New Middle Grade fiction novel coming…EVIE AND RHINO

I’ve got my first MG novel coming out on October 5th with Walker Books Australia. It’s for 9 -13 years, although it’s a read anyone can enjoy. Middle Grade fiction is my favourite reading genre, as it is for many grown ups.

EVIE AND RHINO has been a while in the making. I wrote the first draft in Adelaide on a May Gibbs Creative Time Fellowship in 2017. I re-wrote it a few times after that, but didn’t really re-write it properly until the first lockdown in 2020. The main reason for this was that I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to do a structural edit. My story meandered in the middle and I didn’t know how to fix it. Anyway, after several re-writes, I worked my way through.

Isn’t the front cover beautiful? Everything on it is symbolic. After you read the story, the front cover will mean so much more.

On a stormy night off the coast of southern Australia, a ship transporting a cargo of exotic animals tosses and turns in enormous seas. Rhino senses they are in grave danger. . . Not far away, ten-year-old Evie and her grandfather shelter in their crumbling, once-grand old home. They know too well how deadly storms can be. When all is calm, Evie treks over the dunes to the sea and makes a discovery that will change her life, and Rhino’s, forever. Will the tragedies of their pasts finally be put to rest?

A young girl with a tragic past and a rhinoceros facing life in captivity form an unlikely and magical bond after a fateful storm and a shipwreck bring them together. A moving tale about love, connection and the healing power of friendship.

EVIE AND RHINO is also a story about monkeys and exotic parrots, a chicken named Albine, and a devoted milking cow called Dominique. There’s an old crumbling house and as many apple pies as you can eat.

The most common question…where did I get the inspiration from for EVIE AND RHINO?


I’m originally from the Shipwreck Coast that stretches along the south-west coastline of Victoria (born and raised on a farm halfway between Port Fairy and Hamilton). Anyway, from 1840 to the late 1800’s, 638 known cargo and passenger ships were wrecked along this coastline. A lot of people don’t realise Bass Straight is so treacherous. It has incredibly unpredictable weather, frequent gale force winds, currents, rips, and shifting sandbars.

To quote Mathew Flinders’s: “Seldom have I seen a more fearful section of coastline.”


So, I love shipwreck stories and was determined to write one. I’m obsessed about researching shipwrecks and through the State Library of Victoria, one can read witness accounts of all the shipwrecks along the Shipwreck Coast. At the time, the Maritime Board of Melbourne had to investigate any ships lost at sea. They interviewed witnesses and survivors i.e the captain, the crew and passengers. These first hand witness accounts gave me an incredible insight into the terror of the situation these people found themselves in. More often than not, poor navigation was the cause of these shipwrecks, but that’s another story for another day.

This is a wooden engraving I found of the Steamship Bancoora, which ran aground in 1891.

Image: State Library of Victoria


Anyway, the Steamship Bancoora ran aground at Breamlea in 1891. They were sailing from Calcutta to Melbourne with a cargo load of exotic animals bound for the Melbourne Zoo. There was a young elephant, a rhinoceros, six monkeys and several exotic parrots. The whole story took my breath away.

Image: Additions to the Zoo, 1891. State Library of Victoria


From the moment I read this account, an image was burned into my mind. I imagined the animals had washed ashore, and that my main character, Evie, found the rhinoceros asleep in the shallows and led it home by the horn.

Image: ‘Rhinoceros Unicornis’, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Institute, U.S.A

 There are some other very special ephemera that inspired the story of EVIE AND RHINO, and I shall blog about them soon.

Next week, I’ll be posting an interview with the amazingly talented, Astred Hicks, who designed and illustrated EVIE AND RHINO.

EVIE AND RHINO will be released on 5th October but is available now for preorder.




DROVER…meet the illustrator, Sarah Anthony

Hello! I’d like to welcome the very talented, Sarah Anthony, onto my blog today.

Sarah is the illustrator of our new picture book DROVER, and her art has magically brought alive the words on the page.

Hi Sarah, thanks for coming onto my blog. When did you start painting and how did you get into children’s picture book illustration? 

I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I was a small girl, but didn’t really start specialising in oil painting until a few years ago. After leaving school I did six years at art school and got to explore many different forms of art-making. I felt a bit like a kid in a lolly shop with all those amazing artistic options! Initially I fell most in love with silversmithing and jewellery-making, but over the years I have kept coming back to painting. Over the last few years I have been painting full time and specialising in portraiture and landscape art.

Sarah’s incredible self portrait

I hadn’t really thought of illustrating picture books but when the Associate Art Director from Walker Books came across my work and contacted me to see if I might be interested, I thought ‘what a great idea!’. I have young children myself and love how picture books open up new worlds of possibilities and understanding. I find it really exciting to use my art to bring a story to life. I hope that our book can be inspirational for small people, as well as enjoyed by the parents who read bedtime stories over and over again!

I hope so too.

What inspires you to paint? 

In my fine art practice I am mainly interested in the use of light and colour to express tension and emotion. I am always chasing the ‘moment in between’ – those moments where anything could happen and there is some ambiguity, leaving interpretation to the viewer. For the Drover illustrations I was primarily inspired by the landscape which in a sense really is one of the main characters in the book. The harsh heat, lack of water, daily dangers, the extraordinary beauty of the scenery and light underpin and influence the whole story.

What was it that attracted you to the story of DROVER?

I knew I wanted to be on board with the project as soon as I read the opening paragraph where drover ‘sighs at the peachy dawn’! Your writing is beautiful and evocative and I could easily visualise a book full of colour, light and drama and those sun-drenched outback scenes. It couldn’t be more my thing!

I was also really attracted to Edna’s story. She was an extraordinary woman and lived a fascinating life, and I am so admiring of her strength and courage and the incredible journey she and the other drovers took. She was a strong, independent woman who many kids will relate to and be inspired by, and personally I always love a story with a strong female character who lives her life on her terms.

Drover front cover

I’m so glad you love Edna, she’s a legend. 

Tell us about the process you went through to choose the right medium and the grade of paper to illustrate DROVER?

Although my initial working drawings were in coloured pencil, it was an easy choice to use oil paints for the final illustrations. I felt that the outback scenes and the richness of colour and light were best portrayed by oils, which have a fabulous vibrancy of colour. Traditional oil painting techniques lend easily to portraying dramatic skies and the sense of movement and drama that the book needed.

After some experimentation with various papers I settled on Arches cold pressed 300gsm Oil paper which was really beautiful to work on, and also appropriate for the technical needs of the publishing process.

How did you find the experience of drawing a rush?

I did an enormous amount of research work behind the stampede scenes. I had to learn how a bullock looks and acts in that scenario and then design the composition with multiple racing cattle so that it was varied and dynamic. Initially I had the main stampede scene moving from left to right in a side view but ended up altering this so that the bullocks seemed to be racing out of the page straight at the reader, which made the scene that much more exciting. I enjoyed painting all the shadows and kicked up dust and the wild-eyed cattle.

How long did it take you to do the illustrations?

As oil paintings there are days, sometimes weeks of work in each painting. Sometimes I had to let a painting dry off a little before applying highlights or to allow for translucency with layers, such as in the night sky scenes, so I was working on multiple paintings at any time.

I can’t imagine how long that must have taken.

Tell us about drawing cattle and horses?

Again, I did a lot of research to learn how cattle and horses behave and move in various scenarios. I spent a bit of time in our local children’s farm watching the animals to get a sense of personality which helped me in bring the character of Shifty to life. The initial inspiration for Shifty was a grumpy old cow who was moaning and looking sideways at me with those big wide eyes. She was not happy and let everyone know about it! Cattle can be enormously funny and full of personality and it wasn’t hard to create Shifty as a belligerent, lovable rogue.

I styled Edna’s horse Midnight to be very much a reflection of her- I visualised Midnight as trusty and always ready for action. In the scenes where Edna is on horseback I tried to show a sense that horse and rider were ‘as one’, in tune with each other.

What’s your next project? (if you’re allowed to share)

I’m currently working on a body of oil paintings for a solo exhibition next year (Covid willing!) 

Thank you so much for chatting today, Sarah.

There is no doubt, DROVER, is a book created with love and care. Thank you to the amazing team at Walker Books

Sarah has just been shortlisted for two major art prizes this year, the Lester Prize and the Kennedy Prize. Good luck!  

Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahanthonyartist and check out her website at

DROVER… a new children’s picture book

I’ve got a new picture book coming out soon…it’s called DROVER and it’s been beautifully illustrated by the talented Sarah Anthony, and is being published by the fabulous Walker Books Australia.

Edna Jessop (nee Zigenbine) was Australia’s first female boss drover. In 1950, she took 1600 head of cattle from Western Australia to Queensland. For six months, they travelled through harsh country over a distance of 2240 kilometres. Edna began droving as a child, but on this trip she was in her early twenties. Her father, a boss drover, fell ill soon after they left and Edna took charge.

Edna Jessop (nee Zigenbine) Image:  N.T Library

I wrote the text for DROVER in such a way, that Edna is only ever referred to as drover. This was so the reader didn’t know it was a girl until the very last page, when she threw her hat in the air and cracked her stockwhip. Yee-haa!     

Anyway, what’s a drover? A drover is a person who moves livestock on long walks from stations (big farms) to markets. Trips could take many months and were slow going, winding through some of the most isolated and barren areas of Australia. They were incredibly dangerous and many cattle, sheep and even some drovers have died whilst droving.

Edna is on the horse in the right and her sister, Kathleen, is on the left. Image: State Library of Victoria.

My Grandfather went droving at fourteen years of age and he often talked about the ‘long paddock.’ As a kid I thought he just meant a big paddock, but the ‘long paddock’ refers to travelling stock routes (TSR) which are a historical network of pathways all over Australia for livestock to be moved to market.

I bet you’ve seen them, they’re the wide grasses verges beside country roads. Funnily enough, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is still classified as a stock route (but you can only use it between midnight and sunrise, ok?).

I love the romance of droving. It’s iconically Australian. My Grandfather and his brothers lived hand to mouth, shooting rabbits and cooking them over a campfire for dinner. They slept with their dogs under thin blankets around a fire, taking it in turns to watch the cattle during the night. My Grandfather loved his horses more than life itself and I realise now, he had a gift, especially with horses.

My Grandfather, Keith Bullock on Buxton. Stockman, horseman, the best. Also loved a Marlboro red.
Hamilton Saleyards
Image: Hamilton Spectator

My great uncles were similarly gifted with horses. This is picture below is my Great Uncle Les on his beautiful palomino horse ‘Gold King.’ He had a famous show he performed all around Australia called ‘Cowboys Last Ride’ that left the crowd in tears. He was also a poet.

It’s funny how your family continues to define you, long after they’ve gone. I love the connection my work has to my heritage. And as soon as I delved into this in my writing, it brought out something in my stories that hadn’t previously been there. I’m glad I’ve been able to tap into it.

Anyway, book launch details are coming soon, COVID permitting!

However, DROVER, can be found in any good bookstore from September 8th 2021 or you can pre-order it online here at Booktopia

Thank you for popping into my blog, I appreciate all the love. Thanks to my family, my friends and my wonderful children’s writing community.

Meeting Kate DiCamillo…

I went to listen to Kate DiCamillo at the Wheeler Centre last June. Yes, I know, where have I been, that was ages ago. Well, I had my website re-done and I didn’t like it and it’s attached to my blog which I couldn’t access, so it’s a long, long story.

Anyway, my point is I haven’t stopped thinking about Kate since, nor the advice she gave.

Me & Kate(can you see how ridiculously thrilled I am to meet Kate?!!)

Kate spoke about the difficulties of writing. This had me on the edge of my seat, writers like her had difficulties? This was a revelation. I just assumed beautiful words just flowed from her fingertips. Not so. It’s complex, she tells us.

Then she quoted Dorothy Parker, and I love her even more.

‘I hate writing, but I love having written’

Kate writes two pages at 5am every morning. At this hour, when all is muted and quiet, she has a foot in each world. She journals, goes back to earlier pieces and works her way through things. She writes without an outline, she has names and scenes and finds her way. She says she cannot make herself talented, but she can do the work. She asks herself, am I afraid or am I lazy? She admits to both but always pushes forward, focusing on one day at a time, then a week, getting to know her characters until they take over.

The first draft is often a mess and it always takes seven drafts before a novel goes to an editor.

Kate tells us to commit to writing and to find a way to do the work. Keep our minds open and our hearts and ears and eyes.

The Miraculous journey of Edward Tulane is one of my all time favourite books. It’s achingly heart breaking and the first time I read it, I sobbed the whole way through it. Kate’s connection to Edward is so visceral and real, for anyone who’s loved a dolly, a bunny or a teddy bear, this is the book for you.

Edward Tulane was inspired by a gift. Kate was given a rabbit doll. A very large rabbit doll. It freaked her out but she dreamt about it underwater one night and the story started from this image. It was a picture book, but the story unfolded and told itself, becoming a novel.


Kate makes time to read every day, she’s most present when she’s reading.

Daydreaming is essential to every writer as it ‘maximum’ staring (I love this).

Leave your phone off and don’t talk about your work. You’ll jinx it. Just sit down and do it.

Thank you Kate DiCamillo. See you at Christmas…ha ha ha 

About the novel ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost.


Edward sinking

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hobos camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle: even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

Candlewick Press, 2006
Ages 7 and up, ISBN 0-7636-2589-2

Kate DiCamillo is one of the United States’ leading junior fiction and illustrated fiction authors for children. She has sold over 22 million copies worldwide, with books translated into 41 languages.

Kate is one of only six people to have won two prestigious Newbery Medals, awarded by the American Library Association, for The Tale of Despereaux (2003) and Flora and Ulysses (2013). Kate recently completed her two year appointment as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature 2014–2015. She is the fourth US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Interview with Andrew McLean ‘Fabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’

Today, I’d like to welcome Andrew McLean to my blog.

Andrew McLean is one of Australia’s best-loved and most highly awarded illustrators of children’s books. His CBCA award-winning titles include You’ll Wake the Baby!, My Dog and Reggie, Queen of the Street, and he has also illustrated a number of picture books with his writer wife, Janet.  

And I’m thrilled to say Andrew has illustrated our new picture bookFabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’

fab cover

1. Andrew, what was it that attracted you to the story of Fabish?

As soon as I read the manuscript I was hooked. Fabish is set in a real place, about a real event and real people and animals. I felt an immediate connection to the story.

Fabish is a moving story, beautifully written. Your empathy with and knowledge of horses is obvious. There many descriptive passages about the atmospherics that can’t be illustrated, like the heat, the wind, the crackling of the fire, the rattling of the roof.

In a picture book the two elements of words and pictures have to work together. I often take a cinematic approach to illustrating a picture book. Fabish lent itself to that way of working. And of course it had a moving and satisfying ending.

2. Tell us about the process you went through to choose the right medium and the grade of paper to illustrate Fabish?
Over the years I have used all sorts of different papers. Basically, for watercolour painting, there is hot press, that is more heavily sized, smoother and harder that cold press, which is less heavily sized and often has a texture or tooth to it. I have found that hot press is great for illustration that requires detail, but it is a less forgiving paper when taking a wash than cold press that leaves softer marks.

Because there is a lot of landscape in the story I chose cold press because it is rougher and more suitable for an impressionistic approach.

Recently I purchased quite a lot of paper of the heaviest weight available (640 gsm). This means that I don’t have to stretch it. Stretching is done by wetting a sheet and gluing it to a smooth clean board with gummed tape. This can be time consuming and not always successful, i.e. one side might pulls away as it dries, so you have to undo it and start again. This is very frustrating. I am happy to pay more for the paper and avoid the heartache and wasted time of stretching

3. How did you find the experience of drawing a bushfire?
The experience of painting the bushfire was challenging. There was no shortage of bushfire pictures and videos, so I had lots of material to work with. I used watercolour mostly, but used pastel, wax crayons, and white paint at times to leave crisper marks on the paper to represent shooting sparks, etc. For the aftermath I used charcoal (burnt wood). This was perfect for the tree trunks, and when combined with pastel, was great for creating smoke effects.

You’ve done an amazing job, Andrew, the bushfire scenes feel real.

4. How long did it take you to do the illustrations?
My recent process has involved using my iPad to do the roughs. First, I draw on paper with pencil or charcoal to size of the book then photograph the drawing and import it into an App called Sketch Club on my iPad.

Andrew at work with support from his team
Andrew at work with support from his team

This allows me to paint much faster than with real paint on paper. With Sketch Club I can paint intuitively using just my finger. This is different from the working on the Photoshop or Illustrator Apps, that requires computer knowledge that I don’t have. As I do each rough on Sketch Club I can email it directly to the publisher, and get useful feed back as I go along. It also means I have a colour rough when it comes to doing the final artwork. I aim to complete the roughs in about three months, and the final artwork in four to six months. As I get older I seem to be working smarter – not having the repeat drawings so much.

5. Tell us about drawing horses?

With the drawing of horses I had a lot assistance from Degas. He drew horses like no-one else.

Horsemen, rainy weather, 1886, Glasgow Museums and Art Gallery , Ecosse
Horsemen, rainy weather, 1886,
Glasgow Museums and
Art Gallery , Ecosse

Before Edwearde Muybridge (and he was weird) painters tended to paint moving horses like merry-go-round horses – with two legs stretched out in front and two legs stretched out behind. (Incidentally, when Muybridge found out the child born to his younger wife was not his, he sought out the real father and shot him dead. He was acquitted, the jury being of the opinion that the adulterer had it coming to him).

Anyway, Muybridge was paid by a wealthy San Fransisco horse owner to try and prove whether at some stage when running horses had all of their feet off the ground. He built a long shed, with a gridded wall on one side and a battery of cameras at close intervals on the opposite side as it ran through the shed. If you place photographs in the order they were taken and flick them rapidly you will see an image of a moving horse, with its feet off the ground at a certain point.

Eadweard Muybridge, Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 626, thoroughbred bay mare "Annie G." galloping
Eadweard Muybridge,
Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 626,
thoroughbred bay mare “Annie G.” galloping

He certainly changed the way artists painted horses. Now they had photos that froze them in mid-stride, no more merry-go-round horses.

Wow, that’s fascinating stuff, Andrew.

A big thank you to you, Neridah, for writing this wonderful story and to the editor Sue Flockhart, the designer, Sandra Nobes and all at Allen and Unwin for doing such a marvelous job with the production. The look and feel of the book is beautiful.

Thanks Andrew, it’s been my pleasure. And yes, I agree, a big thank to everyone at A&U.

Thanks for coming onto my blog today. I’ll keep you posted when the date of the book launch has been finalised.

‘Fabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’ can be found in any good bookstore w/c 29th July
Category: Picture books
ISBN: 9781925266863
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: August 2016
Page Extent: 32
Format: Hard Cover
Age: 6 – 9