Jackie French News August 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.


  • Wombat News
  • Latest Books
  • Awards
  • Schedule for 2014
  • The August Garden
  • A Few  Recipes:
    • The CBCA Lunch Incredibly Chocolatey Chocolate Cake
    • White Chocolate Fudge
    •  Chocolate Flourless Apple Cake

Wombat News

Phil was such a sweet little wombat, survivor of many operations on his leg, bashed up by the other wombats… how could we not give him carrots?

Except that the carrots lured other wombats, who decided they loved carrots too. And Phil grew brave enough to defend his carrots, biting the back and neck of any wombat who tried to munch them first.

Until yesterday, when Phil carefully chased away all but one, Grey Grey, young, female. He waited till she was deeply engrossed in carrots and then… mated, I think, is the most discreet way of putting it. And then looked smug. Why chase a female for three days of leaping and biting, which is how wombats usually mate, when you can lure them with carrots?

There was a lot of chasing and biting after she finished the carrots. And more the next two nights, though they both grew slower and slower and did a lot of napping in the winter sun each afternoon. The day after that, Wild Whiskers and Short Black decided they were in the mating mood too.

And two days after that it was all over. The day after that it rained. And rained. And rained.

A wombat weather forecast? I don’t know. There were no baby wombats last summer – Small Whiskers is the youngest in this end of the valley and she is about 15 months old now. Nor were there any matings earlier in winter – the wombat matings are usually spread over several months here. August is pretty late.

I had assumed the coming summer would be extra hot and dry. But the black wattle didn’t set many seeds last spring – usually a sign the next summer will be extra hot –and we had the most extraordinary Angophora seeding ever, a great cloud of them going ‘pop, pop, pop’. And they all say, ‘There will be rain.’ Not a lot of rain, but not the drastic dry I’d expected.

For the first time in decades I don’t know what weather the next few months will bring to this end of the valley. I’ll need to wait for the next lot of indicators, the amount of Indigofera flowers in early spring – a great blaze of them on the hill means a high chance of a great blaze of bushfire. Sadly the weather forecast is strictly local, i.e. for this end of the valley only. We can be dry when the rest of NSW is trying to dry out gumboots, and we can have a mountain-sized rainstorm hover over us for three days when there isn’t another blip on the radar for thousands of kilometres.

Book News

I Am Juliet

The Beach They Called Gallipoli, with Bruce Whatley (October 1)

To Love a Sunburnt Country (December 1)

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

The Road to Gundagai has just been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Award.

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.


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 August Garden:

This is a month to gird your loins and start dreaming of what you’re going to do in spring. Don’t try doing much yet. It’s still too early.

Potatoes, peas, parsley, snow peas, radish and cabbages can all be sown when the air is warm but the soil still cool. But coat the seeds in cooking oil to stop them rotting in cold soil. Dust them with white pepper after oiling if you’re worried by snails. When the soil is warm enough to sit on, plant tomatoes, corn, silver beet, carrots, celery, capsicum, dandelions, eggplant, okra, Chinese mustard, melons, pumpkins and zucchini. I plant early seedlings in punnets on the ‘hot spot’ on top of the barbecue we never use and which sits in the middle of sunny paving in the shelter of the house.

You’ll still be picking the same veg as last month – but there’ll be more Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers will be starting to form centres, and there’ll be new shoots off the broccoli. Don’t just pick the main bunch – keep picking all the little bits that follow. In warm areas you might just get the odd sprig of asparagus and a few broad beans. Start gorging on winter root vegies like carrots and beetroot now, before they go to seed when the weather warms up.

Also, early peas or snow peas plus year-rounders like carrots, radish, beetroot, silver beet, celery, turnips, foliage turnips and parsnips; and winter veg like cabbage, cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, early dandelion leaves from last year’s growth, spinach and parsley.

Navel oranges, lemon, tangelo, mandarin, kiwifruit, grapefruit, avocados and limes.

Other jobs
Lay down weed mat for next month’s gardens. Build no-dig beds. Don’t be in a hurry to pull out last year’s debris to make room for new crops: the debris will protect the remaining plants from late frost.

Clean up piles of rubbish. Douse them with hen manure or blood and bone and hope they turn into compost. Pick off all dried fruit mummies that might infect next season’s crops.


Growing Blueberries

Fresh blueberries are divine – and expensive. As long as you have enough water, you can grow your own. But watering is essential – blueberries are naturally semi-bog plants. They hate being crowded by trees above them or by a lack of water (we are guilty of both).

Half a dozen to a dozen plants should be ample for a family, unless you love blueberry pie. Plant at least two varieties: one early, one late. Choose varieties carefully – there are many on the market, some needing intense cold for the fruit to set, others better suited to temperate areas. Blueberries will grow in hot areas, but they don’t taste of much. Bluecrop and Denise are early to mid-season, and Rose and Brigitta mid- to late-season varieties. Brigitta berries can be left unpicked for several weeks without deteriorating.

Space the plants between one and two metres apart – though commercial bushes are planted closer and thinned later – a good blueberry bush should grow about two metres wide. Plant them when they’re dormant or in pots at any time of the year.

Blueberries need a moist but well-drained, acid soil with lots of humus, long, warm days and cool nights, and a six-month frost-free period, especially during January and February when the fruit is maturing. Blueberries are shallow-rooted and will die quickly in summer if their roots dry out. If you use drip irrigation, spread the drippers out: blueberries are wide rooters and one dripper per plant won’t be enough. Prune the young plants heavily to encourage bushy growth; cut away any weak growth, any frosted branches and any dense, low growth. Also, cut out old wood (more than three years old) every year.

Mulch regularly and scatter blood and bone or hen manure if needed – this will depend on the quality of your mulch – in late winter and after the fruit has set.


Blueberries fruit when they are between four and eight years old. A mature bush yields up to eight kilograms of fruit. Let the fruit ripen on the bush: it won’t get riper after it has been picked. Pick the fruit at least once a week. If the birds decide to pick them before you do, use bird netting – unless you live in a snaky area (snakes can get caught in bird netting). You can also tie fruit bags over the branches of ripening fruit. This also protects them from hail, unless the hail is the size of tennis balls.

A Few Recipes

The CBCA Lunch Incredibly Chocolatey Chocolate Cake

Apologies for all those who have been asking for this one – here it is at last.

100 grams extremely good dark chocolate
250 grams butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
½ cup SR flour
1 cup plain flour
½ cup Kahlua


Melt butter and chocolate with the sugar in the microwave on short bursts of 30 seconds. Don’t overcook the chocolate or it will go grainy – it will keep its shape long after it has melted. You should just be able to beat it all together.

Now beat in the eggs one by one, then fold in flour and Kahlua. Pour into a tin lined with baking paper. Bake at 200ºC for about an hour, until the top springs back when you press it gently. Leave for 20 minutes in the tin before you tip it out onto a rack to cool.

Good by itself, dusted with icing sugar. Or cover it with icing or whipped cream. For a dessert, serve it with ice cream.


White Chocolate Fudge

1 can sweetened condensed milk (about 400 grams or a bit less)
4 heaped Tbsps butter
1 tsp vanilla paste
450 grams white chocolate, broken into small chunks
chopped nuts, crystallised fruit or grated dark chocolate to scatter on top

Place all but the last in a pan on the lowest possible heat, stirring all the time, making sure the wooden spoon gets right into the corners, which can easily burn.

When melted together pour onto a tray lined with baking paper. Dust with toppings. Leave in a cool place – not the fridge – overnight till set.


 Chocolate Flourless Apple Cake


3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 Tbsps butter
3 Tbsps golden syrup
150 grams dark chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
4 cups ground almonds
1 cup chopped almonds
Sauté the apples in the butter till soft, then add the golden syrup and cook for another couple of minutes. Take off the heat to cool.

Melt the chocolate as above. Mix in the sugar, then the eggs one by one, then the ground almonds.

Pour into a greased cake tin (preferably spring-form, where the base can be unclipped), lined with baking paper.

Smooth the apple mixture over the top, then scatter on the chopped almonds. Bake about 1½ hours at 200ºC.

Cool in the tin and remove with care.

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

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