About Me

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Hi, welcome to my blog. I'm a writer of poetry, prose and plays but my best known work is children's fiction. My most popular books are the Selby series and the Emily Eyefinger series. This blog is intended as an entertaining collection of thoughts and pictures from here in Australia and from my travels in other parts of the world. I hope you enjoy it. (For more information have a look at my website.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Parrot

 In the story "Selby's Christmas Parrot" in the book Selby Santa (No. 15 in the Selby series), Selby discovers a male Christmas Parrot, one of the rarest birds in the world, in Bogusville Reserve. It is so rare that only one other is known to exist, a female in the National Zoo. The Christmas Parrot is red and green and has a silver crest on its head like the star on a Christmas tree. I won't ruin the story by telling you what happens but I wanted to say that if ever there was a candidate for a real Christmas Parrot the Australian King Parrot would do nicely (but for the lack of a silver crest).

 King Parrots aren't rare here on the east coast of Australia and a few of them visited us recently in a house where we were staying in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. 

Still on the subject of Australian parrots, our local florist has a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets that range freely around his shop. The other day I photographed Rocky who was nibbling his way though all the herbs unable to settle on the one he liked best. Or maybe he just liked them all.

Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings to all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Crabby Christmas

For a bit of Christmas tackiness I didn't have to go further than Darling Harbour in Sydney, which is on one of my usual walking routes. I have to admire the  inventiveness of the Darling Harbour decorators.

My favourite was Crabby Santa at the Sydney Aquarium.

Followed by Clinging-On-For-Dear-Life Santa. (Making do in the absence of a chimney.)

And then Luminary Santa.

He Knows-When-Your-Are-Sleeping-and-He-Knows-When-You're-Awake Surveillance Santa.

Submarine Santa.

Merry Ferry Christmas Santa.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard

Okay, so it wasn't a brilliant idea. My thought was to record a particular poem from my book of funny poetry, My Sister Has a Big Black Beard, in various locations around the world. Then I'd choose the best clip to put on my website. Or I'd do a mash-up of all of them. But I never worked out how to do a mash-up and I couldn't choose the best clip because there were so many things wrong with all of them.

I think you'll see what I mean. (Please be kind with your comments. I'm only a beginner.)

The first was recorded on an island on the coast of Maine in the USA on a cool and blustery day:

And this one in the home of friends in Madrid, Spain:

This is in front of Les Invalids in Paris:

Here I am in front of the British Museum:

And on the River Thurne on the Norfolk Broads in England (I know, I should have stood still.):

At Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris:

In the Picos de Europa, Asturias, Northern Spain. (Another beautiful location.):

Next time I'll take a cinematographer and sound recordist and ask George Clooney to do the reading.

Note: The poem, as it appears in the book, is actually called "My GM Family" (As in Genetically Modified). I wish I'd called it "My Sister Has a Big Black Beard" after the first line. Too late now.

The book is beautifully illustrated by the multi-talented, award-winning, cartoonist, painter, veterinarian and singer Kerry Millard.

The book is always better than the film.

Another note: sorry if those of you who subscribe couldn't see the photos on the emails sent to you. I don't know why that happened or how to fix it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Premiers' Reading Challenges

Last Monday I was a guest at the end of year reception for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The NSW premier, Barry O'Farrell, spoke about the program and the importance of getting kids reading.

Every state in Australia now has a premier's reading challenge. They are non-competitive programs aimed at encouraging kids to read. The programs are as follows: Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales.

They have been a huge success and, needless to say, children's book authors love them.

First prize for the most passionate and funny speech went to the author Deborah Abela, Patron of the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. (I just made up that prize but, as always, she gave a great speech.)

And there were lots of kids from around the state. Some of them had been up since four o'clock in order to get to the reception. Kids who didn't have to get up early were some from nearby Ultimo Primary School, pictured here with Deborah Abela and myself.

Some good news relating to my previous blog: my fellow travellor, Richard Tulloch, informs me that the City of Paris has now removed the lipstick---along with Selby's signature and paw print---from Oscar Wilde's tomb. They have also placed a protective glass barrier around the monument to keep it from being kissed again any time soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unhappily Ever After

Poor Oscar Wilde. He wrote some very clever plays, stories, lots of poetry and one novel but died very poor tragically young. Among his writings was a short collection of fairy tales in which the main characters---as someone commented---lived "unhappily ever after". I guess that could have been said of Oscar as well. The best-known of these tales are The Happy Prince and, my favourite, The Selfish Giant. Resist it as I try, this one always leaves me dewy-eyed at the end.

Oscar Wilde is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, apparently the most-visited cemetery in the world. Years ago when I was a university student in Paris I spent many pleasurable hours wandering the streets of this huge cemetery discovering the tombs of famous artists, statesmen, scientists, military leaders, nobility and just plain rich people. Because so many of the tombs are above ground it's like being in a city of the dead---creepy but beautiful and filled with wonderful sculpture. Another attraction back then is that it didn't cost anything to get in. Well, not if you were alive. And it's still free today.

Recently I was in Paris again and visited some of my old (excuse me) haunts in Pere Lachaise. One of those is Oscar's tomb. This great stone monument with an angel on it (I think it's an angel) is the work of the sculptor, Jacob Epstein. Sadly, since my first visits, the tomb has been loved to death. At first it was lipstick kisses and then other graffiti followed. Now it's covered in messages from admirers. Maybe Oscar would approve but I believe the City of Paris is about to clean it up and restore it to the original. I'm not sure how they intend to keep it from being graffitied again.

Frederic Chopin's fans are much more respectful of his memory. No lipstick kisses here, just fresh flowers.

Even past rocker Jim Morrison is shown more respect from devotees of The Doors.

Who is this? Possibly a writer because he's holding a book. It shouldn't be long before he's joined by a writer holding an e-reader.

Sleeping on a bed that's too small for you can be fatal.

This monument "To Death" is one of the most haunting in the cemetery. Upstairs are a couple heading for the underworld and staring into the void ahead. Behind them are people soon to follow and none too happy about it. I'm not sure what's going on downstairs but the one lying on the ground doesn't look well.

So put Pere Lachaise on your list of places to visit if ever you're in Paris.

By the way, if you noticed a "Selby" graffito on Oscar's tomb, neither Selby nor his millions of fans around the world put it there---I did. Well, I didn't actually write it on Oscar Wilde's tomb but I couldn't resist adding it electronically to the photo. I guess this makes me a would-be graffitologisto.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lunch at Sheila's

Five women and one strange-looking child sat silently at lunch. None was moving except Sheila Myers, ceramic artist and the creator of these arresting figures. She dashed around making last-minute adjustments to her "friends" before the opening of the her joint show that evening with fellow ceramicist, Barbara Mason.

Sheila explained that the women were modelled on friends and herself. That's her seated in front of her real self and pouring from a blue bottle.

The place was the Inner City Clayworkers Gallery, a ceramic artists' cooperative. My wife and I often stop in especially to see the annual teapot exhibition. (It's amazing what some people use to make their tea.) We'd never met Sheila and were surprised to learn that three ceramic cicadas we'd bought from the gallery were also her creations.

Impressive as the women at lunch were it was the lunch itself---all ceramic---that got is in. It was so realistic that we could smell it. Bread, cheese, noodles, and some very realistic lettuce leaves.

It wasn't long before we hurried home to a somewhat less crunchy lunch and tea straight from the teabag.

Our cicadas.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

KOALA is 25!

This year the Kids Own Australian Literature Awards (KOALA) had its twenty-fifth birthday at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in the western suburbs of Sydney. But it was not just a birthday party but the annual awarding of the New South Wales' children's choice awards.

It's the first time KOALA had its awards day at the venue but, hopefully, not the last. There's a big stage and seating for over 300 kids. As usual the KOALA Committee did all the work and we authors and illustrators swanned in, were made a fuss of and had a good time. Full marks to the KOALA people, especially Val Noake and Antonina Fieni (both of them past presidents of KOALA) as well as the present president, Kris Fegent for all their hard work.

The schools attending made outlandish hats this year for the authors and illustrators. My own (the best of the lot) was made by the marvellous milliners and mad hatters of Bringelly Public School. The Queen would be jealous.

In the spotlight were (from L to R): Bob Graham, me, Belinda Murrell, Pat Flynn, Deborah Abela, Oliver Phommavanh, Andy Griffiths, Lisa Shanahan, Catherine Jinks, Robyn Bavati, Richard Tulloch, Kim Gamble & Anna Fienberg. To see who won the prizes have a look at KOALA 2011 AWARDS.

Here with me is the immediate past president of KOALA and teacher librarian extraordinaire, Antonina Fieni, and her band of admirers.

We all had our own personal assistants for the day. Mine was the very companionable Katelinh. Many thanks, Katelinh, for your excellent guidance!

A small confession: The authors and illustrators were all asked to speak about the best or worse birthday present we'd ever received. I couldn't think of anything so I told the story about how I'd met my wife on a bus and paid her fare when she didn't have the right change thereby getting to talk to her etc. Now I have to admit that some of this story was a bit exaggerated. Factually inaccurate, would be another way of putting it. Actually, it was more false than true. Okay so the whole thing was made up. Well I am a storyteller, after all. (Now I don't feel so guilty.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Very Different Spain

Think of Spain and you think of bullfights and flamenco music but you won't find either of these in the north. A few weeks ago my wife and I were in the beautiful town (they call it a city) of Cangas de Onis in the province of Asturias on the north coast of Spain. There's a heavy celtic influence here where bagpipes are a traditional musical instrument and cider is the local drink. It's mountainous, cool and very rainy not unlike other celtic places: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.
I spent a (cold, wet, rainy) summer in Asturias as a boy, swimming in the almost-unswimmably cold waters of the Bay of Biscay. And I often wore wooden clogs when I left the house because of the deep mud in the streets. The roads in villages are paved now and farmers wear wellies when they work in their fields but you can still buy clogs at the markets. I wonder if anyone still uses them.

My wife and I just happened to be in Cangas de Onis on the day of the annual Feria de Quesos---the Cheese Festival. This area is known for its wonderful cheeses, especially Cabrales blue cheese. In a big tent in the centre of town a panel of big cheeses were awarding prizes to the best cheeses while we made our way around sampling so many little bits that, by the time we left, we were too full to even think about eating lunch.
It's a pity we couldn't have brought a round or two back to Australia with us but of course quarantine rules forbid it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Selby Sprung

My latest book, Selby Sprung, is now in the shops!

This is the sixteenth collection of Selby's adventures - and possibly the last.
The Selby saga began when I got a phonecall from Selby. He said that he was a dog but that he'd learned how to talk "people talk". He was keeping it a secret from his owners, the Trifles, and from everyone else. But he wanted me to write about his adventures. Of course I leapt at the chance. The first Selby book, Selby's Secret, was published in 1985.

It's been great working on Selby's books so it'll be hard to give it up. The decision to stop wasn't entirely mine. Earlier this year Selby rang to tell me about his latest adventures and I wrote them down as usual. Then he said, "I want you to call this book Selby Sprung." "Why," I asked. "Did someone find out your secret?" "Nothing's happened yet," he said, "but it will. I have a feeling that something terrible is going to happen to me and my secret will get out."

Months later the last Selby story appeared on my doorstep. It was written by Selby himself in his own paw-writing. It's the very last story in the book. I'd better not say any more or I'll ruin it for you.

Anyway, since my last blog post I've been travelling in the USA, the U.K., France and Spain. I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't have time to write any blogs. There was also the problem of finding WiFi (pronounced "wee-fee" in France and Spain) to get online. Now that I'm back to a humdrum writer's life and will have nothing to write about except my trips to the shops so I'm going to cobble together some travel stories from the past two months and post them along with some of the many photos I took. So watch this space.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Maine wildlife

This island in Maine is teeming with wildlife and I've been tiptoeing around, camera in hand, trying to get photos. Many of the animals, such as the skunks and raccoons that get into our garbage, are nocturnal. Some, like the deer, are around in daytime but shy of tiptoeing nature photographers. Whether nocturnal, diurnal or crepuscular, I haven't had much success in capturing the local wildlife.

I did manage to get a Monarch Butterfly to pose and also a very patient Great Blue Heron.

And a Gray Squirrel stayed still long enough to allow me to get a snapshot.

A (harmess) little Garter Snake seemed unconcerned.

My breakthrough came on a visit to the famous hiking, camping and clothing store, L L Bean, where there were bears, moose, deer, skunks, badgers, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, fisher cats (all stuffed) and tanks filled with (live) fish. L L Bean is not only famous for its wonderful merchandise but for the fact that it's open for business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and, 365 days a year---that is, all the time. Very convenient for insomniac shoppers and wildlife photographers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Real Selby in Maine

A walk around the island where I'm staying in Maine in the USA. With me is the real Selby, my sister's dog. Whether he can talk like the Australian Selby we don't know but we've been telling him jokes to try to get him to laugh---or even smile.

Selby took an interest in a chipmunk but the chipmunk quickly disappeared under a rock. Selby just wanted to play but there was no convincing the chipmunk of this.

The local herring gulls are bigger than the seagulls we see in Sydney. Here's a young one before its feathers changed to the usual blue grey an white of the adults.

Four wild turkeys crossed the road in front of us and I followed them into someone's back yard. Unfortunately they were too shy for me to get close to them but I did manage to get some photos before they went off into the woods.

One of the local stores has more than just clothing and fishing tackle.

Back at the cottage my great niece poses with part of the evening's meal. (Those are rubber bands holding its claws closed.)