Lately I’ve been …


Things are getting serious. After years of researching the Blitz and the Great Fire of London, I have deadlines now for the three volumes of The Firewatcher Chronicles.

I was in Denmark and London over the last couple of weeks (initially for a conference), happily researching Vikings  and Anglo-Saxons (Book 2 in the trilogy) and then more Great Fire (Book 1) and Romans and Iceni (Book 3).

Anglo-Saxon helmet, Museum of London

After two weeks of sore feet, aching legs, bursting brain and wide eyes, I hope I now have filled enough knowledge gaps to keep the writing going.

But, as you know, I enjoy the research and it keeps my mind firing and filled with new ideas, as well as those telling details that we need to make the fiction come alive.

The dreaded Tower

I also managed to sort out a few remaining practical details for Grace, my work on the meeting between Grace O’Malley and Elizabeth 1. I spent several days in the British Library, and an inspiring day in the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, which holds suffragette Vida Goldstein’s papers – for one of my other projects, Sisterhood. So many projects! But  research time in places such as London is rare and precious, and we have to make the most of it.

Mind you, I seem to have visited London every year for the past few years, but I’d never been to Denmark before and I loved every moment. Viking ships, great museums and libraries, beautiful cities, gorgeous countryside. Which brings me to…


The international symposium on Gender and Love was held this year at the most astonishing place – Sandbjerg Gods, an eighteenth century manor house once owned by Karen Blixen’s sister, Ellen Dahl, and donated by her to Aarhus University.

Manor house

Manor House, Sandbjerg Gods

It’s a glorious spot, nestled between fjord (complete with porpoises) and lake. Not only did I get to spend a few days listening to brainy people talk about fascinating things, I was also asked to read from Goddess on the first night, after dinner, in a parlour where the Dinesen sisters once read and talked.

Then last week, back in Melbourne, we held our ReMaking the Past symposium, something I’ve been working on for ages with my lovely colleagues at La Trobe.


Also last week, I heard that 1917: Australia’s Great War is shortlisted for the Asher Award, for a book with an anti-war theme, written by a woman. The award is in honour of Helen Asher, author of Tilly’s Fortunes . It’s such a thrill, and I’m in esteemed company on the shortlist.  My thanks to the judges and to the Australian Society of Authors – and of course to Scholastic for all its support.


I’ve spent some time polishing the manuscript for the first volume in The Firewatcher Chronicles, and sent it off to Scholastic, who are already thinking about cover designs. No rest for the wicked.

I’ve finished the first draft of Grace, but it needs a fair bit more work, so I reckon it will be done by the end of the year.

Finished a couple of short stories – one for an anthology of own voices Oz YA.

And next I’m onto more in my series of bushranging amateur detective outlaws. And the second volume of  Firewatcher Chronicles.

And honestly, an academic conference paper can take months, sometimes, and other times just a week or so. I wish I knew which was which, before I started – in fact, before I volunteer to do them in the first place!


I must admit, I’ve been reading mostly research-related books lately, either for conference papers and academic articles (everything from *snore* The Well of Loneliness and My Love Must Wait to Five Go Off to Camp), books for The Firewatcher Chronicles from endless volumes on Boudica to Vera Brittain’s memoir of the Blitz, England’s Hour, or background for other projects on bushrangers and suffragettes and pirates.

Fiction that I’ve enjoyed lately includes:

  • Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files series
  • Rachel Leary’s Bridget Crack
  • Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress
  • Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns
  • Sulari Gentill’s Give the Devil His Due
  • Meg and Tom Keneally’s The Soldier’s Curse.

But I picked up the first book in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles , just to find a scene to quote in a paper, and accidentally got sucked straight back in. I’d forgotten. Or rather, the first time I read them, I was so drawn in by characters, place and plot that re-reading them now is like a different experience altogether. Such beautiful writing. Now I can’t stop. But what a gorgeous problem to have.

So between all of that, and finally getting to write a Viking book (surely destiny!), I feel both extremely busy and very lucky.

Viking boat reconstructions

Boats at the Roskilde Viking Museum, Denmark

Young People’s History Prize

Exciting news this week. My book 1917: Australia’s Great War was shortlisted for the Young People’s History Prize in the NSW Premier’s History Awards.

The Awards were held on Friday night in two stunning rooms in the State Library of NSW – one had hundreds of early editions of Don Quixote in glass-fronted bookcases. It was lovely to hear the Premier say that she’s a voracious reader, to hear the Minister for the Arts talk about his own writing, to welcome the new State Librarian of NSW, and to be part of the launch of History Week. My thanks to the State Library (where I also spent all day yesterday deep in research), Create NSW, the History Council and the judges for this recognition of 1917 and for inviting me to be part of the evening’s celebrations. I’ve been on literary awards shortlists but it’s a very different kind of feeling to have my book acknowledged  as a work of history-making.

The History Awards are judged by an extraordinary panel of senior historians, and I’m honoured to be shortlisted – and to be in the company of the authors and creators on the Young People’s History Prize list and all the shortlists. Congratulations to every single one. And of course now I want to read all the books.

Our shortlist was pretty short. The two other books were:

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda—Lake Eyre (Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli, Walker Books)

Book cover Desert Lake

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story (Christobel Mattingley, A&U)

Book cover Maralinga's Long Shadow

And the prize was won by Christobel Mattingley for Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story. In accepting the award, Christobel talked about the artist Yvonne Edwards, her family,  and the Anangu people, so many of whom were exposed to radiation by the nuclear bomb tests on Maralinga Tjarutja lands, and so many of whom have died of cancer since the bombs – including, sadly, Yvonne. Profits from the book go to her family. Congratulations to Christobel, who also worked with Yvonne and the communities to tell their stories  in Maralinga, the Anangu Story, so that their children and other children can know the truth of their experiences.

It’s wonderful that there is a Young People’s History Prize alongside awards for Australian, general (as in, everywhere else) and community or local history, as well as multimedia. That says a lot about the important work we do encouraging young people’s engagement with history.

1917 is partly about the divisive conscription campaign on the Home Front, and I remember choosing not to use the word ‘plebiscite’  when I wrote it, because young readers might not know what that old-fashioned word meant. I had no idea then that the country would undergo another plebiscite debate in 2017, and that young people would take to the streets to protest about it. But perhaps we always write and read about the past to reflect on the present.

Some of the fictional characters in the book are based on members of my family, especially my great-aunts who were children – and peace activists – during the war. I wish they were still with us so they could see how they – like young readers today – really do make history.

Eight year-old Madge (my great-aunt) led the United Women’s No Conscription Procession in 1916.



Header image: Inside the Mitchell Library by Littleyiye

Creative Commons by Attribution

Lists: on book awards

Well, that was a rather dramatic day.

There is one day of the year when Australian writers and illustrators of children’s and young adult books wake up tense and keep one eye – or possibly two – on social media and mobiles all morning.

It’s the day that the Children’s Book Council of Australia announces first its lists of Notable Books for the year, and later its shortlists for Book of the Year. (The NZ Post Book Awards finalists were released today too!)

Even if you don’t have a book out in that year, you still watch on behalf of friends, publishers, books you loved, and cheer or mope accordingly.

There’s no moping in this house.

The Sultan’s Eyes, like Act of Faith before it, was on the CBCA Notables list for Older Readers.


Image of book cover

I was about to give a lecture when the news finally came through and felt totally distracted for the rest of the morning.

Until, totally out of the blue, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists were also announced halfway through the afternoon.  Turns out The Sultan’s Eyes is on the shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize as well.

What a day.

And I have to say that both lists (and the CBCA shortlists) are crammed full of wonderful books – and there are many more that could have just as easily been included. I don’t envy those judges.

So congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, and our publishers, for getting through the roller coaster day and for creating books worth celebrating.


Summer reads: Act of Faith

Having a book on the Gold Inkys shortlist is a gift that just keeps on giving. You can find an extract from Act of Faith in The Age and other Fairfax papers this week as part of the Summer Reading series – and you can read extracts from the other sensational shortlisted titles too.

Meanwhile, I’m on holidays by the beach in New Zealand, trying not to work on the other books in the series. But I can’t help it.

Happy new year

Thanks to all of you who’ve followed the blog, been in touch on Facebook or Twitter, posted reviews on Goodreads or elsewhere, and (or) read Act of Faith.

For my next trick, I’ll be doing edits on the sequel over the next few weeks, but we’ll have to wait a while to see it in print. Should be out around August.

In the meantime, have a great summer holiday (or winter reading spell, if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and I look forward to another busy year ahead.

2013. Already? Didn’t see that coming.



Lately I’ve been…

Rather quiet, haven’t I?

That’s because I’ve being going through the living hell that is moving house.

But now we’re in, if not unpacked, and still edging our way through rooms crowded with boxes – mostly containing books (I don’t know where they all came from and I still don’t understand how they’re all going to fit in the new house).

I’m in Sydney this morning, having come up for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, in which Act of Faith was shortlisted for the aptly named Ethel Turner prize for young adult fiction.

And what a shortlist. The other books on it were:

  • Bill Condon, A Straight Line to My Heart (Allen & Unwin)
  • Ursula Dubosarsky, The Golden Day (Allen & Unwin)
  • Scot Gardner, The Dead I Know (Allen & Unwin)
  • Penni Russon, Only Ever Always (Allen & Unwin)
  • Vikki Wakefield, All I Ever Wanted (Text).

I was thrilled and a little amazed to see my book listed alongside those titles. The beautiful Only Ever Always won the Award, and we all dined and felt terribly glamorous in the beautiful Mitchell Reading Room at the State Library of NSW.

Editing has begun on The Sultan’s Eyes, work on the cover design is quite advanced, and I should have the manuscript back to look over the edits in a couple of weeks. What happens then is that I check and recheck, then the changes are made and the editors check it all again, it gets typeset, then we all check it again. And possibly again. By which point we’re all thoroughly sick of the thing and don’t want to see it until it arrives in a box with a picture on the front.

In the meantime, it’s back to focusing on La Maupin and academic conference papers, and a hectic time at work, before taking a summer break in which I intend to read a whole lot of books that have nothing to do with the seventeenth century.

Except I can’t help wondering what would happen if Isabella Hawkins returned to Cromwell’s London…


Big week, big news

First: Act of Faith is on the shortlist for the Gold Inky in Australia’s teen reader choice awards. That’s a lovely surprise, because the shortlist is chosen by an independent panel largely composed of young readers, along with (this year) book blogger Danielle Binks and last year’s Gold Inky winner, James Maloney. It’s also a great honour to be shortlisted along with:

  • Shift by Em Bailey
  • Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar
  • Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall
  • The Reluctant Hallelujah by Gabrielle Williams.

More information – and voting form – on insideadog. I should tell you to vote for me but really, with that list, vote for whoever you like.

I can also announce that the Swashbuckler books are now available as ebooks from all the major retailers, which is great news because copies can be hard to find in print nowadays. More information on sources from HarperCollins.

Almost a Logie

Was very chuffed to hear that Act of Faith made it onto the Gold Inky longlist this year. It’s a great honour. A sensational list, too.

Congratulations to everyone on the Gold and Silver longlists. And long live Inky!


I must say I’m quite partial to an awards sticker nowadays. Last week I signed a whole lot of copies of Act of Faith with their new silver CBCA Notables stickers on the covers. Very posh. Although I do rather fancy the idea of a silk sash. With gold fringes. Not for me, you understand. But Signora Contarini would love it.

And then what happened was…

The day started with a workout, then after a much-needed and extremely strong recovery coffee I turned on my laptop to find messages of congratulations on email and Twitter, because the Barbara Jefferis Award shortlist was announced today and Act of Faith was highly commended.

It’s such an honour and surprise because, apart from anything else, this is an Australian Society of Authors award for  ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’. That means a great deal to me. It is named in honour of the late Barbara Jefferis: novelist, founding member of the Australian Society of Authors and its first woman President.

And there are so many significant and terrific books this year that are eligible, I’m really quite delighted.

I mean, really – look at this shortlist:

  • Georgia Blain: Too Close to Home (Vintage)
  • Claire Corbett: When We Have Wings (Allen & Unwin)
  • Anna Funder: All That I Am (Penguin)
  • Gail Jones: Five Bells (Vintage)
  • Gillian Mears: Foal’s Bread (Allen & Unwin)
  • Frank Moorhouse: Cold Light (Vintage).

Also highly commended were:

  • SJ Finn: This Too Shall Pass (Sleepers)
  • Meg Mundell: Black Glass (Scribe).

Chuffed. Me. Hell, yeah. And I don’t care who knows it.

Hearty congratulations to all those commended and shortlisted. And happy IWD 2012.

You can read more about  the award on the ASA site.