My new historical novel for children, Sydney under Attack, comes out in early March(Scholastic Australia) and in anticipation I’ve made a little trailer for the book–hope you enjoy!
I am excited to reveal the absolutely stunning cover of my forthcoming historical novel for middle-grade readers, Sydney Under Attack, which is set in late May and early June 1942, at the time of the Japanese midget submarine attacks in Sydney Harbour.
The book will be published in March 2022 by Scholastic Australia, it was edited by Clare Hallifax, and the cover was designed by Chad Mitchell. Isn’t it striking!
Here’s the blurb of the book:
In 1942, 12-year-old Nick lives in Rose Bay, Sydney, with his mum, dad and sister, and dreams of becoming a writer like his dad. But with the world at war, Nick is constantly on alert for anything that seems out of the ordinary and then late one night he sees it! A plane! But no-one believes him! Then, the unimaginable happens. Sydney is attacked! And Nick starts noticing people behaving strangely. Is it just his imagination or something more sinister?
I hope readers will much enjoy this novel, which is as much a mystery and spy story as it is historical novel and war story. Nick was a great character to write–he is so lively, energetic, and imaginative, even if he does sometimes gets hold of the wrong end of the stick 🙂 And it was a fascinating book to research, too–trawling through documents, archival films and photos, and Sydney newspapers of the time (thank you, Trove!)
The book is part of Scholastic’s Australia’s Second World War series–it’s the third one, in fact. And I wrote the first in that series, too, War and Resistance, which was published in 2019. Sydney Under Attack also has a link not only to War and Resistance, but to another novel of mine, 1914, published in 2014, which was part of another series Scholastic published, Australia’s Great War. The three novels are linked through one French-Australian family, the Jullians, who appear in different roles in each of the three books, as main characters in the first two, across two generations, and as important but not main characters in the the third. It has been absolutely amazing to have been able to do that and keep the link through the three books!
I’m really looking forward to the 2021 conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, which this year is fully online, and happening over two weekends, with bootcamps, manuscript assessments and masterclasses happening on the weekend of 16/17 October, and the main conference program on the weekend of 23 and 24 October. This is the first time the conference has been run online–it was a decision HNSA wisely made early this year, given the uncertainty surrounding the running of events.
HNSA runs absolutely wonderful conferences, and over the years I’ve had the privilege several times of presenting at these biennial events. This year is no exception, and I’m going to be appearing on both weekends, as part of an absolutely amazing program which I’m very proud to be involved in. Wearing my publisher hat, I’m going to be presenting the all-day Publishing Bootcamp on October 16, then, also wearing the publishing hat, I’ll be one of the judges in the popular First Pages Pitch Contest on October 23. Later on October 23 (quite late in fact!) I’ll be one of a group of people talking about translating historical novels in the Lost in Translation panel: I’ll be focussing there about the experience of being involved in helping to bring about the publication of a brand new English translation of the wonderful Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. Then on October 24 I’m chairing a panel called The Dark Heart, which looks at historical novels set in the 1830’s and 40’s in Australia, especially the convict period. It’s certainly going to be a very busy couple of weekends!
Check out all details of the wonderful program for the 2021 HNSA Conference here: it’s a real cornucopia of fabulous offerings! And of course, because it’s virtual, you can access it from anywhere. Registrations are open now: don’t miss out!
In my latest post on the international writing website, Writer Unboxed, I write about physical journeys in fiction, concentrating on how I’m doing that in a historical novel for children that I’m writing at the moment, plus looking at the classic adventure novel I consider to be one of the great ‘road trip’ novels, Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. Here’s an extract from my post:
At the moment I’m writing a historical novel for children, set in the Roman province of Brittania (Roman Britain) in the late first century AD/CE. The novel involves a great deal of journeying, as the main characters attempt to meet up with someone who always seems to be a day ahead of them, and whom they have to chase after from town to town. Eventually they do catch up with him, but not in the way they hoped and it makes matters much worse as they then have to flee cross-country to escape pursuers! This is the part I’m up to, and I know my poor exhausted characters still have a way to go!
Most of my novels in fact involve journeys of one sort or the other, it’s a natural theme of my writing—perhaps because I was brought up between two countries, France and Australia, and we travelled so much as kids. But in this one, the structure and plot of the novel absolutely depend on the physical journey. Now when you’re writing a novel like that, you have to work hard to make sure that the constant traveling doesn’t get boring for the reader (as well as tiring for your characters).
You can read the whole post here–and please do make comments(on the Writer Unboxed site) if you like!
Some years ago, in a little antique shop near the British Museum in London, I bought an extraordinary object–a Roman key-ring, that is, a key designed to be worn as a ring. Made of lead, it was dated to the 1st century AD. It wasn’t particularly expensive, because apparently such rings are not uncommon finds. But I was immediately fascinated by it when I saw it in the window of the shop: it was the kind of humble object that propels you straight into another world, another time. And when I looked at it more closely, I saw that the ring size was very small–on my own hand, it only fitted on the little finger. So either it had been meant for a very small woman or a child, or it had simply been meant to be worn around the neck, on a leather thong or something similar. And what lock would such a key open? Definitely not a door, but probably a box of some sort. A money or valuables box? A medicine box? I had no idea as to the truth of it, but immediately what ifs began bubbling in my head…I began to see, through the mists of imagination, a figure become clearer, a young girl living in the province of Brittania whose widowed Roman father is an oculist, an eye-doctor(they were commonly found in Roman times, especially in Gaul and Brittania). And when he dies, he leaves her this key, a mysterious key that does not fit any of the locks of his boxes. And he tells her not to speak of it to anyone, but to find her uncle, who will know what to do. And so she sets off…
I began writing the story not long after I bought the key. But for various reasons–mostly because I couldn’t get past certain plotting problems with it–it never got finished or even really properly going. I had set it aside and almost forgotten about it until just a few weeks ago, when trawling through documents in my computer, I came across the outline and sample chapters which was all I’d written of the novel I’d called ‘The Key to Rome.’ Instantly, it called to me again. I got the key itself out of the display box in which we keep it and I looked at it for a long moment, and then I knew: I had to write this story! And now I knew just how to write it, and what I had to change to make it work.
So that’s what I’m working on: the unlocking of the story, and the real meaning of ‘the key to Rome.’ And now, somehow, all the plotting problems have disappeared, the story is powering along, simpler, tighter, stronger than I’d originally seen it.
And that’s why writing is so exciting!
A Story of Hope in Troubled Times
By Dee White
People have likened the current pandemic to life during WW2, but it’s different. Covid-19 is an unseen enemy. Where I live, there are no marching soldiers with guns or snarling dogs chasing us down the street, filling our waking hours and our sleep with terror.
That’s the life my main character Ruben has to endure in my new historical fiction, Beyond Belief, after Paris is invaded. It’s 1942, just after the Vel D’hiv roundup when more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Velodrome) before being transported to concentration camps and killed.
Ruben is one of the lucky ones who flees his home before he and his parents can be arrested. Although he’s a fictitious character, his story is inspired by true events. After the arrest of so many men, women and children, the Algerian Muslims of Paris decided that something must be done. They offered protection to Jews and gave them false identities and helped them escape the city.
Ruben is one of the children who seeks refuge at the Mosque and there he must change his name to Abdul and learn to pass himself off as a Muslim. If his true identity is discovered, he’ll be killed and so will those trying to save him. Even if Ruben escapes Paris, that won’t be the end of his story. Nowhere in France is safe for Jews.
Although Ruben’s life is hard, it has hope – and not just for Ruben, but for the whole of mankind. I wanted this story of interfaith solidarity and support to be about humanity and how strong people are when we unite – and we can make it through adversity if we help each other. I started writing this story four years ago, but here we are in adversity, working together to make it through.
Ruben has to endure hardship and it changes him as a person, but he emerges stronger and more resilient. War is hard. I haven’t glossed over that. But there is hope, that tomorrow things can be different and although it’s a new reality and we emerge changed from hardship, the pieces can be rebuilt.
Although I wrote Beyond Belief for children, adults are connecting with it too. One adult reader wrote to me and said, “I loved the book: despite the suffering and loss experienced by the children, there was such courage and an underlying spirituality and wisdom passed on to them by their parents and the Muslim community. This imbued them with amazing strength.”
I spent a month in Paris researching Beyond Belief. I wanted to walk in my main character, Ruben’s shoes and write his story with authenticity and understanding. And I wanted to reflect the experiences of all the Jews, gypsies and people with mental and physical illnesses who became victims of Hitler and if they survived, suffered lifelong trauma. My father was one of them.
You can find out more about Beyond Belief and my personal journey writing this book, at my website www.deescribe.com.au my Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9kDJT5Al7QknKwpCYd09oQ
and at DeeWhiteAuthor on social media.
Beyond Belief is available at all good book stores and online from
Boomerang Books htt https://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/
Collins Booksellers http://www.collinsbooks.com.au/book/9781760662516
Today I am featuring a guest post by Alison Booth, writing about the inspirations of and background to her new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, whose official publication date is actually today–happy book release day, Alison!
A tale of two very different sisters
By Alison Booth
The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.
For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I thought of altering the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them? How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?
The second half of the novel, set in 1893, mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia. Together with the top of Western Australia, this was one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by white colonisers. At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then. Indeed, only relatively recently has the full extent of settlement massacres and beyond been documented. See this article: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars
A theme that has long fascinated me is how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents. And the closer we are to a parent the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden in The Philosopher’s Daughters that is carried by Harriet Cameron, the older of the two daughters. It takes her some time – and a journey to Australia – to learn who she is and to slough off some of her father’s expectations about what she should do with her life.
The Northern Territory has for many years held a particular attraction for me. This began with my own father’s reminiscences of the years he spent there as a very young man after the 1942 bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, an experience that was crystallised into his evocative novel Up the Dusty Track, published by what was then the NTU Press. I visited the Northern Territory for the first time in 2002 for the Darwin launch of his novel.
On that Darwin visit I not only fell in love with the Territory landscape but also witnessed a level of casual racism that I found quite shocking. I wanted to write about it, but it took me some years to work out how I was going to do it, although right away I knew it had to be historical.
In doing the background research for the novel, I was aware that, for our history, we rely upon the words of others. And when we read those words we should ask ourselves whose stories are missing. Typically, it will be the stories of those who held no power at the time. The women and of course the Indigenous inhabitants. They are who The Philosopher’s Daughters is about.
Connect with Alison on social media:
RedDoor Press: https://reddoorpress.co.uk/books/the-philosophers-daughters/
Over the weekend, I was at the biennial conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia(HNSA) which this year was held in the pleasant and spacious surroundings of the University of Western Sydney’s Parramatta South campus. It was a fabulous weekend, with a program filled to the brim with brilliant speakers and thought-provoking presentations, as well as excellent food and a collegial, convivial atmosphere, an excellent conference bookshop, great organisation, many catch-ups with friends, including fellow writers, meeting new people too–and witnessing some great demonstrations of armour and fencing! Here are some photos from the three days of the conference–and congratulations to all the HNSA team for a truly exceptional conference-I was proud to be involved.
I’m briefly interviewed in Jane Sullivan’s Turning Pages column in the Sydney Morning Herald today, in my capacity as a writer of historical fiction and Conference Patron of the 2019 Conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia. You can read the whole column here.
Later this month and into next month, I am going to be having a very busy and very interesting literary time!
First up is the wonderful Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference, which this year is being held at the University of Western Sydney in Parramatta, Sydney, from October 25 to 27. The biennial HNSA conference is one of my favourite literary events: there’s always really interesting speakers, a fabulous program, and a warm, collegial atmosphere. This year’s certainly no exception, and I’m privileged to be involved with the Conference in several ways: as a speaker, a workshop presenter, judge of the HNSA short story contest, and, a great honour, being the Conference Patron as well. Looking forward so much to it! Tickets are still available for this fantastic event, so check out the program here.
Next up is the Artstate Festival, to be held in Tamworth, October 31 to November 3. I’m involved in this in several ways, as an author, a small-press publisher, and a contributor to an anthology and an exhibition, both of which will be launched in Tamworth during that time. On October 31, wearing my Christmas Press hat, I’ll be participating, with my Christmas Press partners as well as fellow local publishing house Little Pink Dog Books, in the Creative Hot Spot Publisher Pitch Day, which will give children’s writers and illustrators an opportunity to pitch work to one or both publishing houses.
That evening, I’ll don my author hat again, as a contributor to the fabulous anthology Dark Sky Dreamings: An Inland Skywriters Anthology, which is themed around people’s relationship with the sky in all its aspects, and which will be launched at a great astronomy-themed event, in conjunction with the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club, at Bicentennial Park in Tamworth at 8.30 pm: telescopes and stars will be a feature of this unusual launch!
Then on November 1, I’m speaking at an Artstate/Arts North West event called Authors’ Cafe, where authors chat with readers and other interested people about their work. That the evening, I’ll be attending the opening of an exhibition called Art Word Place, which is an Arts North West project, where New England-based writers were paired with New England-based visual artists to create joint works. I’m one of the writers, and I had the good fortune to be paired with the fantastic painter Angus Nivison. His visual response to my poem is just extraordinary! If you’re in the region, come check it and all the other works out, the opening is on at the Tamworth Regional Art Gallery at 5.15 pm on November 1, but the exhibition itself is on till December 8.
There will be other events later in November that I’m a part of, in Armidale, Sydney and Melbourne, but I will write about them later, in a separate blog post. It is certainly a very busy time!