Other writing projects
Having done the hard yakka of writing picture books I decided a couple of years ago to have a go at writing something a bit easier so I’ve been writing novels for older readers and young adults and more recently have completed the first draft of an historical novel for adults.
How can this be easier I hear you ask? There are more words, lots more words, like somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 words! Yeah, but now I can use all that flowery stuff I wrote way back in high school. It also means I get to create characters and worlds that come alive and I can throw in all sorts of problems and dilemmas for the characters to overcome. It’s a lot of fun making life difficult for them!
Medusa Stone, the first novel in the series titled Hopscotch was published in 2009. My publisher, Walker Books Australia, liked it so much they asked me to write a second adventure for Hannah and Jake. This one is set in ancient Egypt during the reign of the pharaoh, Thutmose III and just like in Medusa Stone, our two warrior heroes face a number of hair-raising situations, have to deal with the nasty tomb robber, Osorkon, and come up against some pretty sick beasts as they attempt to complete the task set by the Game Master, Kostas.
Even though I’m working on a couple of long novels at the moment that doesn’t mean I haven’t forgotten the good old picture story book. Edge of the World is my latest picture story book, which has taken over five years to reach fruition. A long journey, but well worth the wait! Set in a remote fishing village somewhere near the edge of the world, it has been beautifully illustrated by award-winning illustrator Wayne Harris and in the words of my editor, Donna Rawlins, “it’s a doozy.”
Here’s an extract:
In the village near the edge of the world, storm clouds gathered above the harbour. Snowdrifts piled high against the breakwater and the village shivered beneath a blanket of snow. The wind shrieked and howled through the empty streets and women and children huddled closer to their hearths.
And nobody smiled in the village near the edge of the world.
While fishermen mended their nets and repaired their boats, they talked of towering seas and narrow escapes. But Toby McPhee did not join in. Instead, he plunged his brush into the sticky blackness of the tar pot and painted the deck. He had no wish to remember.
And nobody smiled in the village near the edge of the world.
My most recent Young Adult novel, Of Boys and Boats, is now available. Here’s an extract where ‘Mad’ Mick relives the horrors of fighting on the Western Front in WW1
CHAPTER 2: GAS ATTACK!
Mick Metcalf lurked deep in the shadows of his verandah. He listened to the excited banter drifting across the street from the local kids who had been gathering there for the last couple of nights. Despite his failing eyesight, Mick could just make out their indistinct shapes beneath the street light.
He heard the growling voice of the youth nicknamed Bruiser boom across the street. It was the voice of a bully. He could see his bulky frame swaggering amongst them, reminding Mick of the rooster that used to strut about in the farmyard in the dustbowl they called the Mallee. A wry smile creased his broken face when he remembered the fate of the rooster, left bloodied and headless on the chopping block by the wood shed.
Mick watched Bruiser confront the tall boy with the dark hair, yelling at him and pushing him around. It was a classic attempt to provoke the boy into a fight. Bruiser reminded Mick of another bully, a bully from the distant past, one that swaggered amongst them in the trenches at Ypres.
Captain Pearson strode through their ranks as they huddled in lines on the Western Front, shivering with cold and fear: their feet swollen and sore from hours of standing in the stinking waters of the trenches; their skin raw and itching from the lice. The captain’s voice had a certain biting snarl to it; an edge of impatience and superiority that grated on Mick’s nerves; nerves already shredded by the weeks of constant bombardment.
‘Not long now boyos and you’ll be over the top and giving those bloody Huns a right bleeding hiding. Look alive now! Get them bayonets fixed good and proper. Let the Hun feel that cold steel in their ugly guts.’
The shells were landing so close that Mick could hear them whining through the pre-dawn light. He winced when a shell exploded nearby. Huge clods of dirt were thrown into the air, and the shock waves rung in his ears. It was all right for Captain Pearson to act the hero; after all, he’d be following the advancement from the safety of the rear. Mick had no illusions about what awaited him and Clive once they went over the top. He’d seen enough soldiers cut down by the mincing fire of the Germans’ machine guns before they’d even cleared the trench ridge.
‘There’ll be none of that weak snivelling!’ snapped Captain Pearson, shaking the shoulders of Clive who’d sunk to his knees in the mud. Mick yanked his younger brother to his feet and patted his shoulder.
‘You’ll be right mate,’ he said. ‘I’ll watch out for you.’
Satisfied, Captain Pearson moved on along the line and Mick pressed his half-smoked cigarette into Clive’s trembling hand.
‘Don’t worry,’ Mick muttered, more to reassure himself than his brother. ‘The artillery’s softening ‘em up for us. We’ll be having a beer at Bethleem Farm tonight. There’ll be wine, women and song for sure.’
Another shell exploded nearby and they covered their heads. When Mick looked up, he realised something was amiss. There hadn’t been the usual blinding flash-a flash that lit up the night sky, turning night into day. Rifle in hand, he scrambled onto the trench step to peer between the sandbags. A flare burst above no-man’s-land, illuminating the killing fields, and amidst the tangle of barbed wire, the twisted bodies and the cratered earth he saw the yellow fog creeping towards them. Mick’s breath caught in his throat.
‘Shit!’ he cursed, sliding back into the trench and fumbling in his pack. ‘Quick!’ he shouted. ‘Get your bloody masks on! There’s gas coming!’
They hurriedly pulled their masks over their faces and stood silently side by side. Mick could hear the echoing wheeze of each breath he took and prayed they hadn’t been too late. He watched, mesmerised, as the yellow fog crept over the lip of the trench, snaked down the wall and swirled around their rotting boots. He heard the muffled cry of some poor bugger further along the trench who hadn’t been quick enough; he was already coughing and cursing the Hun and his fate.
The soldier staggered towards them like someone lost. Through his gas mask, Mick saw the panic in the soldier’s eyes and the realisation of what was to come. The soldier sank to his knees in the mud and slime, blood gurgling and frothing from his mouth. Mick turned away and thanked God he’d been quick enough to avoid the same horrible fate. He’d seen enough mustard gas victims to know that a terrible death awaited them, a death punctuated with great mustard-coloured blisters, eyes blinded and stuck closed, throats stripped bare and a desperate fight for breath.
After what seemed like hours, the breeze blew the last ragged threads of the deadly mist away, but still Mick and Clive refused to remove their masks, too afraid of the consequences. A few yards away, the unfortunate soldier lay curled up in the mud like a sleeping baby.
‘An’ you can piss off back to where ya came from,’ Bruiser shouted from across the road.
The tall, dark-haired youth swayed on his feet. The other boy, the one who ran with a dog like old Blue, steadied the youth. At the edge of the circle, the homemade torch lay discarded on the street. Mick sighed and shuffled inside. He didn’t make himself a cup of tea and sit in the kitchen and listen to the wireless like he usually did.
Having finished the first draft of my 100,000+ word Adult Novel some time ago I have returned to editing the novel now that Of Boys and Boats is all done and dusted.
When a Scottish archaeologist unearths a wand belonging to a pharaoh’s magician, little does he realise the powerful forces he is about to awaken; forces that will wreak havoc, heartbreak and ultimately death on the lives of a disparate cast of characters as they seek to realise their dreams on the goldfields of Beechworth in 1857.
Angus McLeod stood on the foredeck of The Intrepid and braced his feet against the rolling deck as the ship pitched and ploughed through the ever increasing swell and the howling wind that sung through the lanyards. Overhead the canvas cracked and strained against the stiff south westerly that had sprung up overnight and caused the seas to become increasingly violent.
He tamped his pipe and drew in a mouthful of sweet tobacco and reflected on the fortunes and misfortunes of his most recent expedition in the desert sands of Egypt. He was returning to England with treasures that would undoubtedly bring him to the attention of the Royal Society and propel him to notoriety and acclaim. The dig had been successful in many respects, but he was still bitterly disappointed that his most successful result had resulted in near disaster and that he had barely escaped with his life following the collapse of the pharaoh’s tomb.
The ship suddenly pitched and rolled so violently that Angus was almost thrown off his feet. He gripped the railing and stared out at the heaving seas that were as black as the low clouds overhead. Salt spray stung his ruddy cheeks and he pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders and staggered back along the deck towards his cabin where the wand lay wrapped in a piece of embroidered tent cloth and beside it lay open the Book of the Dead, the only two items he had managed to save before the walls came crashing down around him. He would examine and puzzle over the inscriptions etched in the wand while the storm raged and perhaps unlock the secret of the hieroglyphics written there.