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Here’s wishing a happy, heavenly birthday to a fallen hero of mine, the actor, producer and playwright, Bille Brown.

A decade older and long gone from Biloela State High by the time I got there, Bille was already treading the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company by the time I finished high school.

But for kids like me from the bush, he was an inspiration. He opened up an endless world of possibility beyond the farm, the town, the obscure little corner of Queensland into which we had been born.

P1010198He allowed us all to dream big dreams and dare to believe that if we worked hard enough, we could make them come true.

He made one of mine come true when he launched my first novel Dust – a kindness I will never forget.

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The Big Director’s Chair – a memorial to actor/producer/playwright – Bille Brown AM.

I think of him, still, five years after his death. When I go home to Biloela, the town where we both grew up. And when I’m in Brisbane, my home for many decades now.

 

In Bilo, I often drive past the giant director’s chair dedicated to him in Lion’s Park.

If you bother to stop, you’ll find these words, so typical of the man, on the plaque:

“It should not just be a monument to me but an encouragement to others to pursue what they are good at and love doing.”

 

Bless. It is and does.

In Brisbane, I often drive past Queensland’s beautiful new Bille Brown Theatre. Next time you’re there, look for Row F Seat 34.

It’s a much smaller chair, but one also dedicated to Bille Brown’s memory.

From me to you, Bille. Happy Birthday.

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20181214_095715.jpgAfter nine years as a novelist, bad reviews still hit me in the gut, but the good ones, man, they really really touch my heart.

This week, I was privileged to receive twenty-six letters from the Soldiers Point Public School on the NSW Central coast that were the best early Christmas present a writer could ask for.

The first, from Assistant Principal Rachel Wagland, was full of heart, reminding me, once again, why I love writing for young people.

“This is now the fourth time I have used your novel Henry Hoey Hobson as part of my English unit and I cannot express enough the pure enjoyment that both myself and the students get from reading it.”

“If only I had a camera on the children at times when reading parts of the book. They were often on their knees in anticipation or constantly begging for more to be read at the end of each chapter. It is simply my favourite book and that is saying something considering my obsession with Harry Potter.”

Thanks Rachel, that made me laugh! But by the end of the letter, I found myself in tears:

There are a few children that have difficult home lives in my class and the connections they made with Henry were heart-warming. I think also they really loved the ‘happy ending’ so to speak. There is enough sadness in the world and your story was incredibly uplifting … I have yet to find such a quality book that matches Henry Hoey Hobson to read to my Stage Three children and apart from ‘The Secret Garden’ it has been the only book that on finishing the reading, the children stood up and applauded.

20181214_095749 (2)It is incredibly humbling to hear such feedback from the very people for whom I wrote this book: kids who’ve made it through tough times; teachers who care and want to build literacy, resilience and life skills in their classrooms.

I have written back, of course, and the children were ‘stoked’ to hear that their letters would feature on my website.

[Spoiler Alert: Many of these letters reveal the twist ending so read the book first BEFORE clicking on this link – Soldiers Point Public School – Henry Hoey Hobson Letters ]

Seriously though I hope you enjoy my early Christmas present as much as I did.

I do a lot of school visits and would love to visit Soldier’s Point to thank them in person for being part of Team Triple H. The nine-hour drive from Brisbane makes it a bit tricky, but thanks anyway Year 4/5 for the generous offers of a spare bunk if I’m ever down your way! (Until then we’ll just have to settle for facetiming.)

Merry Christmas everyone and may the unexpected gifts of the season bring delight and wonder to you all.

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Inaugural St Finbarr’s LitFest with Authors Michael Gerard Bauer, Josie Montano, Sheryl Gwyther, Librarian Dominique Gardiner, Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman and me!

Call me biased, but little schools are a constant source of inspiration in my book.

My old alma mater, tiny Jambin State School, located in the parched heart of 1970s Queensland, was the setting for my first novel Dust.

St Ambrose’s, the little neighbourhood school at the end of the street I moved into twenty years ago, inspired Perpetual Suckers, the school setting for my second novel Henry Hoey Hobson.

St Finbarr's 2And today, it was St Finbarr’s at Ashgrove, a small community with a big heart, inspiring me all over again with its inaugural Literature Festival.

Hats off to uber-librarian Dominique Gardiner, Principal Anne Hall and St Finbarr’s P&F, for pulling off a literature festival that punches above its weight.

The all-star lineup included Australian Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman, and four local authors: St Finbarr’s old-boy and Book-of-the-Year-Winner Michael Gerard Bauer; Josie MontanoSheryl Gwyther and moi.

’twas a great way to cap off this year’s Book Week celebrations – and if you don’t believe me, tune into Channel 9 News on 4 September for their take on this little school with a big love of all things literary. 🙂

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reading-seussBig shout-out to Books in Homes Australia for putting more than two million books into some of Australia’s most disadvantaged homes.

I helped hand out nearly 600 books to Carole Park State School students this morning thanks to the generosity of program sponsor Mainfreight Australia.

Company representative Josh Meads remembers being on the receiving end of Books in Homes when he was a kid and is now  passing their bookpacks on to a new generation.

Love your work, guys! For more information, click here.

 

 

We learnt about the Finnish concept of Sisu – a mental toughness that kicks in when all else is exhausted – on a walking tour of Helsinki, with icy winds and snow whipping around my hubby’s unprotected ears.

(He wasn’t listening when I told him to pack a beanie and gloves, so the blizzard on arrival was a shock to his system. He’d joked on the plane ride over that it would be a balmy 24 degrees. And it was – on the Fahrenheit scale.)

While I was doing a fair impression of the Michelin Man in puffer, gortex jacket and four layers of clothes, hardy locals were showing we Aussies just how soft we really are – by stripping down to their budgie smugglers for a quick dip in the ice-trapped local pool.  

Respect, my Finnish friends. Man, you are tough. But I guess that comes with the territory when you live in a country where the mercury rarely pushes above 15 degrees. Where only five million people became legendary throughout the world for standing alone in the Winter War against overwhelming Russian forces – and surviving. That’s sisu.

 

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

Now that I’m home again, home again, jiggety jig, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned and experienced while away.

 


Time with loved ones is more precious when travelling, the juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar giving each day a special edge.

No wonder the Dalai Lama exhorts us to step away from the everyday: ‘Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.’

This year, it was Helsinki. Where I am glad to have discovered a new word to live by.

For when the going gets tough. Sisu.

Find Your Treasure 2018 CBCA Shortlist Announcement

Find Your Treasure: CBCA 2018

Lovers of children’s literature, don’t miss this star-studded event: the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s short list announcement for the 2018 Book of the Year Awards.

I’ll be there, along with a treasure chest of local authors and illustrators who’ve featured on CBCA Book of the Year Award short lists over the years.

Qld treasures CBCA Shortlist announcement.jpgAlong with Michael Gerard Bauer and Lucia Masciullo, I’ll be sharing what being short listed has meant to my life and career.

And I’ll hanging out to hear the official announcement of the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Short List by local literary luminaries Nick Earls, Isobelle Carmody, Gary Crew, Tania Cox, Jill Morris and Caroline Magerl.

To register, please click the following link and I’ll see you there!

Official CBCA Book of the Year Awards Short List Announcement 2018 Registration, Tue, 27/03/2018 at 10:00 am | Eventbrite

 

 

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Dancing with Uncle John on my big day

Hubby and I had a couple of dancing lessions in the lead-up to our wedding 23 years ago.

But on the big day, the band played the wedding waltz in 4/4 time, we tapped out and swore a marital pact: he didn’t have to dance in public again and I didn’t have to camp.

For more than two decades we stayed true to those vows.

Then a friend roped us in for a bit of fun at the local bowls club. She’d found a Brazilian dance teacher called Tarcisio who could show us some moves …

Fast-forward two years and we are official dance tragics: no longer trapped at home with young kids; kicking up our heels at West End’s Rio Rhythmics on most days ending in a ‘y’.

Aaron Veryard of asvphotographics photographs  White Magic charity event for Rio Rythmics

ASV Photographics: Rio Rhythmics White Magic

Our gorgeous instructors say we’ve come a long way (from an admittedly low base).

But we’re not in a hurry. We have the rest of our lives. And we’re having so much fun along the way. Making new friends. Listening to great music. And dancing, always dancing. Salsa. Bolero. Samba de Gaffeira. Bachata. Forro. Tango.

Our now-adult children have chronicled our adventures, entertaining their friends on snapchat with our dance journey.

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International Samba Day

Hiding round corners to video our faltering beginnings, staggering progress (two steps forward, one step back), and occasional matching outfits.

They pass round photos of us dressed as tropical bananas (for a recent performance at City Hall for the 65 Roses Masquerade Ball).

‘Don’t worry, you’ll just be part of the Carnivale parade,’ Tarcisio had assured us. ‘Cathy will tell you what to do.’

And she did. ‘You bananas, go up on stage and stand in front of the band.’

In front of the band? On stage? In front of 500 people? And do what?

‘Just dance,’ she said.

City Hall Carnevale Ball 2017 (2)

I’d like to say I’m the one on the far right (but I’m the one standing next to her….)

And we did. Salsa. In front of 500 people. On stage at City Hall.

So much fun, we just had to do it again.

We joined Rio Rhythmic’s flash mob for International Samba Day at Kangaroo Point cliffs … and the Brazilian Forro group performing at Woodford Folk Festival on 29th December.

Then came the real test ….

‘Who’s camping?’ asks Cathy. ‘We need to book tent sites for Woodford.’

white magic 2017Camping? What! No way. Some of us take our vows seriously.

I don’t camp.

But dancing …

Now that’s a whole different story!

(For more dance stories from the fabulous Rio Rhythmics community click here and scroll down)