November 3, 2021

Old me, new book

Dear world, my beach before a spectacular storm in late October 20201—and a climate change rant below…

As I write, the United Nations climate change convention is taking place in Glasgow. I’m covered with shame at belonging to a human race that can be so stupid as to focus solely on politics and economics in this situation, while it ignores the science. As an Australian citizen, I’m crawling with mortification at the criminal non-action of our own hopeless federal government, which will surely go down in history as one of the worst. The despair of young people must be immeasurable.

I cannot apologise enough for not doing more to name and shame the idiots who have led us to this situation over many, many years. I’ve been reluctant to act because I get tired of well-known people attaching their well-known names to every cause going. It weakens their protesting and diminishes their support when they’re ‘everywhere, man’. People stop noticing that the famous people care. They dismiss them as boring and just doing it for the publicity. Which is why I have kept my focus on literacy, literacy, literacy. However, I would like you to know that literacy is only my focus, not my sole interest and passion. As the grandmother of an eleven year old boy, I’m suffering the greatest anguish over the horror of climate change. For example, in my own state of South Australia, we had devastating winds and rain last week that wiped out entire fruit crops.  But the possibility of real food shortages in this nation never dents the confidence or arrogance of our current coal-loving federal leaders. Oh, I’m wild with anger, no doubt about it. Thank God we live in a country divided into states, most of whom are making a genuine effort to reduce carbon and save the planet.

SORRY! SORRY! SORRY! Once I start ranting it’s difficult to stop, but it’s so negative it leaves a bad feeling, so let me flip into the positive immediately…

My latest book, CAT DOG, illustrated by that genius, Mark Teague, is now on the shelves of bookshops in Australia and the USA. I’m so happy. It’s magical to have a new book out when everyone who sees me thinks ‘old.’ Quite rightly, by the way. I’m not pretending to be 35, although I hope I look like more like a 74 year old. 75 is a step too far… Anyway, here’s my favourite review of it, from the prestigious Publishers Weekly in the USA, a starred review no less. Whoo hoo!

A game of cat, dog, and mouse proves itself a meta tale in the works in this wry and original picture book. “So there was a scary dog, right?” begins Fox. …the text appears on the recto as an orange tabby peers over a sofa, where a beefy white dog sits snarling in a studded collar. A page turn later, a more decisive voice emerges on the verso— “No!”—resulting in a change of direction: now a gentler, surprised-looking hound benignly eyes its back foot. As the animals engage in a classic pet-versus-mouse encounter, an assurance-seeking storytelling phrase is on one page (‘And the dog leapt off the couch, right?”) is followed by an affirming or refuting rejoinder on the next(“No!’)— and an attendant visual turn-about ( the hound leaping is now shown snoozing on its back). Teague… contributes substantial, painterly acrylics that vary acrobatically from scene o=to scene until the two voices take a collaborative turn. …it’s a giddy, cleverly imagined rhetorical dance that promised to leave audiences’ heads spinning.

And another whoo hoo: WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP? has been published, finally, in Britain. Not sure what took them so long to decide that it was an OK book (17 years) but I’m very pleased, needless to say. It looks like this:

In Australia, WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP? slips into many unexpected corners of our lives, and schools, and parks. Below is a photo of one of the pages of the book displayed and sort of ‘hidden’ along a nature trail. Such a fabulous idea! I’d like to do it in and around my own suburb, but the parking is already terrible on hot beach days, so I’ll leave it to the cooler parks of East Bentleigh, in Victoria, one of our neighbouring states.

 

And yet another whoo hoo, if you can stand it. About six weeks ago, (ie in mid-September) PenguinRH in Australia accepted a new manuscript of mine, thus ensuring that I’ll still be on the map when I’m even older than I am today. I was so thrilled I had tears in my eyes when I read the news. I have never kicked a goal in my life, but I felt as if I had.   I asked that Judy Horacek be the illustrator as she’s talented enough and crazy enough and enough of a genius to produce the necessary the wild pictures. I’ll say no more till it’s published next year. I’d hate you to get bored with it before you’ve even caught sight of it, or read it to a child or a class, or to a mesmerised (I hope) gathering in the library.

Now back to one of my other passions, besides literacy, climate change, and political change: showing mercy to refugees. In the last weeks of August, the government of Afghanistan changed drastically. You may recall the frantic efforts of many Afghans to flee on foot or by plane. It was shattering and broke my heart.  My city of Adelaide accepted several plane loads of these desperate, traumatised people, most of whom arrived with a single bag that held all their worldly possessions. I’m thrilled to report that the outpouring of help from the Adelaide community showed that Australians do have a heart and are compassionate, no matter how cruel an example is set by our government.

On the morning after the first plane of Afghans arrived, I decided that I had to donate books to the children, as a form of comfort, as a message of caring, as an introduction to their new country at a time of woe. Barely had I got out of bed before a message came, via my agent, from Nicole Erfurth, a member of the public who was similarly touched by the plight of the refugees, asking if I would perhaps donate a few books, as she was gathering gifts to welcome them. By 11 o’clock that morning I had signed a box of books, of  various titles, with a handwritten welcome message in each one, and I arrived at Nicole’s work-place to deliver them to her, for her to deliver to the refugees, who were in a quarantine hotel. We were wildly excited to have had the same idea at the same time and to have worked so fast. Thanks to Nicole, this gesture went public to such an extent (viral, actually) that she was interviewed on ABC radio, after which many more people donated many more items. She, Nicole, was a shining light of efficiency and generosity. I cannot thank her enough. (I love the accidental message on the box below, which is the logo of Scholastic. Very fitting.) I was wearing gloves because it was freezing—well, freezing by Adelaide standards.

This, below, is the staff at Nicole’s work: the doctors and nurses and office staff at the Glow Girls women’s health centre in Adelaide. Nicole is of normal height, by the way. She was bobbing down so the person behind her could be seen. I’m the red shoe show-off on the right. And gasp! We all took off our masks for a moment.

I love the clothes I love. The sweater in this photo, below, is so old it has appeared at various times in various previous posts. And the shoes? Comfy, more than stylish. The photo was taken outside my favourite independent bookshop: Imprints in Rundle Street, Adelaide, on Love Your Book Shop Day, September 2021. And yes, that is my mask-against-Covid peeking out of my handbag. It was only off my face for  a second, for the photo, I promise. Thanks to the sensible use of masks, vaccines, hand-washing, social distancing and QR codes, our state and everyone in it has lived a normal life in this horror Covid year. My grandson’s final year in primary school has been blessedly happy and uninterrupted, an astonishing fact given what’s happened with Covid in Sydney and Melbourne, poor souls. Our state borders have been closed to the world but are being opened at the end of November. Frankly, I’m fearing it. I will have to become a hermit to stay alive.

Presuming my family and I go on living, I hope to ‘see’ you next time. All the best!

Mem xxx