December 3, 2018

Year’s End At Last!

Hello again, weary end-of-year people!

Like any teacher, which I once was, or perhaps any worker, I succumb to illness as soon as I stop work for the year. (Remember, those in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re just beginning our summer here.) My very naughty lungs seek out the first available virus and once they’ve found it they crash to a wheezing halt. I’m normally a daily achiever-at-speed. I don’t take kindly to being prevented from speeding. So I’m recovering slowly, and with bad grace, I’m afraid.

But there are cheering signs in my world, on many levels. Politics in this country, in which I take an addictive interest, is tilting away from extremist positions and moving to what’s becoming known as the ‘sensible centre’. The population has decided to reject the ideas of fear and division, and revert to being our more typical, lovelier selves, once again. Thank heaven! We’re refusing to be led into the temptation of hatred and general nastiness. Election results all over the Australia are delivering an emphatic NO! to those who wish to trash the place with racist ideas and vile policies. I’m excited. And so proud of us.

Just today I was on a tram coming home from town. Five big lads crowded on to the tram. They took up a lot of physical and social space, and made a lot of loud, happy, lad-type noise.  Too much of it, really but what the heck.  Their language wouldn’t have found its way into a children’s book, let’s say. They were at ease. At home. A well-dressed woman in her late middle-age was laughing and joking with them in a pleasant, inclusive, trusting and warm manner. They all laughed. They all got along. She got off eventually and an elderly man got on, and one of the boys stood up to give him his seat, but the old guy said: ‘Nah, mate, thanks. I’m off in a coupla stops. Don’t want to make an idiot of meself.’ The point of my story is that the boys were African Australians. In other words, they were Australian lads and no one on the tram treated them any differently for the fact of their colour. It’s these vignettes of Australian life that make me so proud to be a citizen of this country. That was today. A few weeks ago…

I choked up on the Welcome to Australia ‘Walk Together’ march in Adelaide on October 20th. The coming together of people from so many races, walking together in harmony, down sunny street King William  St., with drumming-on-drums behind us to keep us happy, was uplifting. I loved putting my feet on the ground to keep in step, as it were, with the words that come out of my mouth and my books. It was a privilege to be there. People watching on the pavements took lots of photos and also smiled a lot, and I thought: This country’s OK. Its heart’s in the right place. We just need to get its head in the right place as well. (Hello to all politicians in Canberra.)

Fida Hussain from the Welcome to Australia organisation. And me.

Girls from a school in Victor Harbor. They said I could post this on my website, but I forgot to get their names, in the excitement. It had been their choice to focus on asylum seekers as a school project.

If you recognise yourselves, write to me at Box 747, Brighton, SA 5048.

Fatima Ahmadi, originally from Afghanistan, whose English is excellent, after only 18 months in Australia. Brava!

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The 35th year of Possum Magic is coming to a close.  Thanks again, Ms Julie-Genius Vivas, illustrator divine, for putting you and me so firmly on the map of the Australian mind. I’ll treasure forever this year’s boxed 35th edition of the book, and look forward to the 50th. Hah. I’ll be 87 by then. (Must keep up those fitness classes, though the lungs might let me down.) Every time I think my life is kind of over due to my age, which I cannot ignore, something else happens to kick it along. Next year—big reveal, there’s to be a nationwide tour of the brand new Possum Magic theatre piece, devised, written and performed by the highly regarded Monkey Baa Theatre Company. I love their work. Here’s a taste of what’s to come:<https://www.monkeybaa.com.au/possum-magic-creative-discovery/> Such a thrill!

Also a Big Announcement on Jan 17th, which I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but which will be one of the most awesome things to have happened in my life thus far—and that’s far, let’s face it. It begins a big year of reprints and marketing of four of my Penguin Random House backlist: Tough Boris, Yoo Hoo Ladybird!, Koala Lou, and A Particular Cow. And very special attention will be paid to Where is the Green Sheep?, which was Australia’s best-selling children’s  picture book last year, across all formats, with over 67,000 copies sold. This was in its 11th/12th year of publication, so it’s hardly a new book. To put that into publishing context, the average lifetime sales for Australian picture books is (are?) 5,000-7,000 copies. So you can imagine how much I love that Green Sheep! Thanks again, Ms Judy-Genius Horacek, for those immediately recognisable, utterly simple, iconic pictures.

Towards the end of 2019, as I’ve flagged before, two new books will be appearing: Roly Poly (illustrated by Jane Dyer) in the USA, and in Australia also, a few months later; and The Tiny Star (illustrated by Freya Blackwood) in Australia, followed—I’m hoping and expecting—by publication in America in 2020. They are very different books, but each is heart- tugging. And I hope Roly Poly is also heart-stopping. One particularly beautiful aspect of Roly Poly for me is that it brings together an editor, writer and illustrator who produced a book together at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 26 years ago: Time for Bed, which was on the New York Times bestselling seller lists for over a year and has gone on to sell 3,000,000 copies. We haven’t done a book together since, so this is a huge moment. Our editor is the wonderful Allyn Johnston, who was a mere girl 26 years ago. I’ve turned her grey since then.

In the paragraph above, I’ve put the names of the illustrators in brackets for ease of understanding, but placing them like that makes them look like an afterthought. Illustrators are never an afterthought. The planning and thinking of editors keeps us both in mind the whole time in order to make a whole, perfect book. We are each as important as the other, and rely upon each other for our continuing existence in the book world. Freya was my heart’s desire for The Tiny Star. I was over the mooooon when she accepted.

Talking of sensational illustrators, Judy Horacek and I had an enchanting time promoting our new book Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again, at packed out sessions in Sydney and Melbourne last month. You can just make us out, far way in the middle of the picture.

The only problem with writing for very young children is that very young children get tired and hungry and need to get home faster than the signing queue (line) will move, so the noise is terrific. Not the children’s fault!  I take my hat off to the devoted parents who rock up to our sessions, fighting traffic, lugging prams, feeding babies and hanging around with heavy bags to have a chat and a photo, and to get books signed. It’s a true labour of love.  I knew you wouldn’t believe this, which is why I asked for a photo, but this little person in our audience was only 6 days old. Talk about devoted parents!

There are always television and radio interviews on a book tour, and the days start early and go on forever. At home I usually go to bed late, but at the end of the tour days I was propped up in bed by 8 pm watching mindless television! It’s exhausting for anyone, but when you’re fitting your work-life in between your life as a homebody-grandmother, you’re old enough to feel dead by the end of it. But kudos to Scholastic and Sarah Hatton, our publicist, for giving us the tour. It’s a gift and a privilege to be allowed to be out and about telling people about our latest book.

I had a frightening experience on the Channel Nine Today Show, in spite of a wonderful interview with Georgie. Usually the make-up artists take off all the make-up I’ve put on and put their own professional make-up on me, very cleverly making me look about  five years younger than I am. So on that particular morning, because I was leaving the hotel at 7am, I decided bravely not to bother much with my face, because I ‘knew’ it would be done divinely at the studio.. (You have to know that I barely see my own self without make-up. let alone leave the house without being fully made-up every day.) Guess what happened?  The make-up artist must have thought that the look I came in with was my usual look. Oh, good GRIEF! The hoped for transformation did not occur. How frightful. I was on air for seven long, almost make-up-less minutes. Can you believe it? I was exhausted, which is par for the course on a book tour, but I can hide that, normally. Without make-up I looked like a corpse that morning.

A much gentler and more lovely time (make-up-wise, I’m talking about) was had at bookshops (see below), and Kinderling Radio (see below), and Booktopia, (see below), where we signed hundreds of books in a very fast, factory-like session.

If you look carefully, which I hope you don’t, you might notice I’m wearing the same sweater in this photo as I wore to the Welcome to Australia march.

(I’m not really a clothes type of person.You should see me right now…) The bookshop is cheerful The Younger Sun Bookshop in Yarraville.

 

At Kinderling Radio Station, with Judy on the left, Shevonne Hunt in the middle, and me on the right. Loved that ‘event.’

At Booktopia: The table went for miles and there were piles and piles and piles of books. We signed them all, standing and sitting.

So that’s the recent past. The immediate future (Jan 2nd, 2019) heralds my/our 50th wedding anniversary. Brilliant! Not sure how the 50th happened as I’m only 35 myself, and my beloved other half is only 36. No? 72 and 73? Really?? Our gorgeous daughter will be 48 next year, and our cuter-than-cute grandson 9. Time insists on marching on.

And I must do the same, till late January, after the excitement has begun. Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Loads of love,

Mem Fox xxx