We’ve been back over a week now from our little holiday down south, combined with a trip to Canberra for the Children’s Book Council of Australia conference. I’ve been struggling to find the time, energy or the words to put the whole experience together.

It was so GREAT. Yet so exhausting. Of course, the ‘holiday’ landed smack bang in the middle of an enormous contract I am doing for work, so either side, I have been hammering out 5,000-8,000 words a day to stay on top of it all. It’s possible, but everything else falls by the wayside. Including my mood. And the housework. Thank goodness for House Husband, seriously.

The conference itself was so fabulous. I walked into the reception soiree of my first ever conference, nervous as hell. No matter how confident or social you appear, it’s basic human nature to feel terrified walking into a room of people you’ve never met.

Anyway, I got talking to a librarian from Noosa right away, and within minutes was approached by the wonderful Natasha from Hardie Grant, who was so so great to connect with in person. Then I met the rest of the Hardie Grant team, and my publisher Margrete Lamond from Little Hare. I felt pretty special being connected with these people, and being able to talk about my book for real. Maybe I can stop pinching myself now.

The conference inspired me, and opened my mind to the children’s book industry. One of my favourite panels was “Visual Treasures” where three picture book collaborations talked about the process of making a picture book.

The lovely Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson nutted out the process of creating Amy & Louis and other books together, including Banjo & Ruby Red  (Little Hare), which has been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards 2014 for Early Childhood. It made me aware how intricate and delicate the process of creating a picture book really is. It can take years, and so much thought, passion, and trust.

Banjo & Ruby Red

Detail from Banjo & Ruby Red

Sometimes, there’s little conversation between the author and the illustrator. In fact, a good working relationship thrives on trust and respect. Libby told us that once the story is written, she hands it over to the illustrator, and waits for the outcome. As she tells her creative writing students:

Let the other person who is the visual artist do what they do, and wait to be amazed.

Listening to Freya and the other illustrators, Julie Vivas and Stephen Michael King, I realised what an event it is illustrating a story book. It may not come naturally, and the story itself may provide little direction. It is up to the artist to take the story in a whole new direction, breathe new life into it, and make it soar.

All books are a struggle for me.

said Kate Greenaway Medal winner, Freya Blackwood.

Even for her.

One of the other highlights of the conference (apart from the visit to Jackie French’s property of course), was hearing the publishers talk about publishing literary treasures.

I want to talk about this more in another post, on another day, but basically, they discussed the importance of publishing good books for children – and not just any old thing.

In an era when more books for children are published than ever before, Erica Wagner, from Allen & Unwin said:

…publishing will survive and thrive only if we publish what children are interested in. But we also need to interest parents as we need parents to keep reading to children.

With the words of the publishers, of the illustrators and authors, including Andy Griffiths and Jackie French ringing in my heart, I felt so passionate about the importance of making and reading good books for children.

I was a little puppy-dog hopelessly savouring every morsel of information and insight. I am so new – not even yet part of this story – but it was hellishly exciting to dip my toe into the magical world of children’s literature.

After the conference we had a brief holiday, so I could spend a couple of down days with the family. It was perfect, and as relaxing as travelling around the countryside with two small people can be.

My feet haven’t touched the ground since we’ve been back. I’ve been working madly, and my littlest has been sick and sad, so that’s not been fun at all. Writing this, collecting my thoughts about the whole thing, I reckon I’ve almost landed. Just give me the weekend.

How’s your week been?

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Visiting Jackie French

I wasn’t your usual teenager. While my peers were reading Dolly and the more adventurous, Cosmopolitan, I was reading The Australian Women’s Weekly. I loved learning about grown-up lives, and imagining the life I would have one day, when I transcended the gloomy adolescent years.

One of the most memorable stories I read was about a woman who moved to a property outside of Canberra in her early twenties, built her own house and developed a natural reserve that not only protected local wildlife, but grew an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

That was inspirational enough, but as I read on, I learned that this woman started sending away stories, and soon became a professional writer. She wrote children’s books, books for young adults, non-fiction historical books, gardening books, gardening columns and more. My teenage self imagined how this woman managed to fit everything in. How can you be a mother, gardening expert, an author, a farmer and nature conservationist?

Last week, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together when I met Jackie French in real life.

Jackie French is literally a household name. I challenge any of you to think of an Australian who doesn’t know who she is. If you garden, you’ll know her. If you like wombats, you’ll know her. If you have children, you’ll certainly know her, or at least would have been read her books when you were a child.

Jackie is the 2014-2015 Australian Children’s Laureate. This means for two years, Jackie will tour nationally and internationally promoting and advocating children’s literature in schools and libraries. She’s the perfect choice, because Jackie is the best-selling author of over 140 books including Diary of A Wombat and Hitler’s Daughter. She is warm and passionate, and is an incredible speaker. Her address at this years Children’s Book Council of Australia National Conference made me laugh and literally moved me to tears.

Her career is impressive, but her personal story and lifestyle is truly inspirational.

Jackie bought a property in Araluen, south of Braidwood, NSW in her early 20s. She had studied agriculture in Brisbane, and headed south looking for property. She had a immediate affinity with Araluen, which was incredible because unaware to Jackie at the time, both sides of her family over a number of generations came from this tiny (yet impressive) valley.

JackieFrench_araluenvalley The property was overgrown with blackberry bush, and with a machete and few other tools, Jackie and her then husband began clearing to make room for a shed, which doubled as a dwelling. Jackie had a son, at which time her marriage ended. Child on back, Jackie continued to develop the land, removing weeds and introduced pests, and planting fruit trees.

Jackie French

Jackie French

Jackie French Jackie was a single mother with a property. She had no money to speak of, and a car to register. A friend suggested she send away her writing. Within three weeks, she had a book contract for what was described by the editor at HarperCollins as the messiest, worst spelt manuscript they’d ever received. She also secured a weekly column with the Canberra Times and in a farmer’s magazine.

Jackie French Last Monday, Jackie welcomed a bunch of CBCA conference delegates to her property. She showed us many of the hundreds of fruit species she grows. She talked about permaculture, and how specific plants had been planted for birds, so other fruit would be left for humans.

Jackie French She introduced us to Noam Chomsky, the herald of the garden, who observes the conversations and interactions of the local wildlife.

Noam Chompsky

Jackie French

JackieFrench07 She talked about her wombats, and other inspirations for her books.



JackieFrench10 She showed us the wombat hole under her house, and told us about the resident wombats who regularly visit. Occasionally, they wander into the house and make themselves comfortable.




JackieFrench14 She invited us to pick fruit from the trees. (These tamarillos were incredible.)




tree dahlias

tree dahlias

JackieFrench19 As she talked, Jackie’s knowledge of and respect for the land grew apparent. Her property is self-sufficient, yes, but it also encourages and invites wildlife to flourish. She has vast knowledge of the property’s indigenous history. She knows and respects the stories of the land. She knows its secrets.



JackieFrench22 Behind almost all great women is a supportive and loving partner. We met Bryan, Jackie’s husband. Bryan is an engineer, who built this waterwheel, which pumps water and makes energy for the property. Between the waterwheel and the impressive solar-power heating system, the house is 100% carbon neutral. Jackie bought one of the first solar panels sold in Australia, and has expanded her collection over the years.


JackieFrench25 We wandered around her garden and her property, grateful for the opportunity to see this beautiful, peaceful and rich life. Every delegate I spoke to shone with admiration for Jackie and everything she had done here. We felt privileged.

Jackie’s warmth and generosity was exemplified by the lunch she made for the thirty or more guests.


JackieFrench29 As we were walking back to the mini bus, Tom, our driver remarked that the visit had been “life-changing”. I thought about what he said, and Jackie’s own words rung in my mind.

Don’t ask children what they want to do when they grow up. Ask children how they would like to live their life. That’s the important question.

Although I don’t know how I could possibly fit more into my already busy life, I would like to live my life exactly like Jackie. She inspired me when I was thirteen, but I completely fell in love with her when I met her in person, and visited her home. I know who I’ll be nominating for Australian of the Year.

For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

The Adventures of Danny the Pinguin

Danny the Pinguin

This is a very very special addition to my blog.

Late last year, my dad and my brother travelled to Antarctica, as my dad was working on the boat as a doctor. For whatever reason, Dad thought this would be the right time to pen his first ever children’s book. It’s wacky, quirky and a little bit insane. And hilarious. Especially the photographs, thanks to my brother Dylan, known affectionately in the book as Dunkle (Uncle Dylan).

The book was written for Elka, but any child will get joy out of the silly tale, and the funny images. If you would like to buy a copy, they are $10, and I will have it posted to you…please enjoy. Elka certainly did. Thanks Poppa Richie (aka Dr Richard Arnot, surgeon come children’s book author).

The Adventures of Danny the Pinguin…a silly tale of a pinguin who made it to the South Pole, eventually.