-old ball of brown fur. Small Whiskers may grow more obstreperous as she grows older. Or she may grow up to be like her grandfather, Totally Confused, who could never make up his mind which way to cross the road, let alone which knee to bite. Or Bruiser, her father, who is a sweet, timid wombat despite his name and sumo wrestler shoulders.

I’m writing this on the plane to Darwin, absent once more from wombat feeding time. Hopefully Bryan will remember, though we deliberately don’t put carrots out every night anyway, in case we get an artificially dense wombat population, reliant on the supplementary feeding we provide, which would be bad for the groundcovers and the wombats. The carrots are meant to be a treat.

Try telling that to Wild Whiskers.

Laureate News

2015 by the Young People of Australia

Every day next year a young person from somewhere in Australia will write the diary of their day, and their school or parents will send it to me. Little kids can send a drawing; older kids can send as many pages as they like. It can be as simple as:

‘Got up.
‘Didn’t do much. Did it with Jason. Jason is my best friend. Went back to bed.’

It can be in the form of the wombat’s diary, too:

Ate pancakes.
Went to school.
Forgot homework! Panicked.

Homework not due till Friday. Cheered!
Got lunchtime detention for cheering in class.

Morning tea.
Ate muffin.

Cheese and lettuce wrap. Banana.
Started detention. Miss A said her glass of water smelled funny.
Looked in water tank.
Dead rat!
Rat broke when Miss A tried to haul it out.
Too late for detention now.
Miss A gave me detention again.

Was sick in class.
So was Miss A.
Miss A said ‘Must be the dead rat.’
Then everyone felt sick.
No detention!

Pizza for dinner so didn’t say I felt sick.
Ate pizza.
Was sick again.
No school tomorrow. Cheered!

The diary can also be about a school project; about their favourite TV show, or their dog or guinea pig. It can be an opinion piece about politics or why thinking about zombie apocalypses can help you work through problems in your own life. The only rule is that the diary entry be about something that’s important to them that day. We hope to have entries from young people of many ages, and from as many different places as possible.

In twenty, fifty or a hundred years’ time, 2015 by the Young People of Australia will show what was important to young people today, and how they lived their everyday lives.

If you, or your school or library, would like to take part in 2015 by the Young People of Australia, email jackiefrench72@gmail.com. Write: ‘Attention Jo Mills’ in the subject line to book the days on which your school or family will contribute.

Book News

I Am Juliet

I am Juliet

Once there was a girl … perhaps her name was even Juliet. She had the courage to defy the violence and hatred of her family, the courage to love and marry an enemy. This is her story, and true to Shakespeare’s play, and its extraordinary story, Juliet is far from the innocent victim often portrayed in film and stage.

I am Juliet is the first of a trilogy based on Shakespeare’s plays, showing the action behind ‘all those words’ and a wealth of possibilities that have been forgotten in the centuries since Shakespeare created them.

Good Dog Hank (with Nina Rycroft)

Okay, I’ll admit it. Hank is a real dog, my ‘grand-dog’. And he is a very good dog. He just decides how he’ll interpret the rules. The first time I took him for a walk he was angelic all the way to the park, across two major intersections. Hank guessed where we were going as soon as we turned that way. He WANTED to go to the duck park. And as soon as he was there he slipped out of his collar and galloped off, with a grin as if to say, ‘You are not the person I obey’.

So I lay down. And Hank, being a loving dog, came to see if I was okay. And I grabbed him.

He didn’t forgive me all day. Turned his head away every time I came into the room. I had abused his good nature, tricked him when he was being a Good Dog. Good Dogs obey their mistresses when they go to the park. But no one had ever mentioned that Good Dogs have to do what grandma says.

That story isn’t in the book. The others are all true, or changed just a little, to protect the guilty. But it means I can’t judge this book at all. It’s about Hank, as interpreted by Nina and I love her work, and love Hank too. And so I adore this book.

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

I hope you all celebrated Hairy-Nosed Day on May 8 and wore Whiskers for Wildlife to raise money for endangered animals with this new book – and you can raise more on any day of the year by buying this new book. It is a good news story – how the last 35 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…..

To find out how you can join in Hairy-Nosed Day next year have a look at the Wombat Foundation’s website www.wombatfoundation.com.au

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.


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

Pete the Sheep has been selected by the IFLA International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) for the ‘World Through Picture Books’ project. A polite sheep travels the world!

Refuge was named a Notable Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and was short-listed for the 2014 NSW Premier’s Award in both the Patricia Wrightson and the Community Relations sections. It was shortlisted for the 2014 Aurealis Awards (Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards) Best Children’s Book too.

2014 Schedule

There are more bookings still being finalised or 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. You can email Jacqui.Barton@harpercollins.com.au

You can also download videos of talks about various books or workshop ideas from the excellent HarperCollins’ 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.

Most of this year and large parts of 2015 are too full to add any more events, given there are some not yet finalised and listed). But check the Bookings section on the web site: www.jackiefrench.com for details.


August 7: Talk at Castlemaine Prison, Victoria.

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

September 3-7: Brisbane Writers Festival.

October 1: History Teachers Conference, Brisbane

October 22: Launch Children’s Day, ACT

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

November 14-22: Port Hedland WA

November 23: Family day at the Fremantle Literature Centre.

Late November, early December: a fundraiser for ACLA in Canberra. Details still being worked out.

The July Garden:

Why grow your own fruit?

Because it’s fun. Because it tastes good.

Because one case of commercial fruit costs about $40 wholesale, so you’ll save at least $5,000 a year. (And that pays for quite a range of fruit trees and bushes.)

Because there is something magic about being able to go into the backyard and simply pick whatever you need for the following days.
Because a backyard full of heavy grapevines, rich red strawberries, golden kiwi fruit and trees laden with apples is beautiful and smells like heaven.

Because you’ll never again have to walk past peaches at $2 each, or past costly avocados or punnets of overpriced strawberries, thinking: ‘Can I afford it?’

It’s hard to feel broke with cases of fruit in the laundry; with the smell of ripe fruit lingering round the back steps; with ever-present baskets full of fruit to give away to friends. Maybe self-sufficiency is the wrong term. Growing your own is a form of generosity to yourself, to the birds and bees and insects that will also feed on your bounty, and to everyone around you.

How to grow enough fruit

A good fruit tree should give you four to six cases of fruit. Ten or twelve fruit trees will give you sixty cases of fruit – more than one case per week.

Even small gardens should be able to fit in twelve fruit trees. Most gardens, in fact, can fit in twenty or thirty trees, if they are grown as a tall hedge around the fence line. Forget about neat orchard spacing – that is mostly for the convenience of the machines that tend them.

Cram your trees together, no more than two metres apart. This way they’ll grow tall and tangle together, but they won’t give any less fruit. (The birds won’t find the fruit so easily either.) I try to alternate deciduous trees with evergreens like citrus and avocados: the evergreen fruit is ripening when the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

Grow ‘small fruits’ like blueberries and rhubarb and strawberries around the edges of your trees. These are originally understorey fruits/plants and will tolerate light dappled shade. Consider berries, passionfruit, grapes and kiwi fruit along the fence, up tall posts or on pergolas.

Consider dwarf fruit trees too – grow them as a hedge. Tiny dwarf peaches and nectarines can be kept trimmed knee-high along a path. Hazelnuts and almonds can be kept pruned as short as you want them. Apples (dwarf and normal), mulberries, cherries, almonds are taller, but still small enough for a low hedge.

What trees to plant

When I first became interested in self-sufficiency I planted any edible fruit I could find: Russian ‘olives’ and Irish strawberries, Brazilian cherries and cherry guavas. We now have about 270 sorts of fruit in our garden – and yet, we mostly only eat staples like apples, citrus, plums and peaches.

Plant the fruit you like to eat. In a small garden I would have four apple trees (late, medium and early), three oranges (at least one Valencia and one navel), one mandarin, two lemons (summer and winter bearing), a multi-graft pear and a multi-graft cherry. Then two peaches (late and early), two plums (ditto), one nectarine and two avocados. But if grapefruit are your passion, you should grow them instead.

For ‘soft fruit’, I would grow two passionfruit vines (we eat a lot of passionfruit), three grape-vines (these take up almost no room if you grow them twined up a tall pole), one male and one female kiwi fruit, as many strawberries as you can fit beneath your trees, six blueberries, a bed of raspberries and a trellis full of brambleberries.

This would give our family a basic supply. After that I’d look at ‘luxury’ trees: chestnuts (kept pruned small), mulberries, loquats for early fruit, tamarillos, grapefruit, quinces (because it’s hard to buy a good quince), medlars and dozens of others. But how much fruit you eat, and what sort, is a very personal thing. Every household has different tastes.

A Few Recipes

Suddenly, weeks of Laureate travel have dropped on me like an orangutan sitting on my shoulders and I don’t have time to even remember what I served at the CBCA lunch, much less write out the recipes. But if there is something that you ate that you particularly liked and would like to make, send a reply to this email and I’ll make sure that I include the recipe next month.

In the meantime, try these:

Tiny onions in mango chutney (A variation on sweet and sour onions)

You’ll need:

12 onions
1 tbs olive oil
A good dollop of mango chutney


Pick your onions young and sweet, peel them, drizzle some olive oil in a pan and cook the onions slowly and carefully for 10 minutes, till they are almost transparent. Then add a good dollop of mango chutney, keep cooking slowly and stirring often till thick and sticky. Serve hot.

Good with grilled chicken or meat on skewers.

Hearth Cakes

These can be made on a hot hearth by a fire. Alternatively use a thick (preferably) cast-iron frying pan.

You’ll need:

1 cup plain flour
½ cup currants
A dash of real vanilla
1 dessertspoon of sugar (optional)
A lot of butter


Mix together the flour, currants, vanilla and sugar. Rub enough butter into the mixture to make it crumbly and stick together. Knead till it forms a ball of dough.
Roll out the dough till it is as thick as your finger. Cut it into rounds with a glass.
Fry in butter till brown or cook slowly on a hot hearth.
Eat with butter or jam, hot or cold. They’re not bad with a slab of cheese.

They keep for months in a sealed tin.

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

One thought on “Jackie French News July 2014

  1. Linda Miles says:

    Hi Jackie
    Such great ideas for planting mass fruit trees in a small space!! Problem with planting near fences is that most fences use tanalised timber – or at least non-edible-gardeniing neighbours build these types of fences! What do you think about this?? Please come to Dunedin next time you’re in NZ . My 13 year old daughter would LOVE to meet you!!.

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