Feature Week 37: Canberra Anthology
It's week 37 of the National Year of Reading and we feature Jackie French and Marion Halligan, authors who have both contributed to 'The invisible thread: one hundred years of words', an anthology that celebrates both the National Year of Reading 2012 and the Centenary of Canberra 2013.
As far back as Jackie can remember she wanted to be a writer, despite warnings from those closest to her who attempted to dissuade her from following this path to financial ruin. We are fortunate that Jackie ignored the concern of her family and friends. She is now a well known author having published over 140 books. Many of her works are set in the ACT region. She has won countless awards and her works are published in over 30 languages.
Jackie is involved with a number of organisations in support of literacy, arts, social welfare and animal welfare, many of them within the Canberra area. This includes her role as the ACT ambassador for Children's Week, being celebrated throughout Australia from 20 - 28 October, and this year adopting the theme 'A caring world shares,' along with a National Year of Reading focus. She is also the joint patron of the Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People with fellow National Year of Reading ambassadors Susanne Gervay and Morris Gleitzman.
Jackie and her husband live in NSW in the Araluen valley, in a stone house they built themselves surrounded by a beautiful garden that they share with many wombats.
Jackie writes for a wide audience including picture books for young children, children's novels and non-fiction, fiction for teenagers and young adults, and adult fiction and adult non-fiction predominantly in the form of gardening books. Most people with children will remember reading one of her picture books.
Here are just a few of her fictional works you might want to look out for:
- 'Rain stones'
Jackie's first children's book, 'Rain stones' is a short story collection written using a second hand typewriter in an attempt to earn money to cover her car registration. It was submitted to HarperCollins in a bedraggled state thanks to her wombat Smudge and with many spelling errors due to her dyslexia. The manuscript stood out in the pile, and once read by the publishers, was quickly accepted.
- 'Hitler's daughter'
Hitler's daughter is a much acclaimed winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia book of the year for younger readers in 2000. Jackie's contribution to the Canberra anthology, 'The invisible thread' is an extract from 'Hitler's daughter'. It has also been adapted as a play and is currently being performed by the Monkey Baa Theatre Company Jackie based the book on a story told to her by a former concentration camp guard. It focuses on the world of Hitler's daughter while the world around is torn apart.
The recently released 'Pennies for Hitler' is a companion to 'Hitler's daughter' and speaks of the contagion of hatred, but reassures us that love, kindness and compassion are contagious too. Jackie examines the life of a child during WWII from a different perspective. It has been included in the Get Reading! 2012 list of 50 books you can't put down.
- 'Queen Victoria's Christmas'
A humorous new release written by Jackie and illustrated by Bruce Whatley, 'Queen Victoria's Christmas' tells a story from the perspective of Queen Victoria, about the tree that led to the inclusion of the Christmas tree in our modern day Christmas celebrations.
Jackie's thoughts on the National Year of Reading
The Year of Reading has been exhausting, wonderful, inspiring and at least 106 subjective years, and there are still two months to go. I reckon almost every group in Australia, from CWA to View Clubs, RSL to libraries, schools to book clubs, has organised something. Invitations flow in about once an hour, and there's usually at least one when I turn on the computer each morning, possibly from an insomniac reading at 2 am who suddenly thought 'I know! We'll ask an author to speak!'
I've spoken to over 30,000 kids, 3,000 adults (not counting those who listen to the radio) and over 30 schools, seven literary festivals, five conferences, and haven't tried to count how many workshops I've given on books, why books aren't broccoli, or help for parents and kids with reading problems, and answered over 200 emails each day, mostly saying 'no, I'm sorry, I'm booked up for the next 18 months but I hope your Reading Celebration goes wonderfully- am sure it will'. There have also been an irregular stream of packages of books heading out to schools to help them celebrate- wrapped by Bryan- mine disintegrate in the mail.
My voice is hoarse, the last pair of stockings laddered, and I've eaten through an entire lipstick. (One usually lasts me a decade). And in between I have even managed to write, rewrite, smile briefly at my husband and make biscuits even in a post festival zombie haze, and occasionally scratch a wombat's back.
I wouldn't have missed it for quids.
Jackie's reading habits
- Do your ever cheat and read the end of the book first?
Of course! How else do I know if I want to read it. An ending full of agony and weltschmertz is cheating. It's easy to make readers feel depressed- far harder to end on a note of hope or even 'perhaps'. It's called 'tasting' a book- I skim it, and then decide to read or not.
A good book- certainly a great one- can be read 1,000 times, and each time you'll find new richness- even if you know the ending. Knowing the ending can even help you slow down, and appreciate each nuance, instead of galloping to find the finale.
- Did you like to read as a child? Always. Under the desk, up a tree, hiding under my bed, waking at 5.30 am to get that extra hour of escape into the book world. My mum read to me from babyhood; I read to myself from the age of three. My childhood was mostly boredom laced with terror, and books weren't plentiful. But thanks to my mother's efforts- and my grandparents', uncle's and a most valued teacher, my life was always rich in books.
- Estimate the number of books you own. 50,000? So many that we are now filling a second house with them. One day- but not quite yet- I'll prune them down.
- Do you remember learning to read? No. The words were there, and I understood them. I had just turned three and I can still see the pages 'Seven o'clock! time to get up said Bobs. Bobs jumped out of bed. But oh, the wind was blusterous! It flattened down his favourite tree! And things looked bad for him and me, I mean for him and us. I've never known in wuss.'
- What was the last book you bought from a bookshop?
A second hand book on the history of circuses in Australia from a stall at the Melbourne Writer's Festival last week. Oops- plus a large box of books that arrived from Gaslight Books yesterday.
- Do you have a favourite genre? That's a bit like asking 'do you prefer chocolate or cold mangos.' I read everything. I write in most genres too.
- What was the last book you received as a gift?
A sequel to 'Flood' written by a school in QLD, in the mail yesterday.
- Are you a constant reader or are there times when you don't read at all? I am either reading, walking, talking, sharing the odd family moment with humans or wombats, or sleeping. Even when driving I can be rereading what I've read or what I'm writing, seeing/ hearing the images in my head. Seeing/hearing isn't the right word. I don't think it exists. Confabulating, perhaps. The book- read or being written- is with you, you and it together.
Happy confabulating. All the very best, Jackie
As part of the National Year of Reading and Canberra Centenary celebrations, an anthology 'The invisible thread: one hundred years of words', edited by Irma Gold, is NOW AVAILABLE. It features contributions from 75 writers who have an association with the Canberra region, including the work of several National Year of Reading ambassadors and friends including Jackie French, Jack Heath, Garth Nix, Alan Gould, Omar Musa and Marion Halligan.
With illustrations by Judy Horacek, a foreword by Robyn Archer, and a mix of short stories, novel extracts, poetry, essays and non-fiction and covering a wide range subjects, 'The invisible thread' will be officially launched in November at the National Library of Australia during the National Year of Reading legacy event.
For more information about the anthology, take a look at the following links:
Irma Gold, the editor of 'The invisible thread' has produced a series of interviews with contributors to the anthology. Here's the first in a two part series with Jackie French:
Other interviews, including one with fellow National Year of Reading ambassador Omar Musa can be found at the following link:
Out and about with NYR
Jackie has been a wonderful National Year of Reading supporter, but the year is not over yet! Here are two more activities she will take part in:
- October 25 - 27 Fremantle WA
The Literature Centre (Formerly Fremantle Children's Literature Centre)
Celebrate reading conference hosted by National Year of Reading partner with nine guest speakers including fellow National Year of Reading ambassadors Gary Crew and Shaun Tan.
- November 21 - 22 Lithgow NSW
Lithgow reads...Jackie French, from March - December 2012 the Library is encouraging everyone to read books by Jackie, with several activities and competitions for all members of the community to participate in. It all culminates in visits to the Lithgow Council libraries by Jackie.
Want to know more?
- If you are interested in finding out more about Jackie, go to her websites:
- You might also be interested in taking a look at our other featured ambassador for this week, Marion Halligan:
- If you want to find out about all the National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page:
- Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing: