August 14, 2014

Books, Sheep and Mended Hearts.

Every time I come to this blog I think I’ll have nothing to say, as my next book isn’t due out until the end of 2015. But wait! There is!

Yesterday my darling husband had his second open-heart operation. It was a valve replacement this time. He had already had a quadruple bypass 14 years ago. Earlier this year I had booked an appearance, on the same day, at Campbelltown Public Library for Book Week so I had to honour the commitment. It’s about an hour’s drive from my house and all the way there and all the way back I kept thinking of the implications of the operation: the ‘open’ heart part of it, and the ‘what if?’ part of it, and I felt pretty sick. Being at the library with lots of little kids was probably the best thing for me on such a morning. After all, when you’re the kind of person who met your life-long partner at the age of 19, married him at 22, and visited him in the hospital at the age of 68 when he was completely wired and out of it, and had no idea I was even there, you don’t feel calm. All will be well, however. The surgeon said he came through with flying colours. Whew!

Saturday August 9th was National Bookshop Day in Australia (long live the bookshop!) and as part of it there appeared a list of the 50 most popular children’s books in this country. Not recent books, specifically: all-time books. Not picture books, specifically: all children’s books. And Possum Magic topped the list! Ahead of Harry Potter; ahead of Where the Wild Things Are; ahead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; ahead of Green Eggs and Ham; and ahead of The Hunger Games. And to add icing to the lamington, Where is the Green Sheep? came in at no. 5 and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes at no. 47. The only author to have four books on the list was Roald Dahl. I can live with that!

And then in the same week, on the Californian Independent Booksellers best selling lists, Time for Bed came in at no. 9. Time for Bed was published in 1997.
So, like me, my books are staggering on, in spite of their increasing age.

I had a fine time at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival in early August. Even though I’m a writer myself, my heart beat a little faster every time I saw a famous author whose work I admired. And if I happened to speak to that person I felt ridiculously honoured, as if the writer I was speaking to wasn’t a normal person like me. I recall meeting Maurice Sendak once, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, and I could hardly get a sensible word out of my mouth. I’m sure I gabbled like an idiot. He was very kind and patient. A few years later we met again at another event and he said, ‘Mem Fox, do you remember me?’ Remember him??????? Good grief!

But the highlight of August so far (apart from my husband coming though his heart operation) was a sheep convention in a wool-growing centre in Hamilton, Victoria. As a community-building activity an arts project was developed around the theme of wool, with Where is the Green Sheep? at its centre. It was so hilarious, so brilliant, and so moving that at one point I stood in a street and cried.

Various communities had yarn-bombed sheep on a wooden template of a green-sheep-shaped sheep made by the guys at the local Men’s Shed. Shops had woollen sheep in their windows according to the theme of their business. A picture framer had a ram’s skull surrounded by natural wool with a sign underneath that said: Rambrandt. In the same shop window was a black sheep with no wool, just a sign saying: In memory of Malaysian Flight MH 17. The local federal member had the Green Sheep cover painted across his glass doors with this written underneath: Where is the Senate Sheep? And: Where is the Lower House Sheep? The poles holding up the parking meters had knitted leggings, some with motifs from the book crocheted into them. My favourite sheep was the red sheep, made of 260 red pom-poms. The poms-poms were made by the blokes in the pub in a small town close to Hamilton. Can you believe it?

I spoke to adults on the Thursday night and then to 600 children (in two groups) the next day, surrounded by the many sheep that had been made in various ways, with various techniques. In the end the brown sheep won the competition. And to cap it all, later at the local sheep show, the woollen sheep were in a real pen, with ribbons for the winners! WHERE ARE THE PHOTOS?, you ask. They are coming on a USB stick. I’ll upload them as soon as they arrive.

Well, there we are. And to think I thought I’d have nothing to say!

All the best, Mem xxx