October 18, 2018

New baby…er, I mean new book!

Hello again!

I know the title above says this isn’t about a new baby, but that was before I had received an exciting email on the morning of 17th Oct 2018 from Sarah Hatton, the publicist at Scholastic, about a certain royal baby, belonging to a certain Meghan Markle, now an expectant duchess, and a certain Prince Harry—so do keep reading.

But yes, in my 35th year as an author for young children, the ageing girl is still creating. I’m thrilled to be announcing the birth of the latest—the 5th!— book from the Fox/Horacek team: Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again.

All the gossipy information (too much information?!) about the new Bonnie and Ben book, and my reading of it, can be found on the cover page of the memfox website. I can’t quite believe it’s here. It’s been such a long wait since I’m Australian Too came out in March 2017.  This new story is a companion to Goodnight, Sleep Tight! Note above, the homage to Where is the Green Sheep? Clever, clever Judy.

Judy and I will be in Sydney and Melbourne on the following dates, to talk about the new book and how it came about; and about the hideous difficulty of writing such an apparently simple text. I will be accompanied by the publicist from Scholastic, Sarah Hatton, who has been so good to Judy and me on previous tours that I have dedicated this new book to her. Way to go, Sarah! Thank you.

Public events in Sydney

Wednesday 31 October  11 am Better Read Than Dead bookshop event – Newtown

Thursday 1 November  10.30 am  Harry Hartog bookshop event Narellen

2.00 pm     Kinderling Kids Radio Facebook LIVE interview

4.30 pm   Harry Hartog bookshop event Warringah

Friday 2 November  10.30 am    Harry Hartog bookshop event Bondi Junction

Public events in Melbourne

Friday 9 November   10.30 am   Little Bookroom event Carlton

4.00 pm   Younger Sun Bookshop event Yarraville

Saturday 10 November   10.30 am  Readings bookshop event – children’s bookshop

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Now to the very latest…an over-the-moon email was received by Scholastic this week. On October 16th, Abbey van Vuuren, with her two children aged six and four, were watching the royal couple pass by on their tour in Australia, and she managed to present them with a copy of Possum Magic, as a piece of Australiana for the baby. The Duchess (Meghan) said: ‘This is the first book we have been given for this baby.’ Is this history, or what? Probably not, in the vast scheme of things, but it’s a big moment in my life, I can tell you. Here are Prince Harry and Meghan with the book:

Well, that was exciting, right?

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And get this: I heard this week from someone who said she loved my posts. That’s exciting too. Good grief. I have a reader! I write my posts into what feels like oblivion, my assumption being that they’re like a journal that no one else reads but me. So imagine my shock to receive a response. It’s my fault, I know, for not having a response mechanism on this site, but honestly, every day is such a rush, so packed with work and duties and emails, and marketing, and walking and going to my fitness class, reading, and having coffee, and school drops offs and pick-ups, and tidying, tidying, tidying (I’m a neat freak) and cooking, and shopping, and answering letters, and updating websites and the rest, that I’d have been completely crushed had I added a response column and had had to deal with that as well. I think I’d cry every night. And I know you wouldn’t want that—it would be so undignified in a woman of my age. And sad.

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I have been sad in the last couple of months. (About my sister’s health issues as well as politics: read on or  skip the politics paragraphs if they tire you out.) It’s important to admit sadness, otherwise you’d think I led a perfect life. No one does. That’s what I detest about Facebook: that it’s peddling millions of lies about the seemingly perfect lives people are leading, which makes everyone else disgruntled and jealous and miserable. Hence my not being on Facebook, ever. That and many other reasons, such as wanting to keep my real dear friends close, and keep my dignity by keeping myself relatively private.There’s a lot I don’t say in this website. Oh yes, you can hear an Older Person talking here. I do understand. You’re entitled to yawn if you’re under 50.

I’ve been deeply saddened by federal politics in Australia over the last few months. I’m a political junkie and keep close tabs on every move that politicians make, and every word they say. We Australians are living in a parallel universe at the moment (mid-October 2018) in which government politicians say one thing one day, and the next day completely deny they said it. They must be so removed from the general public they don’t hear our screams of laughter and rage, nor see our disbelieving, open mouths. The removal in August of our Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was shocking, unexpected and distressing to most Australians—even Labor voters like me.

No one seems able to answer the question: why did it have to happen? The people who brought it on are now brought low. We hardly hear a squeak from them now. Among those politicians remaining from the coup who are still in power, there are attitudes that smack of the late 50′ or early 60’s. They don’t seem to realise what year we’re living in, let alone which century. They don’t seem to understand, which the rest of us do, that coal is finished. They don’t accept that families have changed from being a mum, dad and three kids to any happy-family-combination of gender. They can’t see how cringe-makingly embarrassing they are, when they say one thing in the morning and deny it in the afternoon. They don’t seem able to focus on the long-term needs of the country because they’re so fixated on the short-term goal of being re-elected. OK, OK, I know I’ve never put my own hand up to run for office of any kind and it’s easy to be an arm-chair critic, but seriously, the rage and shame and  fear and bafflement that I feel over appalling decisions affecting climate change, and hideously cruel decisions affecting asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, cannot be overstated.

Yesterday I received  the most moving vimeo I have ever seen, done by young children on the plight of our refugees—a direct plea to our current prime minister, to whom it had just been sent, and (if I have more than one reader) I urge you to pass it on: <https://vimeo.com/292916108/fe0b78b9b8>

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Because I’m a writer, I will now revert to what you really want to know. I’ll pretend for the rest of this post that I can exist above the fray.  I hope I remembered in a previous post, to alert you to this divine YouTube reading of I’m Australian Too by the children at Blair Athol North Primary School in Adelaide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t-LvOQUYro

This video is important and will be beautiful always, but I’d like to remind people of it:  the American edition of the book arrives in bookstores on Oct 23rd: next week. In the States it’s called I’m an Immigrant Too, but none of the inside text has changed. The back cover has a single sensational statement and question: ‘I’m an immigrant. How about you?’ The publisher, Beach Lane Books, is an imprint of Simon and Schuster. I think they’re hoping the book will makes waves in their country, which is as divided as ours over immigration. The editor is my good friend, Allyn Johnston.

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Big news in August, in Children’s Book Week. I’m Australian Too didn’t win the Children’s Book Council of Australia award. I had desperately hoped it might. Ronojoy Ghosh, the illustrator, was even more bitterly disappointed than I was. Fortunately, my American editor (AJ) was working with me for ten days at that time, which meant I had to snap out of it and move on. I did, surprisingly, in about eleven seconds. Move on, that is. I still feel aggrieved! I assured Ronojoy that I’m Australian Too had touched so many hearts, especially among children whose families had been refugees, that an award of any kind was most likely irrelevant to our readers. They had probably ignored the whole kerfuffle. Even so, every year, no— every time a book of mine is shortlisted for an award (there have been three Big Disappointments this year) I cannot deny the instant misery I feel. This indicates I’m as normal as the next person, that I have a capacity for grief over small things, that tears arise foolishly over unimportant stuff.

I was able to comfort my own silly self eventually, by recalling the hilarious fact that the majority of my well-known, best-loved books are still in print, still loved, still classic, and still being read by the second generation, even though they (the books) were never awarded a top prize. The list is hysterical, I kid you not. For example, Possum Magic, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Hattie and the Fox, and Koala Lou, to name a few. I laugh over it now but I didn’t at the time. Many of my books are published first in the USA, such as Time for Bed, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Whoever You Are, and Tough Boris, so they’re not eligible for anything in Australia. Fair enough.  (You can see I’m trying to comfort myself, can’t you? Pathetic really. And it’s not working anyway. Hah.) Where is the Green Sheep ? is the one shining light in all this woe. It did win the top award. Come to think of it, Where is the Green Sheep? is a much more suitable book for a new royal baby. I hope someone thinks of it before too long.

The good thing about not winning the awards I’d hoped to win is that it’s been a useful lesson for my grandson, now eight. (I try to keep my beloved family out of the limelight. Privacy is important. I love all of them, and could go on for hours about them, so you’re in luck about the privacy.) Anyway, he was almost weeping with disappointment last weekend when the weather changed and a promised afternoon at the beach had fallen through. The day before had been gorgeous and he’d been there for hours, but as we live only two minutes from the beach it was no great disaster. Unless you’re eight, that is. I told him Syria was a true ‘disaster’ and that I’d explain why when he was older. I also told him I’d wanted to win three awards this year for I’m Australian Too and had won none of them. ‘Am I crying?’ I asked? ‘No, my darling! I accepted it, even though I didn’t like it, and as you see, I moved on. We can’t dwell in the past. You have to move on too, horrible though it is. It’s the way the world works. So how about the museum instead?’ Kiss, kiss.

Sometimes I wish I could go to the museum, metaphorically speaking.

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A highlight of my life, since I last wrote, was attending the Brisbane Writers Festival in September. I did my usual session with small children and read Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again for the first time, having been given it, brand new, only an hour before. It wasn’t an entirely smooth reading, I have to admit, but I’ve rectified that on this website, where you can hear me read it with happy confidence. It takes me a few readings to get the feel of a book and to get the words correct as well. I now know it by heart. Talking of hearts brings me to my adult session and the broken hearts at the festival. It was a panel session based on I’m Australian Too. Three refugees told their stories: Kagi Kowa, Lili Sanchez and Imtiaz Ali. Without exaggeration there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Had we been more socially abandoned I think we’d have allowed ourselves to sob. The silence after each story was extraordinary. Photos were taken of course but not with my phone, so I don’t have a thing to prove this happened. There were witnesses.

In an effort to do something positive and of immediate practical use to the refugees on Manus and Nauru, who have been and are being so cruelly treated by a succession of Australian politicians, at this panel session, at each seat, I put  a copy of the card, below. The website <gifts forManus and Nauru> accepts funds for the asylum seekers so they can make phone calls to their loved ones. Without this help they have to wait, and wait, and wait to make a single call. It must be deeply depressing,  and cause utter despair. Feel free to go to the website yourself. I acknowledge that I got this idea, but not the words, from a meeting about the refugee situation that I had attended in Adelaide in early August:

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Back to the good news. Well, the festival was good news too, but kind of sad at the same time. In early August, in the week before Children’s Book Week, I was invited to speak to the South Australian branch of the Children’s Book Council. (I mentioned in my last post that this talk was about to happen.) My theme was to be the same as the theme for Book Week: Find Your Treasures. It didn’t take me long to find mine: my illustrators and my editors, without whom I would not be who I have become. I loved giving this speech as it honoured people dear to me who are often ignored, quite wrongly. After all, illustrators do half the work and receive half the royalties. They are half the book. And editors boss them around, and boss me around, equally, until together we have made books we can be proud of. No one does it on his or her own. No one is more important than anyone else. I wanted to bring this point home. I hope I did.

I had a hilarious time contacting illustrators and editors, some of whom I hadn’t been in touch with for over thirty years. I begged for photos for my speech, and received some very funny replies. Kathryn Brown, the illustrator of Tough Boris, sent me a photo of herself as a child in overalls and a big hat, looking like a typical farm kid from the deep South.

I sent an email back to her raving about it, saying it was just the best; she then revealed it was a photo of her dad! You can imagine how I fell about! Jane Dyer (Time for Bed) sent me a photo of herself with a woolly sheep called Blossom. She is making felt toys from Blossom’s wool to illustrate our next book together, due out this time next year, about which I am ill with excitement. Stay posted… I will put these photos on my website one day soon, as they are fabulous, but there are too many for this update, which is already very long.

At the same CBC event I was extremely touched and honoured  to be given Honorary Membership Of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, South Australian Branch. The citation made me blush, quite seriously. It went on for ages. On occasions like that you learn a lot about yourself that you had long forgotten  I’m very grateful. Thank you all, most deeply.

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Privacy reigns, as you know, but I do have to report that I went to Italy for a week in September  to visit my younger sister, Jan—my last remaining sister, and the nicest of all three of us.  I love her a lot, which is also nice, as I do know sisters who can’t stand each other. She was coming to see us at Christmas but a health issue has prevented that from happening so I went over there instead. Thirty hours travel there and thirty hours travel back in nine days. Worth every minute. Bliss and sadness combined. (See? I told you life wasn’t perfect. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it is.) Thank God for the invention of FaceTime. I took her an iPad and we are now in constant contact after she’s bashed some olives off her hundreds of trees. She and her Italian husband are olive producers. They have no children. He is the cook, so you can imagine the food I was eating: pure, fresh, simple, and delicious, the typical Mediterranean diet, such as whole fish barbecued over hot coals into which he had thrust a few branches of rosemary, which smoked upwards into the fish. 

Jan and me at the airport, late September , just before I departed.

To help out, I gardened like crazy and here’s the photo to prove it. It looks as if I’m wearing a colour co-ordinated set of clothing, but seriously, it was old stuff and ancient sneakers that just happened to match.  I looked ridiculous and felt so happy.

I was ripping out masses of  end-of-summer tomato plants that were taller than I was, and so close together that the tendrils had all entwined with each other. It was Triffids tomato-time. I was cutting and heaving and hauling dead plants in complete silence. My sister says the Italians shot all the birds years ago. (They were hungry, and needed food.) It’s true, I didn’t hear a single bird the whole time I was there. I live in a cacophony of bird-sound in Adelaide. There were no planes overhead, no cars to be heard, not even Vespas in the distance. It was serene, although almost unnerving for a city girl like me. The Zen of gardening creates a magic mood that those who don’t garden can never understand. Sorry, if you hate gardening. I was incredibly bored by other people’s gardening talk until I became a gardener myself.

And speaking of being boring, I think I’ll stop there. Your eyes must be glazing over by now. I’m glad we can’t see each other!

Every best wish till next time.

Mem Fox