Jackie French News July 2015

Our wonderful author, Australia’s Children’s Laureate, and now Senior Australian of the Year 2015 , 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 receive these updates as a monthly newsletter on her website www.jackiefrench.com.


  • Introduction
  • Wombat News
  • New Books
  • New Awards
  • Schedule for 2015
  • The July Garden
  • A Few Recipes:
    – Winter Lamb’s Neck Soup
    – Lamb and Barley Broth


Wild Whiskers is annoyed. She has also discovered that our house has more than one door and is showing her annoyance by attacking our bedroom door, one minute after the light goes off and we are drifting off to sleep. Or would be, if it weren’t for growls, snarls and noisy gnawing.

Wild Whiskers’s most obedient human servant has not been at her beck and call – or growl and bite – for the past six months. She has been busy – the human, that is, not WW – though WW has been occupied raising a small grey baby, as well as eating, scratching and attacking our bedroom door.
This year seems to have had another six crammed into it. It’s wonderful, inspiring, so many people doing extraordinary things for kids and for children’s literature. But it has also been overfull, with three separate offices planning separate itineraries, plus the threat of a gold refining operation using cyanide processing just upstream from us, proposed by the company that was prosecuted last year for three counts of polluting the creek where we swim and that we use for our household water.

I am alternately scared (how can I see children swim in a creek when an accident upstream might make it lethal?), elated, tired, tapping out articles as I fly from one venue to another, grabbing an apple at the airport and hoping Bryan remembers what I look like and my friends forgive a year taken out of the time we might spend together.

Is it worth it? Of course. It will be at least a year, and probably much longer before we know how many of the projects of the past eighteen months make a lasting change. Possibly I will never know, just as teachers and librarians never know just how profoundly they have changed the lives of so many kids. How many of us try to locate our fifth form teacher to say, Hey, you wont remember me, but that day you gave us (insert book here) and I didn’t want to read it but you insisted and I loved it? That day changed my life.’

So excuse a very truncated newsletter – and the fact that this year they haven’t come monthly. They’ll be regular again next year, with new recipes and new garden insights – this year I am lucky if I can stop to smell the fresh wombat-dug earth, much less plant anything.
And so many, many apologies if I can’t come to your school/library/conference this year. Give me a tardis and I really will be able to fit six years into this year. Without it … well, there is next year, for all that hasn’t fitted into this year … I hope.
But try telling that to a wombat.

Wombat News

Baby wombats! Everywhere – well, almost, scuttling into holes, under bushes, sticking their heads out of mum’s pouch to eat grass or only poking out a pink nose then darting back because it’s cold out there and a cosy, fluffy pouch is preferable in winter.

This past year, for some reason, we had wombat ‘courting’ from March through to September, which means a wide range of baby wombat ages too. A relatively cool summer with plenty of grass, so seasonal triggers were muddled? I don’t know. Nor does anyone, probably – wombat research is still in its infancy. But it is decidedly different from the other forty plus years I have been studying wombats here.

There are at lest two pure grey babies – Phil the wombat at work – but mostly shades of brown, with one who is almost black and extremely self possessed already grazing by herself even though she looks to be less than a year old, and giving me ­and the car a dirty look when I disturb her grazing.
It’s cold now, and the protein levels in the grass will be falling and the ground is cold on wombat paws and tummies. But there is still plenty of grass, enough for the wombats to sleep through cold wet nights and not be forced out by hunger for at least forty-eight hours. When humans have free time we socialise, write books or listen to symphonies. Wombats sleep or, sometimes, sit and smell the world, with a richness we humans with our limited sense of smell can’t understand.

But just now, life is good for the valley wombats.

New Books

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark
This is Hamlet, but with cheese. A lot of cheese. It is a comedy, as well as a tragedy, which I think Shakespeare intended, about a young woman who knows that cheese is more important than duels, vengeance and poisoning your relatives. When she is Queen – and Ophelia is determined to be a Queen – she will ensure her land is happy, prosperous and has plenty of cheese. While staying faithful to everything in Shakespeare’s play, this book offers what might have happened behind the scenes, as well as offering new interpretations of the what’s in the play…

Hamlet and Laertes fighting in Ophelia’s grave about which one loves her most? Hamlet offering to eat a crocodile to show he loves her? As Ophelia says, it might taste quite good with cream sauce. If Hamlet can pretend to be mad, so can Ophelia. Remember in the play that no one ever sees her body. This play even has a happy ending – the one that might have happened after the actors in Shakespeare’s time had taken their bows. It has love, ghosts – the castle in this book has more than one – plots and poisoning and, of course, a great deal of cheese.


To Love a Sunburnt Country
Unquestionably my best book, and the hardest to write, about Australia between 1941 and 1946, when to love your country meant to fight for it. But there are many ways to love a country and to fight for it. It is also about Nancy of the Overflow, who believes she can do anything, even at sixteen – except stop the entire Japanese Army. It is also about Michael, who loves her; Fred, conman and reluctant hero; and the land itself, which is perhaps the main character in every book I write, as well as in my life.

The Beach They Called Gallipoli (created with Bruce Whatley)
There have been many books written about the Gallipoli campaign. This book is about the beach, over a hundred years, the white sand the day before the big ships came, the devastation of both men and land that, gradually, healed.

My father-in-law, Pa Jack, fought at Gallipoli. The shadow of that war still hangs over the man I married. Pa Jack remained bitter all his life at Australia’s abandonment of the men who had given so much for their country. It has taken us a hundred years, Pa Jack. But at last, we have remembered.

Birrung: The Secret Friend (created with Mark Wilson)
The first in a trilogy. Barney Bean, a free child in a colony of convicts, has a secret: his friendship with a girl, a girl who is black and who has been adopted by the extraordinary Johnsons. Why have the Johnsons – and Richard Johnson’s incredible contributions to Australia – been not just ignored, but deliberately maligned? Who was the girl also called Booroong or Abaroo? Why did she stay so long in a colony of desperation and thieves? And how can secrets of the past help us understand today?


Latest Awards

The Golden Dragon Book Award team in Hong Kong has selected Wombat Goes to School for the 2015-2016 year. It’s lovely to see one small wombat travel so far.

The Road to Gundagai was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award, and Josephine Loves to Dance presented as a gift from NSW to the young Princess Charlotte as well as donations to children’s charities.

Fire, created with Bruce Whatley, has also been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Awards

2015 Schedule

Sadly no more events can be added to this year’s schedule. Booked Out in Melbourne, Speaker’s Ink in Brisbane and Lateral Learning in NSW will organize bookings for next year – they can be contacted through their websites.


11 July: Talks about Ophelia, Queen of Denmark, the Laureateship and an afternoon performance of Diary of a Wombat (and friends) at The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft, Sydney.

12 July: book signing at Dymocks, Sydney.

13 July: History Teachers Conference, Sydney.

13 July: Human Rights Panel, Sydney City Hall.

15 July: Alice Springs talks.

16-17 July: Darwin and Katherine talks

27-29 July: July talks in Kalgoolie and Coolgardie, WA

31 July: History Teachers Conference, State Library, Perth

3-9 August: Byron Bay Writers Festival and School Days.

15-16 August: Dymocks Conference, Gold Coast Q’ld

31 August: Online Literature Festival Talks, Q’ld

11 September: ASA conference, Sydney.

18-19 September: SPELD conference, Brisbane

13-16 October: Laureate Everyone Can Read tour, MONA Tasmania.

28 October: Children’s Week Awards, ACT.

31 October: SPELD Tasmania conference, Hobart

16 November: NSW State Awards presentation.

26 November: Laureate farewell event, National Library, Canberra

Late November or early December:  visit to the YESS schools and preschool south coast NSW

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.

You can also check the Laureate website, www.childrenslaureate.org.au, for schedule updates. If I’m in your area, then I’ll try to fit in any other invitations.

The July Garden:

I am dreaming of gardening. My hands in warm soil instead drying out on an aircraft going to places that are inspiring, with people who are even more inspiring. It is a wonderful year. But I miss gardening.
The lack of time is really a blessing as it would be foolhardy to plant anything now, even vegies. There were five pollution events in the six months that the proposed mine above us began construction in 2013. It’s been on a care and maintenance regime for the past year, but there is now a proposal to process the ore using cyanide and that will mean the heavy metals – the lead, arsenic, uranium, zinc etc would now be stored in the planned tailings dam. 2013 was tinged with nightmare, wondering what would come down the creek next. Can we really trust that there will be no mishaps, when there is so much more at stake?
So there are nightmares again, instead of planting the lavender and grevilleas and giant flowered banksias I’d love to put in. And more pistachio trees. And a Peace rose …

In other words, to all of you who have a reliable water system – or are even prepared to bucket out your shower water next summer, plant. Plant shrubs for you, for the birds for beauty and for food. And feel the blessings of growing things bloom about you. Plant, tend and harvest so if there is ever a time you can’t, you can remember the feel and smell of soil. And maybe, perhaps, there may even be a time I can plant again without wondering if the water from our creek may pollute the land for generations.

A Few Recipes

This is soup weather, and I have just eaten a magic one. It does take two days to make, but you end up with a lot of soup, and the basis can be frozen and used for many more. I’d forgotten how good sheep’s neck soup can be – hadn’t made it or tasted it since we kept sheep here.

Winter Lamb’s Neck Soup

  • 2 kg lamb neck chops (this will make enough soup base for four lots of soup)
  • 4 litres stock
  • 8 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 10 potatoes, peeled and chopped, some small bits to dissolve and some larger
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup cauliflower, finely chopped
  • 4 cups silverbeet leaves, stems removed, chopped

Simmer chops, onion and garlic for two hours. Chill and leave overnight then scoop off the fat layer that will have formed on top.
Remove the meat from the bones. Freeze about ¾ of the meaty stock for later use. This is a rich vegetable soup with a bit of meat, not a meaty soup with some veg.
Add potatoes and carrots, cook on a low heat till softened. Add silverbeet and cauliflower about ten minutes before serving. Simmer till softened. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to four days, reheating to serve. The vegetable version is not suitable for freezing, but the meat-based stock can be frozen for up to three months.

Lamb and Barley Broth

  • 2 kg lamb neck chops (this will make enough soup base for four lots of soup)
  • 4 litres chicken or beef stock, or more if needed
  • 8 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 10 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup barley (this will swell up to about three cups)

Simmer chops for an hour, then leave overnight. Scoop off fat and discard, but leave the meat on the bones. Add the other ingredients and simmer for about two hours till the barley is soft. Add more stock if needed. The soup should be richly thick and fragrant.

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

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