Writing, words and written work

The sequel to Whisper My Secret is finally done! Writing Mother of Ten took me on a journey to a secret sanctuary in my mind where remembrances sheltered. As the pages of my memory album turned, I realised what a carefree and joyous childhood I had been blessed with.

While poverty restrained us in many ways, it also gave us freedom. Because we were poor, we lived in the bush but that in itself was a source of insouciant pleasure. Creeks, rivers, mountains and hectares of eucalyptus forests became our playground and, in some ways, our home.

One of the memories featured in Mother of Ten is a visit to my father’s workplace; the woodcutters’ camp.

There were men everywhere, some with axes and some with saws: strong men with the broad shoulders and calloused hands of hard-working bushmen. White Australians with faces tanned to mahogany brown from daily exposure to the sun were barely discernible from Aboriginal Australians. Some men worked with shirt sleeves rolled up, revealing their tanned forearms. Others wore blue or white singlets fully exposing their muscled arms. They all wore long pants and boots and most heads were covered by hats or berets.  (Italics indicate quotes from Mother of Ten.)

Bluey, the camp cook, used to make tea for us all at break time.

Bluey was a big man with thick red hair and freckles all over his face. His old hat was held together in places with large safety pins.

One day when we were sitting around the camp fire I learned that Bluey had once been tricked into thinking there was a ghost roaming in the bush. Late one night he had heard someone playing the mouth organ not far from their camp. There were no other camps nearby so the men thought it odd that someone would be walking through the trees in the dark playing the mouth organ. When Bluey and a couple of the men went to investigate, they were unable to locate the musician.

“Whenever I got close to the sound it’d stop. Then it’d start up again in another direction and further way. So off we’d go in the direction of the music and, blow me down, if it didn’t move to another spot again, still playin’ the same tune.”

Apparently, Bluey wanted to pack up camp and head back to town until they eventually worked out that the musician was not a ghost but a lyrebird. These ground dwelling brown birds can mimic any sound they hear. In fact, a lyrebird can mimic the sound of an axe so precisely that even the woodcutters cannot tell the difference.

Happy memories of fun and family should be the gift given to each and every child born on this Earth. Alas, this is not the case. It certainly was not the case for the three children my mother bore before she started her second family with my father. Although Mum’s eldest child, Bertie, did eventually grow up in a family environment, it was far from joyous. Bertie’s brother and sister were, like thousands of other children in Australia, robbed of family life and brought up in institutions. Another quest that Mother of Ten took me on was the mental pilgrimage through the lives of these children.

An Inquiry conducted by the Australian Senate in 2003 and 2004 received over 600 submissions from people who, as children, had been in institutions in Australia from the 1920s to the 1990s. The 2009 report of this Inquiry, known as Forgotten Australians, states:

‘…the overwhelming response as to treatment in care, even among those that made positive comments, was the lack of love, affection and nurturing that was never provided to young children at critical times during their emotional development.’

The two journeys that evolved for me through the writing of Mother of Ten epitomise the contrast between the childhood I took for granted and was privileged to enjoy, and the childhood forced on each of my half-siblings. But, although Mother of Ten explores their heartbreak, the book also celebrates their resilience, resourcefulness and determination, as well as their triumph.

What lies behind the title? The title was inspired by a reader of Whisper My Secret who was one of those that generously took the time to email me and share her thoughts after reading the book. When she mentioned she was a mother of ten, I thought, ‘Mother of ten, same as my mum.’ That was when I first considered calling the book Mother of Ten. I realised it neatly fulfilled my wish to have a title that was somehow inclusive of all of Myrtle’s children. It works on another level as well because that was Myrtle’s secret: the fact that she was a mother of ten. I also like the way the titles can be linked by two simple words to form a sentence: Whisper My Secret: I’m a Mother of Ten. I love playing with words so that aspect of the title kinda tickles my fancy.

Now Mother of Ten has started her own journey I am off on my next writer’s journey. This time it’s a whodunnit!

Until we meet again… JB:-)

Update June 2013: At the end of Mother of Ten I inserted an amendment about the death of Myrtle’s father as described in Whisper My Secret . However,we have now discovered a record of the inquest into his death which confirms that the original information indicating his death resulted from a self inflicted gunshot wound was accurate after all.

More about the writing of  Whisper My Secret.

Photos of Myrtle and family

Oh, by the way, talking about lyrebirds, here’s a link to a superb new picture book called: Lyrebird: a true story

Those who read books now have more power than ever before. The independent publishing movement spurred on by electronic and POD (Print On Demand) publishing means that readers of books now have direct access to the work of authors and millions of new titles at affordable prices.

To a large extent what readers chose to read was once controlled by those who published books. Traditional publishers decided what readers would or would not be interested in. If those few influential gatekeepers decided that those who read books would not be interested in the work of particular authors, such authors would find it difficult or impossible to have their work published and available to readers. What was unfair to readers (and to authors) was that publishers did not necessarily make their choices about books on whether a book was well written, or presented a good story. They made business decisions based on how many copies of a particular book they thought they might be able to sell. That meant that a book written by someone who had established a public profile, or someone who had media contacts willing to promote them and their book, was more likely to be published than a book that simply presented a well written story e.g. (if I might be so bold) Whisper My Secret.

Writers, especially emerging writers, had to stand in line behind celebrities such as television personalities, football players, and even criminals. Books by people such as these were considered suitable for readers because they were guaranteed to make money for the publisher. Some publishing companies had political reasons for refusing to accept a writer’s book. In Australia publishers are often interested in publishing books written by Aboriginal people and refugees but prejudiced against ‘white’ Australians. When ‘white’ Australian author Leon Carmen wrote My Own Sweet Time as the autobiography of an Aboriginal woman, Wanda Koolmatrie, he got his book published almost instantly, despite previously failing to become published under his own identity. His second book, again submitted as Wanda Koolmatrie, was also accepted for publication but the offer was withdrawn when he revealed he was not Aboriginal. John Bayley, who posed as Carmen’s literary agent reported on the Tuesday Book Club that a producer told him ‘she wouldn’t look at a play script I submitted that had a white middle aged, Anglo Celtic male as its author’.

Such choices made by publishing gatekeepers meant that many excellent writers were not given the opportunity to reach readers. Some of those writers have been forced to give up writing to focus on the jobs that earn them money. One such writer is Robert Bidinotto, author of the best-selling book Hunter. Disillusionment had caused him to suppress his ‘dream of publishing novels’ until he heard about the Indie publishing movement. Now his book has been read by thousands. While some writers gave up writing to focus on earning a living, others may have come to the conclusion, as a result of repeated rejections from publishers, that their writing was simply not good enough and given up writing in despair. All of those writers were lost to readers.

The good news for readers is that writers are now being encouraged to write! Readers now have access to a wide range of writers including those who simply wish to write a good story for others to read. Readers can read or not read according to personal taste, without being limited to what publishers think they should read. Readers have helped to make Ania Ahlborn’s  gothic horror novel Seed a top selling title now being optioned by Amazon Studios. Ania went directly to readers by self publishing her book in 2010. Those readers spread the word and the novel climbed the charts. Fifty Shades of Grey is another best seller that owes its early success to reader power. It was originally published as an e-book and a POD paperback by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, a small publisher with a restricted budget for marketing relying on book bloggers and readers to spread the word.

As a reader I am delighted that I have access to books that I might not otherwise have had the opportunity to read. As a writer I am thrilled that Whisper My Secret, originally published in paperback by the small publisher  Zeus Publications and rejected by many publishers in Australia has, as an e-book, already reached almost 40 000 readers. The book’s success (as well as the feedback sent directly to me by readers) has detonated my motivation to write.

Until next time…JB 🙂

About Whisper My Secret

Whisper My Secret

Trapped in Gondwana


Pekanbaru Library on the island of Sumatra is one of the most impressive library buildings I have ever seen but the empty book shelves and the sight of out-dated books published in the 1970s and 80s saddened me.  When I visited the library on a trip to Indonesia a couple of years ago the head librarian, a tall man dressed in a uniform reminiscent of army fatigues, graciously met with me to discuss the library system in Indonesia. I had several picture books with me that I had brought over from Australia. When I showed him a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, his eyes widened and his mouth dropped. His look of astonished enchantment increased with each page. At the end of the book, he asked in an awed tone, “Where can I get such a book?”

The reaction of Indonesian teachers to Eric Carle’s masterpiece was similar. One teacher, who  immediately grasped the beauty of the book’s simplicity and its educational value, highlighted the lessons embedded in the story as she turned the pages: “Colours, numbers, days of the week, food, biology…” Millions of children have enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar without even noticing that it was teaching them so many things. What a gift Eric Carle has given to generations of wide-eyed children.

Like many children in Indonesia I had little access to books as a kid growing up in the Australian bush. However, I was lucky enough to be given the gift of story by an aunt who sent books each Christmas, knowing that my parents could not afford such luxuries. Those beautifully bound books of literature classics gave me hours of reading pleasure, escape from my real world, a love of stories and probably extensive education that I was not aware of at the time.

That love of stories stayed with me and led me to oral storytelling and writing. I feel privileged to be able to use my skills to give the gift of story. Although I would not attempt to emulate Eric Carle’s magnificent picture book I hope that children reading my chapter book, Trapped in Gondwana, will benefit from the pleasure of reading a good story and escaping from their real world while being unaware of the lessons they are learning about the evolution of the earth, the environment, threatened species, personal growth and more.

I wonder if Trapped in Gondwana is the book that I boasted about to my mother when I was still a scrawny bush kid in the early 1960s.

“One day,” I said to her, “I’m going to write a best-selling book.”

My mother replied, “One day I might give you something to write about.”

It wasn’t until after her death almost forty years later that she gifted me her story by leaving papers, previously hidden, for her children to find, which revealed her secret. When I put together the pieces of the puzzle presented by the paperwork, I remembered the promise she had made to me. At the same time I recalled one of her favourite sayings: “You can say anything you like about me when I am dead.” That was how I knew she had given me permission to write her story and the licence to write it as I saw fit.  Her legacy to me was the gift of story. Perhaps it is her story Whisper My Secret and not Trapped in Gondwana about which I heralded great success with my grandiloquent boast. (Fingers crossed for both!)

Whatever the fate of my books in terms of sales, I do believe that the gift of story is one of the most precious gifts we can give, not only to children, but to each other. Apart from bestowing books whether print, electronic or audio, we can also give the gift of story in other ways. Sharing our stories, whether by telling and listening or by writing and reading, is a profound gift which binds families, communities, friends and nations through the creation of understanding, empathy and a sense of connection.

Until next time…JB 🙂

Whisper My Secret

Trapped in Gondwana

About Whisper My Secret

Why I Envy Librarians

Books for Indonesian kids

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

My father’s love letters to my mother show that, although Whisper My Secret is a heart wrenching story of loss and separation, it is also a story of romance and enduring love. When my mother, Myrtle Webb, was forced to give up her first three children, she walked into the arms of a man whose passion and love for her endured through time, through poverty, hardship and illness.

I’ll let my father speak for himself through two of his letters to my mother. I have quoted from both of these letters in Whisper My Secret and I thought you might like to see copies of the originals. (You might prefer to finish the book before reading the letters.)

The first one was written in 1945 when Dad was still in the army and desperate to get out to be with Myrtle and their first-born, Bobby.

The second one was written almost twenty years later in 1964, when Dad was in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne terminally with leukaemia while Mum and us kids were miles away in Orbost. It is clear that his anguish at being separated from Myrtle was just as strong as it ever was.

Click on the images to make them larger.

For those of you who find my father’s handwriting difficult to read, I have transcribed the letters below.

Transcription of army letter 1945:

VX.62956 A.G.Rowley, 140 A.C.T. Coy, Site 16, Seymour, Vic

Dearest “Myrtle”,

Hello, “darl”, how are you today? It’s the old man again. Gosh, that makes me feel old as hell, ah well I guess we are getting old aren’t we? Well, I don’t know what to write about, “love”.

Well, there’s blokes here getting out every day all around me. There’s two went yesterday and three more today and there’s two more next week I know of. All except me. I guess my turn will come eh, “love”?

Well, “darl’ is there anything you want or anything about the place you don’t like up there. If there is just let me know and I’ll try and fix things up for you, do my best anyway, “Myrtle”. Well “Myrtle” how is “Bobby” getting on now, “darl”? I hope he’s alright. Well, “darl”, I’ll soon know now whether I can get out on my wrist in another 6 or 8 days or so.

[The top of this page is covered in kisses and a message under the kisses reads: All my love to you “darl’.]

I hope so anyway. Boy, I hope they say out of it altogether. Well, “darling” there doesn’t seem to be much to tell you except that this silly “sergeant’ here is trying to make me work hard and I’m just not going to do what he wants. I mean I am not going to ruin my wrist just for him, hang him. He thinks I am just putting it on and reckons it isn’t really sore at all. Well, I’ll give him something to think about. I’ve just been and saw the medical “sergeant” and he’s going to fix it up for me.

Well, “darl” I hope to see you soon and all my “love” and kisses from your ever loving “Husband”, George. All my love, “darl” and young “Bobby” – give him my love will you, “Myrtle”.

[The rest of this page is filled with kisses.]

Whisper My Secret is available as an ebook here:

Transcription of letter from Alfred Hospital, 1964

17.9.64,A.G.H. Rowley,Ward 23,Alfred Hospital,Prahran Vic

Dear Myrtle,

I got your letter today written on 12/9/64. Well, Myrtle, I don’t know when I will be home. It seems like they are testing me still. I don’t know what they are up to. I suppose I will have to leave it to them. I had a blood transfusion a couple of days ago.

How are you managing, Myrtle? I hope everything is going alright for you. Yes, I miss you a lot too but what can I do? It’s in the doctors’ hands and they don’t tell you much. Tell Peter I hope it’s very soon, because I’m a bit sick of hospital.

What did Joiner and Cross come over for? Just a sticky beak I s’pose.

Now, look Myrtle you want to look after yourself and don’t sit up at night because I’m quite alright. As a matter of fact I feel pretty good but I still sweat at night and I get a temp [temperature] now and again. Now you get your sleep and don’t worry. They will probably get sick of me before long. I hope so anyway. I weigh 10.10 [10 stone 10 lbs/68 kg] That was last Sunday but I think I have put on some now because they are giving vitamin tablets and I am eating pretty well.

I better go now but keep writing, Myrtle. I look forward to your letters. Look after yourself. Love from George. [Row of kisses here]


1: ‘Peter’ is my youngest brother who was still a toddler when my father became ill. He fretted for his father when Dad was in hospital.

2: My father has referred to two of the local men by their surnames (‘Joiner’ and ‘Cross’).

Whisper My Secret is available as an ebook here:

More about Whisper My Secret:

Until next time… JB 🙂

While exchanging travel stories with friends the other night this memory resurfaced and I decided it was time to make it public as a way of honouring the kindness of a stranger.

In July 1999 I was travelling with my sixteen-year-old niece, Sally, from America back to Melbourne when our airline tickets disappeared at Los Angeles Airport.

Since leaving Houston, Texas Sally had insisted on taking charge of the tickets, carrying them in her hands along with her fluffy purple purse.

With time to spare before our flight we went to a café not far from the departure lounge.  Walking back to the lounge after our snack my niece stopped abruptly. Her face went pale. She could not speak but I knew what had happened. I looked at her hands. No tickets! No purse!

When she had calmed down enough to talk she said she remembered putting both items down on the ledge in front of the serving area when she ordered her snack. We hurried back to look for them. They were not there. Sally’s distress increased. I fought to control my panic. As calmly as I could I explained our situation to the café workers who were very helpful but the tickets could not be found. I recalled seeing a man at the serving counter while we were eating. I saw him only from the back and I remembered he was wearing light brown cargo pants.

We went to the Qantas counter in the departure lounge to report our loss but there was no one yet in attendance. Sally and I roamed the airport waiting areas carefully inspecting men’s trousers looking for the thief in cargo pants. We were in fighting spirit and would have challenged anyone we believed to be the scumbag who stole our tickets. However, we did not see a similar pair of trousers.

Sally was becoming more and more distressed. Finally, we returned to our departure lounge to wait for the staff to arrive. Other passengers offered kind words and reassurance which helped to calm Sally. Finally, a Qantas staff member arrived. After hearing our story, she indicated she would send word through to the check-in counter to see if anyone had handed in our tickets. It was a long and anxious wait until another staff member eventually arrived. I raced back over to the counter and to my great relief she had our tickets and Sally’s fluffy purple purse. Apparently, a gentleman had handed them in.

After we had calmed down we worked out what must have happened. The man wearing light brown cargo pants who came into the cafe for a snack just after us had seen the purse and tickets on the ledge. Rather than take the easy option of handing them up to the café staff he took the time and trouble to do the right thing. He walked all the way back out to the Qantas desk in the main area of that huge airport and handed them in to the staff there.

We never knew who he was but his kind thoughtfulness and honesty made a difference and will always be remembered. JB 🙂

Versatile Blogger Award
Thank you, Bean from Finding Your Gibbee, for awarding me The Versatile Blogger award.

In keeping with the rules of this award (see below) and to celebrate Australia Day, I would like to award The Versatile Blogger to the following brilliant bloggers:
Jackie Kerin
Lillian Rodrighues-Pang (http://lillistory.wordpress.com/)
Zena Shapter
Skye : Leopold Primary School
Liam : Leopold Primary School
Riley : Leopold Primary School

Rule number 4 (Share seven completely random things about myself.)
1: I am a child on the inside (the outside is another matter)
2: I am also a reptile (love the heat and cannot tolerate the cold)
3: I love a good murder (in fiction)
4: I have killed
5: I have never been in jail (well, not as an inmate)
6: I make a mean pavlova (never been arrested for it)
7: I love listening to audio books (never been arrested for that either)
Re point 4: It was a mouse.

Here are the rules that go along with this award:
1.In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.(15 isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture. Try and pick at least 5 )
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

I’m just a timid little mouse in the blogging universe but there is nothing like an award to get me roaring like a lion. JB 🙂

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones by Sue Whiting is set in Wangaroo Bay, with the ocean on one side and the Australian bush on the other. This is a familiar setting for me as I grew up in Orbost in East Gippsland which is on the coast of Bass Strait and close to several national parks as well as bushland.

Being near to the Australian bush means the threat of bushfires is a fact of life. It is a terrifying threat but as kids we did not see it that way. We would watch the red wall of fire approaching our house with a sense of anticipation and excitement. In joyous awe we would shout out its proximity to each other.

“It’s close.”

“It’ll get to us before lunch time.”

“It’s sure travelling fast.”

I was especially impressed by the vibrant tones of red, orange and yellow that swept across the sky.

Of course, an adult’s perception of bushfire is quite different. Our parents, although appearing calm, must have been anxious and watchful. Just how distressing the threat of bushfire is to people who live through it was brought home to me in 2009 when I toured the Black Saturday communities of Murrindindi shire in October that year. Sadly, I was also deeply aware of the loss and pain many of these communities suffered.

Sue Whiting’s story is set against the backdrop of the threat of bushfire. Cooper’s mother does not take the threat seriously and, much like my siblings and me, seems oblivious to the danger. Although Cooper seems more alert to the peril than his mother, as a swimmer with a fear of the ocean his personal fears are, for him, as intimidating as the fear of being caught in the approaching fire.

Arriving at the teens can be a turning point for many children. One minute life is fun and carefree, the next it is fraught with tensions, life changing decisions and confronting issues. In Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, we meet thirteen-year-old Cooper at this turning point in his life. As the township heats up with summer temperatures soaring and the bushfire looming, so does Cooper’s life.

Cooper doesn’t have a father and has never given the idea of a dad much thought until a chance remark sends him on a quest find his unknown father. His relationship with his mother becomes tense and he meets a new challenge when Abbie, a gorgeous new girl in town, moves in next door. Too close for comfort, she stirs intense feelings in young Cooper. While he is struggling with an identity crisis without a father figure, Abbie is struggling with issues of identity for different reasons. It is his feelings for Abbie that force Cooper to face his fear of the ocean when she is in urgent need of help. With the bushfire blocking access to the outside world on one side, Cooper’s only option is the ocean.

The book’s humour, language and terminology give it a distinctly Australian flavour; a flavour I find most enjoyable. Sue Whiting’s Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is a fast paced, easy to read book for the upper primary and lower secondary school age group.

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones

Growing up with bushfires and surf

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones by Sue Whiting

Published by Walker Books

ISBN 9781921529788


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