Sunday, May 29, 2011

Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers

With some books you just have to stay there for the long haul and this is certainly true for Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers. Up until Chapter 19 this book was easy to read but not exactly compulsive then I reached Chapter 19 and suddenly things got very interesting and I just needed to read and read as I raced to the end.

Henry Hoey Hobson has a complicated life. He only has his mum and they move around so often Henry is wary of making friends. This situation is exacerbated with his latest move when he finds he is the only boy in Year 7. To make matters worse his new neighbours seem to be a bunch of vampires complete with a coffin and the school “A” girl Angelica is a witness to all the strange comings and goings and she is not shy about advertising this to the other girls in Year 7 and boys in Year 6.

The swimming carnival is on soon. Swimming is the one skill Henry excels in. His swimmers are very old : “my old speedos were on their last legs; saggy, baggy and tissue-thin daggy.” I was so worried for Henry that on the day of the big carnival he would have a disaster with these swimmers, however, luck is on his side and Henry does score fabulous new swimmers in a most unexpected way. He also scores a better sense of his own identity and the promise of a better future!

There are some lovely parts in this story such as the description of the School Principal, the school secretary hiding behind her modesty panel possibly watching day time television and Hero a true friend to Henry. But more importantly the desperate characters make this story shine. People who do not, according to the author, fit into the jigsaw of their own families so they have had to make a jigsaw of their own. As Henry thinks just before his big race : “Something powered through me like a current. Charging every nerve in my body. The missing pieces of my jigsaw puzzle finally coming together to form a complete picture. Not like the one on every one else’s box. But one that suited me.”

This book will be enjoyed by middle primary students and it is short listed for the CBCA Award where I do think it will receive an honor award. I still want The Red Wind to be the winner but Henry Hoey Hobson is a worthy rival. There are teaching notes too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Starkin Crown by Kate Forsyth

My blog is becoming famous. For the first time ever an author has approached me to read her latest book and then do an interview and she even sent me a copy of her book!! (Well actually this is the second time - Belinda Murrell who is Kate's sister actually asked me first you can see my Q&A for The Ivory Rose).

I absolutely loved The Starkin Crown and if you are an avid fantasy reader you will love it too. Boys this is a book for you too - I did not like the cover - but don't let that stop you grabbing hold of this powerful story of ... as it says on the cover it is a book of ambush, betrayal and murder!

Here is my interview with Kate Forsyth :

1. Do you like the cover? I am guessing that you do but I think it is so limiting. For me the audience for this book is upper Primary boys. This cover probably will not appeal to them. Was it hard to decide to put such a gender specific cover or do you think boys will pick your book up just as readily as girls?

I do indeed love the cover! However, I agree that girls may be more likely to pick it up than boys. It's difficult to design a cover that appeals to both genders, and we wanted something very eye-catching and dramatic. I certainly think the cover is both. And I have already had some fan mail from boy readers which seems to indicate they're reading the book and loving it. I have always had both male and female readers, and I think that readers of fantasy are more open to reading across gender barriers.

2. I confess I have not read the earlier two books. This made no difference to my enjoyment. Was this a deliberate plan? I must say the market does seem to be flooded with trilogies and quartets at the moment so it was refreshing to read a book with the complete story.

Thank you! Yes, this was absolutely a deliberate decision. I wanted each book to be able to be read and enjoyed on its own merits; to have a complete narrative arc. I have written books in series before, but I confess I love to read a book that you finish with a deep sigh of satisfaction, a sense of fulfilment. My aim in 'The Starkin Crown' was to write the sort of book that I had loved so much when I was a child myself, a story filled with adventure, suspense, and magic, that lingered in your mind for a long time afterwards. To achieve that, I really needed a story that could stand alone.

3. Do you see your scenes in your head as you write? I loved the feast for midwinter I could smell and see and taste it.

Yes, indeed. I have a strong visual imagination. I cannot write a scene till I can 'see' it in my mind's eye. Sometimes it's as if I have a movie running in my brain, with surround sound and Panavision, and I'm simply doing my best to capture what I see and hear with words.

4. Was it hard to write about Grizelda just giving us little hints about her evil intentions? I love the idea of the reader knowing or guessing more than the characters themselves. When her dog urinated on the wall as Peregrine and Jack and all their escort left via the secret exit I just knew something was wrong. This meant I paid special attention to everything Grizelda said - every nuance of her voice and each of her reactions to danger. The things she packed in her luggage were also a powerful hint.

I have to admit this was the most difficult part of the whole novel. How many clues should I drop? Was I being too subtle, or too obvious? I wanted the reader to suspect her, but not to be sure. The response I've had from my child readers has been fantastic - some were absolutely sure she was 'the baddy', others said they didn't guess to the end.

5. There is an endorsement on the back cover. Do you think endorsements play an important part in book selection for children or for Teachers or for Teacher Librarians? Who is Juliet Marillier?

I certainly think endorsements can help anyone choosing which book to buy out of all the thousands of books on offer. I know I read them! And often I will buy a book on the strength of that endorsement. It's like receiving a book recommendation from a friend that you know likes the same sort of bookst hat you do. I'm very proud of my endorsements from Garth Nix and Juliet Marillier - they are both internationally bestselling fantasy authors whose books I love and so I am so glad that they like my books too. If you haven't yet read Juliet Marillier, you absolutely must! She's one of my all-time favourite writers.

6. Your evil queen Vernisha reminded me of the Queen of Narnia and The Snow Queen do you see any similarities?

No! Really? That's fascinating. I love both those evil queens, but I did not have them in my mind at all when I was creating Vernisha. In fact, I can't think of any other villain that she resembles. My evil fairy queen in 'The Puzzle Ring' has more in common with the White Witch of Narnia, I think.

7. There are so many truly gruesome descriptions of death and torture in this book. Do they shock you? The part where the rats eat a person was almost too awful to read. Also all those arrows through the heart and throat and eyes!

No-one actually gets tortured in the book! It's only talked about. I hope that makes it easier. And it seemed important both to establish the importance of overthrowing such a vile queen, and also the fact that Grizelda was quite unmoved by describing such terrible punishments. I don't think I could have actually written a scene where that happened to anyone. Similarly, the battle scene is crucial in the story. Peregrine and his friends must be in mortal danger for the reader to feel that suspenseful thrill. It's only one swift scene, and it removes Peregrine from the normal world of safety and sets him off on his perilous adventure.

8. Did it give you great joy to write the healing scene for Molly? I loved this part so much I read it and then immediately re-read it. In fact I could hardly wait for Jack and Peregrine to drink the healing liquid so Molly could be healed.

It did indeed give me great joy. My daughter was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was six months old. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life when the orthopaedic surgeon finally told me that all our hard work had paid off, and that she would be able to run and skip and dance just like any other child. Recalling that moment brings the sting of tears to my eyes. In fact, I think I may have had a mist before my eyes when I wrote that scene.

9. Do you see links to your earlier series Chain of Charms - once again we have an evil society where singing and fun are banned.

I had not actually consciously realised that there were thematic links between the books, but now that you point it out I can see that this is indeed true. I suppose this is because I feel so strongly myself that we should live joyously and so my own life philosophy makes its way into my work. There are differences between them as well. The Starkin lords live in great luxury and bedeck themselves in silks and jewels and have incredibly elaborate feasts, while the Puritans of Cromwell's time believed in living simply and plainly, and disapproved of any kind of frivolity or luxury.

10. Is it difficult to write your prophesy rhymes? Do you plan these first or do they just evolve as you are writing?

Sometimes the prophecies can be difficult to write, and sometimes they come to me virtually fully formed, with a clear vision of the story embedded within them. The first book in the Estelliana Chronicles was 'The Starthorn Tree' and I wrote it when my youngest son was only a newborn baby. I had intended the Starthorn Tree to be a stand-alone book, complete in itself, but one night I was working on the novel in the still, quiet darkness of the early hours of the morning and one of my characters opened his mouth and began to utter a prophecy - the one that appears in the front of 'The Starkin Crown'. I saw very clearly that there would be another two books to follow on from 'The Starthorn Tree' - the two story lines came to me like a dream or a vision, unrolling in my mind' eye. One image was an impossibly tall crystal tower, and I knew a princess was imprisoned in that tower and the quest would be to free her. That became the central image of 'TheWildkin's Curse'. The key image for the second story was a vision of Peregrine, blind and in despair, struggling through the marsh looking for... something. I did not know what. But the lines:

'Though he must be lost before he can find,

Though, before he sees, he must be blind,

if he can find and if he can see,

the true king of all he shall be'

wrote themselves on the page. From those lines, and from that vivid image, the whole story evolved.

11. Is the lightning storm experience by Robin a form of epilepsy?

Yes, it is. In medieval times, epilepsy was known as 'falling sickness' or as 'lightning in the brain'.

12. Do you have a favourite scene in the book? For me it is when Robin summons all the animals and they give him food on page 106. I also love the fact that Molly is not a beauty in contrast with the icy beauty of Grizelda.

I have a number of favourite scenes. Lame Molly leading blind Peregrine through the marshes and the discovery of the spear is a key scene for me,the first one I got for this book and the one I held in my mind's eye the longest. The raising of Lord Grim and the healing of Molly are also favourites, plus the feast scene at the end when Peregrine and Molly dance and kiss.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jerry by Ursula Dubosarsky

It is wonderful to have junior novels that can tell a good story and also have some emotional depth and this is certainly true for Jerry by Ursula Dubosarsky.
Jerry is an old horse. He is loved by all the neighborhood children. His final paddock is in an urban environment and each day children and adults visit Jerry and give him carrots and other treats but perhaps no one loves Jerry as much as Martha.

Ursula Dubosarsky has based Jerry on a real horse that was living near a Sydney Primary School and I think this real life incident is what gives this book its strength and honesty. Jerry is old and neglected and no longer interested in being patted but we are not left to ponder this for long. Martha’s love of Jerry and her magical dreams for him to fly make a perfect balance as Jerry’s life inevitably comes to an end.

I must make special mention of the illustrations by Patricia Mullins. She explains on the last page how as a child she drew lots and lots of horses and you can certainly see her skill in every illustration. The picture on page 39 where we can only see the eye of Jerry is just beautiful. It is clear why one of my most treasured picture books by Patricia Mullins One Horse waiting for me is all about horses. Look for this in our school library and you will see the illustrations are amazing tissue paper collage. I have now realised I read Sea Breeze Hotel to a class just this week and Ice Flowers is a special favourite of mine both also illustrated by Patricia Mullins.

Jerry is certainly one to add to my list of excellent Aussie Nibbles. One more thing I need to say. I did not read horse books as a child. I am a dog person so I really want to say Jerry is a book for everyone not just the horse lovers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A strange little monster by Sue Whiting illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Sasha is a monster living in Grotty Hollow but she is not like any of her companions or family members. Sasha likes a quiet life and she loves to play her flute with her grandfather. One night, after an awful meal of slug stew which has left her with a tummy ache, Sasha overhears her parents talking about her failure to behave as a monster. Worse her mother is actually crying. “She had never heard her mother or father cry before. Grotty Hollow monsters were too tough for crying.”

Sasha is so worried she decides to conform. She becomes a model monster but deep in her heart she knows this is not her true nature. On the day of the Hide and Go Scare games Sasha runs away only to be confronted by a Mountain Troll and he likes to eat little monsters! Her only weapon is her flute. Will Sasha save the day? Of course she will? Will her family accept her differences and love this strange little monster? Yes yes yes!!

This is another fairly new Aussie Nibble and for me it is another winner.

Violet Mackerel’s remarkable recovery by Anna Branford illustrated by Sarah Davis

I just grabbed this book, the sequel to Violet Mackerel, with both hands as soon as it arrived in our school library. I was not disappointed. In fact I will say this one is even better than the first. Anna Branford has that lovely knack of introducing a whole set of seemingly unrelated story threads which she then skillfully draws together in a really satisfying way.

Violet has tonsillitis and will need an operation but the good news, explained by the doctor, is that her voice might change. Violet imagines this means she will now have the voice of an opera singer. In the hospital waiting room Violet meets an old lady. She “has a green cardigan and a necklace of bright red beads and she is doing a funny thing with her hands. Her fingers, which have lots of rings on them, are all laced together and she is making her thumbs go round and round.”
Violet lives by the theory of giving small things. The doctor gives Violet a small purple lozenge which she in turn gives to the old lady to help with her anxiety as she prepares to have an operation on her arm. The two new friends make a promise to share afternoon tea following their remarkable recoveries but Violet forgets to tell Iris where she lives.

As we read in the first book, Violet must now think outside the square in order to find Iris and keep her promise. How did Violet get her name? What sort of plants does Iris love to grow? How can a radio gardening program bring the two new friends back together?

The most joyous part is right at the end when we hear Violet sing on radio :
“Red beads and cardigans
Made of green knitting
Round and round thumbs
While you’re quietly sitting.
Robins, eggs, flowers
And fingers with rings
These are a few of Iris MacDonald’s
Favourite things.”

Can you guess the tune? After reading Violet Mackerel you must get your hands on this sequel it is a delight!

Joe’s Boat by Raewyn Caisley illustrated by Anne Spidvilas

If you love boats and fishing and have ever enjoyed a special afternoon with your dad then this is the book for you. Great Uncle Alan has died but he has left behind a wonderful yellow boat in his shed. At first Joe’s dad is too busy to go fishing but early one morning Alan’s old friend Bob arrives. He won’t take no for answer and so three generations set out on an early dawn fishing expedition which ends in a delicious beach feast of freshly smoked fish.

Simple phrases make this sensitive and joyous story a real pleasure to read. “The boat pulled and tugged, hungry for the sea as Dad steered it down the ramp.” After the day Joe sits on the beach looking at the boat. “He loved it more than any game or toy anyone had ever bought him.”

Here is another Aussie Nibble which will be enjoyed by our youngest students.

A home for gnomes by Margaret Clark illustrated by Gus Gordon

Margaret Clark is a master story teller and there can be no better evidence than her writing within the constraints of a little Aussie Nibble. Even with only 64 pages and a very small word limit Margaret Clark is able to write an enchanting story for our youngest readers.

Five gnomes live a secret life with Miss Mackie, helping in her garden and providing companionship for this isolated elderly lady. In her turn Miss Mackie teaches the gnomes how to read by reading them Fairy Tales and she makes all their clothes and shoes.

One day Miss Mackie leaves and while the gnomes valiantly try to keep things going it is obvious Miss Mackie is not going to return. This is especially clear when the bulldozers arrive one day and start to demolish their beloved garden. It is time for action. The gnomes pack their treasured possessions – the book of Fairy Tales for Quince and for Lilly all seven pairs of undies, one for each day of the week, that Miss Mackie has made for her.

First stop is the supermarket called Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Alas Miss Mackie is not to be found among all the intriguing groceries. After crossing the road (a feat in itself) they see the Royal Hospital for Women but since Miss Mackie is not a Royal Queen or a Princess they continue on their journey. Next stop The Sleeping Beauty Rest Home. Here they find their beloved Miss Mackie and a wonderful new home.

I am reading all of our Aussie Nibbles over the next few weeks. This new title is a winner.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Norman does Nothing by Jen Storer illustrated by Andrew Joyner

I have set myself a challenge to read all of the Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles in our school library over the next month. This is partly because so many new titles from these two terrific series have arrived, partly because one Nibble - The Deep End, has been short listed for the CBCA awards and partly because I want to expand my repertoire (meaning the titles I read to classes and the ones I regularly recommend to readers) past Poor Fish, Hot Stuff, Green Fingers, The Horrible Holiday, One Night at Lottie's House, The Bugalugs bum thief, Moving House, The Princess who hated it and the Too tight Tutu.

Tonight I read Norman Does Nothing and even now, hours later, I am still smiling. This book is just charming. Norman is a gnome who lives patiently in the garden of Mr Goodfellow. Everything Norman knows about the world comes from Mr Goodfellow, listening to his radio, his television, talking books and his lovely piano playing. Then one day Mr Goodfellow is driven away in a fancy car with not one but two suitcases! "The driver swung the suitcases into the boot and slammed it shut... Norman waited for Mr Goodfellow to wave goodbye. But he didn't. He waited for Mr Goodfellow to look back. But he didn't".

Norman's life is about to descend into chaos. A young girl - Norman calls her Darling - and her mother arrive at the house. His lovely regulated environment is totally disrupted. Darling rides her roller skates down the front path, she plays with a hoop and worst of all she uses a skipping rope like a lasso. "He feared for his life ... was this to be his fate? Lassoed and strangled by a rope wielding squatter cowgirl?"

Then comes the biggest shock of all. Darling picks Norman up and she takes him for a ride in her doll pram. Their first adventure is 'out the back' where he endures a humiliating tea party with the dolls. Next stop is the kitchen where Darling gives him a range of accessories including a Rasta hat and finally Norman is put into a bike basket and he rides to the park with Darling at 500km per hour. This is party exhilarating and partly terrifying. Disaster strikes, though, when Darling has a bad fall from her bike and Norman himself sails through the air landing far away.

As with all the Aussie Bites there are only 85 pages in this little chapter book and yet Jen Storer manages to give her readers a taut and hilarious story. It is also exciting to have a book in which the briefest reference is all that is needed to piece together so many aspects of the story for example the relationship between Darling, her mother and Mr Goodfellow. The illustrations deserve a special mention. They are by Andrew Joyner - my students loved The Terrible Plop from the CBCA awards in 2010.

I now also see that Jen Storer is the author of Tensy Farlow which I also reviewed on this blog and by coincidence a student in Year 4 was just talking to me about Tensy Farlow yesterday and explaining why this is the first book that has totally hooked her in as a reader - she loved the cliff hanger chapters and the sinister elements. Tensy Farlow is a far more sophisticated novel and it is impressive to see that Jen Storer is such a versatile writer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mr Putter and Tabby fly the plane by Cynthia Rylant

I am so excited when I find a very simple junior book for beginning readers with a marvelous story. It does not happen very often but here is one I read about in Horn Book. There are about 18 different books about Mr Putter and we have just begun to collect them for our library.

In this one Mr Putter and Tabby fly the plane we learn that Mr Putter loves toys (so do I) and he especially loves to visit toy shops (so do I) and when he was a boy he was fascinated by toy planes especially remote control ones (me too!).

Mr Putter finds the exact plane of his childhood dreams, he buys it, flys it and along the way acquires a heap of new young friends. The most special part of this book comes right at the end.

One little shy outsider child loves this plane. Mr Putter recognises something of himself in this little boy. Look for Mr Putter in our school library. These books are perfect for our youngest students who are just beginning to gain confidence with reading.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Ivory Rose by Belinda Murrell

What a huge honour - Belinda Murrell, author of this new Australian History timeslip fantasy, has asked me to do an interview with her and publish the answers here on my blog. This was quite a different experience for me. I read this book nearly all in one go and kept a set of post it notes beside me so I could jot down my questions as I thought of them.... Belinda has been very generous with her answers and I think they will give you a revealing insight into her skill as a writer and some of the themes and ideas behind this book. I know quite a few of my senior girls are huge fans of Belinda Murrell and her sister Kate Forsyth.

I asked 13 questions because the first 50 or so pages of this book are slightly spooky! I could have kept on asking more and more questions but I did not want to spoil the story too much....

1. Do you think your own childhood reading has influenced your style, themes, plots etc. Are all the books/any of the books you refer to eg Lion the Witch and wardrobe childhood favourites....

As a child I was an avid reader, often getting into trouble at school for having a book hidden in my lap during maths classes. The sorts of books I loved were exciting adventure stories, pony books, mysteries, fantasy, historical novels but most importantly books where children were empowered to act to change their lives. I loved the joy of escaping into another world that was completely different to the world I lived in. As I writer, I try to write books that children love – that make them laugh and cry, that make their pulses race and their hearts sing, and hopefully to make them think as well!!

Yes – the books I referred to in The Ivory Rose I loved when I was young, but they are also favourites of my own three children, so I felt that they could realistically be read by Jemma as well.

2. Do you see similarities between your last three books - time slip fantasies - will this be your trade mark story or do you plan to explore other narratives - your earlier books The Sunsword trilogy was not a time slip I know.

My last three books have been time slip adventures because I was intrigued by the idea of taking a modern day girl, and whisking her back to the past, where life was so different and seeing how that modern child would cope and react. While the books have a similar concept – all three are quite different, as my heroines all have different personalities and challenges to tackle. The feedback I’ve had from kids has been fantastic – they seem to love the time-slip concept. However the book I am working on now is not a time slip book at all. This will be a straight historical adventure, called Poppy, set in Australia during the 1940’s.

3. Do you think we need to visit the past to heal the present? Is this a deliberate theme? Jemma's mum was so awful (almost a caricature) and then she is transformed I think I wanted to know a little more about this - she was obviously shaken by the coma - also I was sad the dad was missing from the final scenes. Alternatively do we need to visit the past to discover ourselves?

I have always loved reading (writing and learning) about the past. My favourite subjects at school and university were English and history. However while I have always found history fascinating, one of the most important concepts of the books is taking a child away from everything familiar, so that she must dig deep within herself to find unknown strength to solve the problems she faces. The past appeals to me as an opportunity to do this because life seemed to be so much tougher in the past, and it is a way of removing Jemma from her parents’ protection.

While I do think we can learn a lot from the past, there are also many other ways to discover ourselves, to learn and to heal and most do involve exploring a different perspective of life, gaining empathy for other people, and experiencing diverse ways to live.

With Jemma’s mother Elizabeth, I have quite a bit of sympathy for her, because I felt she was working hard, trying to do her best for Jemma, but too busy and too caught up in her career to see what Jemma really needed. I have met mothers like this, and I feel this is one of the greatest challenges of being a busy, working mother. The accident does give Elizabeth a nasty shock, and makes her evaluate what is important to her. To me, at a very simple level, the book is about Jemma finding her voice, and about Jemma’s mother learning to listen. I did love Jemma’s dad, but it is the mother-daughter relationship I really wanted to focus on.

4. Do you have any concerns about overseas sales? - I love the way this book is firmly set in Sydney and in Annandale and in 1890 Australian history.

Yes – I do have concerns about overseas sales. I feel that writing about Australian history and themes is unlikely to win me a huge overseas publishing deal!!! However I am also driven to write about Australia – its landscape, culture, people and history so that contemporary Australian kids can read and enjoy stories firmly rooted in their own country. I feel I must be striking a strong chord, because out of my six children’s novels, I have definitely had the greatest feedback from the two which are primarily set in both contemporary and historic Australia – The Locket of Dreams and The Ivory Rose. One of the things I love about my work is all the lovely emails I get from kids telling me how much they love my books, or my characters.

5. How much research did you do? At times there seemed to be so much history in this book - were you setting out to teach a history lesson? 1890 certainly had some issues... Federation, Parkes, Suffrage, baby farms, medicine, child workers, depression, strikes and even Banjo Patterson!!.

I always do lots of research for my books, and this process is one of my favourite parts. It takes months – whether it is reading books and anecdotes set in the period, visiting historic homes (and kitchens and gardens!), reading and creating Mrs Beeton’s recipes, wandering around Annandale, reading reports of ghost encounters, researching poisons and how they were used, or visiting museums. However the history, while fascinating to me, was secondary. I didn’t set out to teach a ‘history lesson’. I set out to write a ghost story adventure and chose the Witches Houses as an evocative, spooky setting. The history was discovered as I researched first the houses, then the suburb of Annandale, then the era. I discovered so many interesting things that then became threads in my story.

6. I love the way you do not talk down to kids. Do publishers ever question your word choices?.... accoutrement's, damask, chastened, rebuke, brogue, crenellations, assiduously and many more I am sure the average 2011 senior Primary child would not know these words - congratulations on having the courage to include such a rich vocabulary....

When I was growing up, my mother always encouraged us to have a rich vocabulary. She challenged us to find words in books we didn’t understand and write the words and their meanings up on a noticeboard in the kitchen. I remember English teachers commenting on our strong vocabulary at school. When my children first started reading, it irked me that many of the books for their age group had such a simple and even boring vocabulary, which I felt was aimed at reluctant readers. I felt that over the years there had been a ‘dumbing down’ of language for kids. As a journalist, the first lesson I was taught was to write very simply – most newspaper stories are targeted at the reading level of an average 10 year old, but I can’t say I enjoy writing like that! So when I first started writing for my own children I was determined to include lots of beautiful words. My Australian publishers are usually happy with my choice of words but I did have my Sun Sword Trilogy rejected by an American publisher because it had too many complex words!!!

7. You are very good at giving us a sense of place - have you ever considered writing for television?

Setting is very important to me. At university I majored in television, as part of my communication degree, and as a twenty-one year old had originally planned to write for television, as one of my many dreams. I then spent two years travelling around Europe, and started travel writing, which I absolutely loved. I think it is my years of writing travel articles, which influences how I try to evoke a strong sense of place and landscape. I want my readers to feel like they are really there.

8. Is your song on page 116 Lost in the moment a real song?

Yes. It was written by my nephew Daniel Lee Kendall, who is an up-and-coming musician who is one of Triple J’s ‘discovered hot new talents’. My daughter and her friends love this song so it seemed a fun detail to include.

9. I did have a little trouble with those scones - not something I have mastered did you consider giving Jemma an easier cooking task? I do like the references to the ice man, milk pail, and Mrs Beaton. Were egg beaters invented by 1890?

I chose scones because when my son and daughter were in years 4 and 3 respectively I went with them on a school excursion to Elizabeth Farm, where the kids had to make scones to a nineteenth century recipe and cook them in a wood-fired stove. I couldn’t believe how easy they were and how delicious! So the kids and I went through a real scone baking phase at home for while – we even had a go making them in a coal fired Aga, when I was researching this book. My kids are also keen fans of Masterchef, so they all love cooking!

Yes – eggbeaters were invented about 1870 but that is the sort of detail I have to be really careful about checking. That kind of research can take ages!!

10. Did you consider calling your heroine Jemima when she was in 1890 I felt the adults especially might not use the 21st century 'nick name' Jemma.

Aunt Harriet and Agnes always called her Jemima if they used her name at all, never Jemma. Although Agnes usually called her derogatory names! The only adult who really uses her nick-name in 1895 was Doctor Anderson as I felt he was one of the few adults who really showed her any sympathy or respect. Nicknames were commonly used in the nineteenth century, especially for servants so I felt that the other children would have happily have used her preferred name.

11. Did you choose the cover? Did you have input into the blurb?

The cover was designed by Nanette Backhouse, who designed all the covers for my timeslip books, and this one is my favourite! With the covers, I usually suggest ideas, together with my publisher, and I have the chance to comment at the approval stage, but the decision is ultimately made by the marketing team, considering its sales appeal, other covers around at the time, and fashions in design. Likewise, the blurb is written by my publisher from a marketing perspective and I leave that to her!

12. Is it difficult to cover all bases in a timeslip - anomalies of clothing, language, manners etc. I did like your resolution of her worn out hands.

It can be difficult to cover everything, and I do try very hard to handle the historical details as lightly and naturally as I can. I don’t want the book to sound didactic or to bog the story down so much in historical accuracy that kids are bored rigid!! However it is important to paint a strong sense of life in that time.

The other difficulty is language. People spoke much more formally in the nineteenth century in a way that would sound very stilted to modern day readers, so I try to evoke a sense of that rather than being strictly accurate. So Jemma uses contractions much more than the other characters in 1895 and speaks less formally, Ned has an Irish brogue and Agnes frequently uses insults.

With Jemma’s hands I wanted her to have a physical reminder of her adventures, so she knew it was not a coma-induced hallucination.

13. You clearly love gardens and flowers. I seem to remember the garden was mentioned in Locket of dreams. Do you have a lovely garden yourself?

Yes – I do have a beautiful, old fashioned garden, full of herbs and vegetables and flowers – although nowhere near enough time to look after it properly!!

There are teaching notes for this book too.