Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Mabel Jean Kaplan!

Today I have a new visitor at Spinning Pearls; Mabel Jean Kaplan, the West Aussie author of "Connie and the Pigeons". "Connie" was illustrated by Kelli Hainke, who drew the entertaining little lizard you see on this page.

Here's what Mabel has to say, but read on afterwards for some of my comments on Connie.


The writing of ‘Connie and the Pigeons’ was a real buzz for me. From the moment I read the six line blurb in a newspaper column, I had a story. An aeroplane of Australian historical significance had been rediscovered in an aeroplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona by two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts where it had been saved from demolition by a flock of pigeons who had taken up residence inside her. All I had to do was get it out or get it down on paper.

Now I’m a storyteller at heart, so Connie’s first airing was during ‘Celebration of Story’ a storytelling concert in a small hall over Perth Central Railway Station. I thought it went over quite well until I saw myself on video. Ugh! Didn’t know I moved so much. Then I remembered the card I’d received from colleagues when I left one of my previous places of employment. It had shown a picture of a mechanised woman with an inscription that read: You could never be replaced by a machine. Too many moveable parts!

I knew then, this story had to be written down. In my mind’s eye it was already a picture book, I could see those moveable parts as ‘the ground crew climbed over her body, checked her joints, rubbed her down and wiped over her engine parts … put a drop of oil here and tightened a loose bolt there’ and when ‘she felt her body begin to shake so much her wings moved up and down' and again when she ‘shook her propellers and flicked her lights as she bumped over the rough ground.’


I’ve always loved aeroplanes. I remember as a child living on a farm in the north eastern wheat belt of Western Australia being woken one night by my father to see an aeroplane flying overhead. Since that time I’ve flown in all manner of aircraft large and small. In the ‘60’s, as a teacher on Kalgoorlie School of the Air, it was the Flying Doctor Service plane that took me out across the Nullabor to Cook on the WA-SA border to visit a group of isolated children. This is the desert I saw when I thought of Tucson, Arizona. In the 70’s I worked on an aboriginal settlement on Elcho Island in North East Arnhemland. The plane that took us island hopping was a single engine, two seater. Many a time a group of children and I looked on as an elderly mechanic climbed over the craft and carefully checked the engine parts after each flight. And I’ll never forget my first trip to Vienna in 1983. Vienna was my husband’s birth place and we were on a journey back to the haunts of his childhood. Bad weather prevented landing in Copenhagen, where we were to have changed planes for our flight to Vienna, and the plane was forced to fly onto on to Oslo in Norway. As we waited for our flight to resume, an airport attendant approached us and advised if we didn’t mind flying in an Austrian DC3 over Czechoslovakia we could leave immediately. We accepted his offer and were soon flying so low over Czechoslovakia we could almost see the grass grow. At this time Austrian airlines were one of the few foreign planes permitted to enter then communist controlled Czech airspace.


I find researching the background behind a story half the fun. For Connie, the story had all but written itself before I had time to do any research. But I soon discovered that Connie, far from being the name of a particular aircraft, was the generic name for all the Lockheed Constellations of the period from 1947 to the early 60’s. I uncovered a political wrangle between the Australian and British Governments over the purchase of the Lockheeds and in the process found the reason for Connie ending up in Tucson, Arizona. As for the so-called aeroplane graveyard, it turned out to be a museum. Saved by pigeons? Yes. But not because the smell of their droppings dissuaded would-be salvage crews from stripping her down, but because the acid in the droppings rendered the metal unsuitable for melting down and re-use. And the two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts? They turned into a whole team of men and women, members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) based in New South Wales who worked tirelessly over many years to bring a Connie back to Australia.

But this was a children’s picture book and I saw no reason to complicate the story line with literal truth. Just knowing this background greatly enriched the story for me.

One piece of information I was really glad I didn’t know prior to writing the story concerned the pigeons. The live pigeons were long gone. Far from shooing pigeons from inside the cabin, the restoration crew spent long hours removing ‘tightly wadded nests of twigs and the remains of dead birds’ and scraping dried bird dropping from every surface and orifice.

The greatest delight of all came after the book was published. A telephone call from a Qantas pilot in New South Wales who had learned about the book from a Western Australian Qantas pilot. He was also a member of HARS and well acquainted with those involved in the restoration and return of Connie. He was full of enthusiasm and generous in his praise. I felt relieved and delighted the book rang true even to those in the know!


I never cease to be intrigued by the underlying messages different readers attach to a story. Here are two unsolicited comments about Connie and the Pigeons.

This book is based on a true story and the strange adventure of little aeroplane called Connie (Lockheed Constellation L749). But as with all books there is more. It is also about separation anxiety, friendship, doing what you do best, and even recycling! Kathy Pierce, Pittsburgh USA

The text is pitched towards middle and upper primary, the comic sans font enhancing the lively pace of the story. Kelli Hainke’s illustrations complement the text and encourage the reader to look deep and uncover more. Her wandering lizard has its own story to tell and adds a ‘Where’s Wally’ aspect to the story.

The text is ideal for thematic planning and act as a stimulus and springboard into further studies of flight and the history of aviation in Australia. Within my room I have used the ICP strand in S&E to encourage internet research in several learning areas.
Year 5 teacher, Caversham Primary School.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks, Mabel, for a fascinating story behind the story of Connie and the Pigeons. The picturebook, (which you'll find reviewed at my other blog, ) tells a happy and simple story, but the guest blog you just read gives us the background and facts behind the story. As Mabel rightly points out, the sweeter and simpler aspects of the story are not strictly what happened, but, they are "right" for a picturebook. This seemingly throw-away comment deserves careful consideration. When turning a real event into a fictionalised story, authors must choose what facts to keep, what to leave out and what to change or smooth. Having been lucky enough to read both versions of the story, I believe Mabel chose well.

Follow Mabel on her blog tour. She is appearing at the following blogs.

Monday, 23 March Sally Murphy at

Tuesday,24 March, Sally Odgers at (You are here now.)

Wednesday, 25 March, Dee White at

Thursday, 26 March, Refuelling stop at

Friday, 27 March, Brenton Cullen at

Connie and the Pigeons is available through Westbooks in Victoria Park WA (08) 9361 4211

Email:; online through or direct from the publisher Stories for the Telling 54 Hudson Avenue Girrawheen WA 6064 Tel. (08) 9342 7150 Email:

For those on the Eastern coast it is also available from

HARS Souvenirs
cnr Airport and Boomerang Roads

Albion Park Rails, New South Wales 2527


Qantas Founder Outback Museum
PO Box 737
Longreach Qld 4730

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Replay first chapter

Here's the first chapter of my century-spanning love story, REPLAY. It's available as a PDF or a paperback from, and I'd really LOVE someone to read it and give it an honest review.


Scored in a locked room.


This time round, I am a human girl and Harry is a dog. This is inconvenient, because my parents didn't really want a dog with a jutting eyebrow fringe and a shaggy, untrimmed beard. Nor did they want a dog that cost five hundred dollars.

A pedigreed Schnauzer! I said in despair when I recognised him that morning at the agricultural show. Why did you have to be a pedigreed Schnauzer, Harry? I mean - why did you have to be a dog?

Harry looked sheepish. His beady little eyes peered out from underneath that peculiar fringe. Sorry, Aelfthryth...

Ellie, I corrected. I'm called 'Ellie' now.

I was speaking to Harry mind-to-mind, of course. Australian English is the language I use in this Replay, but it isn't something a dog can ever learn.

Harry's little pink tongue polished his button nose. Sorry, Aelfthryth... I really couldn't help it.

Oh, never mind, I said. Of course you couldn't, any more than I could help the popinjay affair. (He was looking mournful. I never can stand it when Harry looks mournful.) It could have been worse. You might have been an elephant. Or a flea.

Or a bank manager, said Harry. I wish.

He was joking, of course. We both knew there was no way he could ever have made it as a bank manager.

I knelt down and gave him a hug, because I was so pleased to see him again. A computer nerd is about as high as you could have aimed in this time and place, I told him gently. A bank manager isn't one of the options, love. You can't be a postman, either. Not this time.

Harry sighed. Schnauzers never do look particularly happy, but poor Harry looked as if his last chunk of beef had turned out to be plastic.

I'm just so tired of being sixteen, he grumbled. It seems to get younger all the time. Except this time, when it's older.

You're not wrong, I said.

I thought back, carefully, more than ninety years. I was a kitchen maid that time, working for a man called Dr Large. He was a good enough doctor, I suppose, but his wife was very strange. Long red nose (I know she drank), stupid hobble skirts. And half the time she was off in a daze of laudanum. As for the housekeeper, Mrs Gurney! She was an evil old bat, unnaturally fond of Morals (with a Capital M) and caustic soda. Cruel stuff on the hands, that was, but not so cruel as her tongue.
She cuffed me round the ear once, and called me a slut, just for wearing my cap a bit off-centre. I was measuring the soda at the time and some of it splashed on my arm. The scar made a livid mark and Harry was furious.

There was nothing he could do about it, though. He was working as a postman, that time, with a bicycle and all and a peaked hat that made his ears look lonely. He passed his Post Office exam with the best marks anyone could remember.

"I'm going somewhere, Aelfthryth!" he told me, after he'd fussed about my soda-burn. (We'd met up down the alley, behind Doc Large's house.)

"Mary," I said. "I'm going by 'Mary' just now, remember? Mrs Gurney insists. She says 'Elvie' is no name for a kitchen maid."

"I'm going somewhere this time, Mary," said Harry. "I'll work my way up to Postmaster, just you wait and see!"

I hugged him as if I believed him, and he swaggered a bit as if he believed it too.

We both knew it was nonsense. He'd never make Postmaster, but he did have some independence. He was earning a wage and living in a boarding house. "You'll move in with me soon, won't you, Aelfthryth," he said.


"Aelfthryth." He grinned. "We'll be together, and the old bat won't be able to hurt you any more."

But of course we weren't together. We were old enough to be paid a wage, to be done with education... but they wouldn't let us board together. They said it was immoral. They said I'd be at risk. I don't know what they thought about the risk of caustic soda. And that wasn't even the worst of it-

I sighed, coming back to the present. This particular present, where Harry is a Schnauzer dog.

I'm tired of never getting past sixteen, he said again. It really sucks, big time.

"Don't you think I'm tired of finishing at fourteen?" I said aloud. I flicked his nose, which is what I always do the first time we meet in each new Replay. I wanted to kiss him. It would have seemed the natural thing to do, but I thought that people might stare. What they would see right now was a girl kneeling down beside a Schnauzer dog, which happened to be tied to the railing outside the ring at an agricultural show. Not too unusual, really. Lots of girls kneel down and talk to dogs. It's something girls tend to do in the here and now.

Kissing them is something else. Very unhygienic.

Then I bent and gave him a kiss anyway, because I really do love Harry with all my heart. And I'm sure you agree I should, since he's my husband.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Brenton's on Tour!

Today I'm pleased to host Brenton Cullen for his current book tour for his book Ronda's Gang. Brenton has agreed to be guest blogger on Spinning Pearls, and has chosen to present this essay. (For more from me, read on at the end of Brenton's essay.)

The Writers: A Journey Through Writing Biographies

By Brenton Cullen

Brenton Cullen recently published his first non-fiction book, The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies, with Lulu Publishing. A second edition was printed by I-Proclaim Press, in early April of 2008.

Putting together The Writers was a fun, and at times, difficult, process. It was also gruelling and troublesome. But nevertheless, I did indeed enjoy doing it. I first received the idea for a collection of biographies on well-known Australian children’s authors in December 2007.

I had just finished unwrapping all of my Christmas presents, and I was looking at a new book I had received for one of my presents. It was How To Self-Edit by Dianne Bates (my writing mentor). This book also proved very helpful when the editing process of my book came around.

Anyway, I turned How To Self-Edit over and read the back cover. A short excerpt, photograph of Dianne Bates, and a paragraph about her. I was sad that not much information was there about her. That had happened a lot with many of my other favourite children’s authors.

And then … it hit me! BAM! I wanted biographies on my favourite authors, why not write them myself? The first bit of writing material I did for The Writers was to make a list of the authors I would ask to be in the book.

The list looked a bit like this:

• Dianne Bates
• Libby Hathorn
• Duncan Ball
• Bill Condon
• Paul Collins
• Hazel Edwards
• Jackie French
• Sue Gough

The authors in the finished product of The Writers were all the writers above, except for Paul Collins and Sue Gough. Paul Collins because he hadn’t really written actual children’s books, but mostly YA novels, and teenager fantasy books.

I am a friend of Sue Gough’s, and met her at the 27th Annual Meanjin Writers’ Camp, and the reason she did not make it into the book was because she just was not that much of a well-known children’s author.

As soon as I had all the writers down that I wanted in my book, I sent each one of them a special email. In these emails were a list of questions, the biography request, and a request for a recent full-colour photo from each author.

After I had sent the emails to all six authors, I began to research them on Google. I typed in things like ‘Jackie French interview’ or just ‘books by Duncan Ball’. You know, general research starts.

About a week later, I checked my emails to find:
All messages were from people by the names of: Hazel Edwards, Bill Condon, Jackie French, Libby Hathorn, Duncan Ball, and Dianne Bates.

‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘This is definitely going to be awesome!’

As a matter of fact, Bill Condon had actually been a later addition to the biography collection. He had originally not even been considered to be in The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies. But when one author I had considered,
dropped out, I emailed Dianne Bates.

Bill very kindly agreed to let me write and include his bio in my book.

The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies took me approximately two half months, if not three months, to complete. Those three months included writing time, research time, and also emailing the authors and waiting for them to respond time! But when that was all over, I had to add on about three and a half weeks for re-writing and editing time. So nearly about four months all together, for everything!

Self-publication had always seemed to appeal to me. ‘If I never get commercially published, then I’m doing it myself,’ is what I used to tell myself every time I got a rejection letter for a book of mine.

I first ‘dabbled’ in self-publishing when I went onto, the website for Lulu Publishing.

After looking around Lulu Publishing’s website, I forgot about it for a couple months. But then, later on when I was trying to get The Writers published, I came back to it. I immediately got excited by the idea and uploaded my manuscript file to them right away!

I had to edit the book again, because I found a few typos that I had not noticed before. With Lulu Publishing, you were the boss, not the publisher! I got the chance to design the cover and back cover, enter information in, typeset it, etc, etc.

The whole thing was a very wonderful experience. Still, I would like my book to be published commercially, so I would appreciate any information or offers. I just checked my hits count for The Writers on and found 253 hits. That’s in only four weeks, so far!

And after writing their autobiographies, all the authors in my book and I have become friendlier and are operating on a more personal basis, now. I have sold some few copies, so I look forward to selling quite a few more.

Promotion for my books, that I did all myself, had not really been a problem much at all. I sold copies at school, advertised them, and also put notices out. And every time my dad went away for a show I went with him with a good stock of books with me! I actually sold over $250 worth of books this way. So, as you can see it turned out to be quite profitable.

But as I said, it was a wonderful experience. But I suppose it will be even more wonderful if my book is commercially published! I am now working on a kids’ health book and a YA novel.

Brenton Cullen can be contacted at
His blog is and he is currently finishing up a series of play scripts.

This is me, Sally, again. In the essay above, Brenton was discussing an earlier book rather than Ronda's Gang. However, much of what he says has to do with any and all books. Brenton's experience showcases the determination and proactivity needed to succeed in the writing business. And make no mistake, it IS a business.

Buy Ronda's Gang online from Lulu, and can follow Brenton's blog tour at
tips4youngwriters (18 March) (19 march) Here... and apologies for the late lift off! and
Tales I Tell (21 March)