Living Through Fires

There is no doubt that the memories formed from lived experiences of stress and anxiety leave indelible marks on us. I am one of the lucky escapees. For all of you out there who are dealing with the aftermath of fire right now, be it through loss of property or mental anguish at the devastation you see around you, my heart aches for you and I wish you the swiftest recovery possible. I hope you can find positives and take joy in your two and four-legged loved ones. Today, with the fires downgraded and hopefully some relief for firefighters and affected residents, I thought I would repost a beautiful experience I had post fires back in 2014. With hindsight, I see more in this event that I did even at the time. There was a conscious awareness here, the animals knew and were relating to my state of mind. The four of us had shared the fear and uncertainty. It was a moment of bonding and mutual understanding that I’ll never forget.

For anyone who has lived through the devastating impacts of bushfires, the most recent spate of fires around the state would have no doubt triggered all kinds of emotions. In the area I live we’ve had two major fire events in the past ten years. On both occasions my pets, family and my property have been spared, but we were not spared the heartache of watching close friends and community lose so much and slowly, painfully, rebuild their lives. Just this week, I shared a flight from Sydney to Melbourne with a group of men and women from the NSW Rural Fire Service, who were flying down to offer much needed assistance. It might seem a little over the top, and it sure was a little embarrassing, but when I saw this group of magnificent human beings in their uniforms and realised their intentions, the tears flowed.

First posted 15 February, 2014:

So in spite of good intentions it’s been a long time between blog posts, but tonight I had an experience so special to me that I just have to write about it. It’s been an eventful week, to say the least. Starting last Sunday with a hurried evacuation of myself, the three horses and my dog, Sniff.

When you live on a country property in Australia, every summer you live with the threat of fires. There has been many occasions when I’ve known a fire is close by, not least on Black Saturday five years ago when I watched with dread and horror the massive plume of smoke, only a dozen kilometres east of us, and listened to the terrifying news reports that told me of the devastation and havoc that smoke represented.

But this time it was my home in the line of fire. The massive plume of smoke to the south was coming towards us, and it was travelling fast. So I loaded the horses, put the dog in the car, and left to spend a sleepless night wondering if, in the morning my house might still be where I left it, only for the fire to pass by us, then start up again the next day for us to relive the helpless and hapless tension all over again a second time. My property escaped the flames twice, and for that I am eternally grateful, and I thank the amazing volunteers from the Country Fire Authority and their wonderful aerial water bombers. Not so lucky were some of my good friends and neighbours. Some lost fences, shedding, pasture. Devastatingly, a few lost their homes. Two very dear friends of mine had the fire sweep through their home like a tornado and leave only wreckage behind. Thankfully, no one lost their lives. So, as I said, an eventful week of processing stress, fear, anxiety, relief for my personal situation, and distress for those not so fortunate.

But tonight, the thick smoke that has hung in the air since Monday has for the most part cleared, the temperature outside is mild, there is a bright moon and the stars are out in force. So before bed I took a late night stroll outside to the horses to stand with them and just breathe them in, as I sometimes do.

Horses have been a part of my life for a very long time, around forty five years or so. There is always something to learn from them and I can still be surprised, but I have to say my experience tonight was something completely new for me. The three horses are the two Australian Stock Horses who were born and bred here, the lovely Palomino mare, Cadence, and my special little chestnut gelding, Jaspar, and of course the handsome big bay Standardbred gelding, Ernie. All three are beautifully natured, willing and amiable. So I wandered out in the dappled moonlight. Jaspar was lying down, the other two standing. I trod quietly toward Jaspar, hoping he would be relaxed enough to just stay lying and not get up. He did, and he was so relaxed he stayed right where he was as I lay down beside him in the grass. The other two looked on for a while. Ernie came up for a closer look at me, then moved away a bit before folding his long legs and lying nearby. Cadence came then. She dropped her head and stood quietly for a few minutes, then she too lay down.

So there I was under the night sky, in bed, as it were, with my three favourite ponies. The only sound was the steady breathing of the horses as we all lay there and the odd random creak of a tree branch. We stayed that way, peacefully resting together, for half an hour or so. For me, it was a gift. A time to sit in silence, to reflect and to just be. I breathed it all in, from the large dark shadows of the horses, the silhouettes of the trees and the rolling hills around us, across the paddocks to the twinkling town lights some ten kilometres in the distance.

Eventually, I got up and quietly walked away. The horses were dozing. They were aware of me leaving, I am certain, but not disturbed at all. It’s difficult to put into words how enriching, and nourishing that half an hour was to me. I read recently that being near horses is therapeutic for people, lowering heart rates and promoting calm. That has always been my experience, but laying in a field with three of them at rest around me, that was something special, and it was soul defining.

Leap of Faith!

It’s been a big year and it’s about to get even bigger, HUGE in fact. After months of planning, I’ll soon be jetting off on my biggest travel event yet. Eleven rides, eight countries, a total of one hundred and forty days. It feels surreal and exciting and even a little bit scary. In all of my life I have never been away from home for so long or taken such a gigantic leap of faith into the unknown.

New job, new and mobile living arrangements, new housemates/travel companions. I expect a trip like this may change me – the way I think and look at the world – in a good way I hope.

My precious ponies at home will be well looked after in my absence thanks to loved ones. I’ll miss them all, ponies and people, but I’ll be back with a story or two to tell.

First stop London, England for just a couple of nights, then on to Rejkavik, Iceland, and beyond. Stay tuned folks. Pics to come.

Musings as I turn Life’s Pages

If you’re reading this don’t fall off your chair. I’m resurrecting this sadly neglected blog for a new post. For someone who writes words for a living I seem to rarely get here, usually because I’m writing elsewhere in some form or another. Not that I’m complaining. Putting words together into sentences to tell a story, whether it be writing for children or adults, fiction or non-fiction, information or entertainment, on a topic direct from my life or someone else’s, in whatever form, is one of my preferred ways to spend time. So this blog has become an occasional place for me. A place where I drop in randomly when the I feel an urge to share an experience or event that’s moved me in some way. Tonight I’m moved to put it on record how blessed and fortunate I feel at this time in my life.

The last couple of years have proved to be an exciting and sometimes challenging mix of work, travel, and fulfilling times with family and dear friends. Eighteen months ago an opportunity presented itself. I took on a new role as a journalist, magazine editor and event manager. It’s been fast paced, and at times exhausting, but also rewarding and exciting, and I’ve loved every minute of it. In between work commitments, I’ve made time to experience my own beautiful land, Australia, visiting fabulous locations in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, and my own Victoria. Away and at home, I’ve been privileged to share adventures with adult children, loved and treasured friends, and at times my beautiful horses.

Just a week ago I returned home from an incredible trip with my son. Together we explored the wildly different but equally unique and fragile environments of The Galapagos Islands and Peru. Such a long way from home and an incredible journey to share with a loved one. How blessed am I?

More recently, a new opportunity and a new chapter in my life (I’m a great believer in recognising opportunities and grabbing them wherever I possibly can) came my way and I decided to go for it. It involves more travel, a lot of it, and lots of horse riding, my other favourite thing to do. I’ll be working too. For me, it’s the stuff of dreams and I’m still pinching myself, not quite convinced its all actually happening, but soon I’ll be leaving the magazine and embarking on a new and exciting adventure.

Like many, I’ve come to travel later in my life, but already there have been so many wonderful experiences, not always but most often on horseback, my preferred mode. I’ve faced charging elephants and been surrounded by lions in Kenya. I’ve looked down on the world from the peaks of Andes Mountains, stood mere metres from wild mountain gorillas in Uganda, and galloped through freezing rivers in wild and beautiful Patagonia. These experiences, while certainly not common, are not unique to me I know, but there was a time when the chance to do anything remotely like them was so far out of my reach they were unthinkable. I’m so thankful that circumstances have allowed me these and other equally awe-inspiring experiences. This world of ours is so special, and so spectacular. I take none of it for granted, and I hope to come back here, perhaps a bit more regularly if time permits, but most likely as randomly as ever.

My Day Off

Today is my day off. I have a list of things to get done – boring mundane things, like housework, and lawn mowing, and catching up on accounts. Instead, my day so far:

After a rare and heavenly sleep in I ate a leisurely breakfast, caught up on what people were up to on social media and posted some stuff. I looked around, mentally checked over my list of tasks and said, ‘Stuff that’. It’s a beautiful day outside so I think I’ll just start the day out there with the ones I know as my soulmates – my horses.

When I arrived, those I had come to visit were engrossed in their breakfast, lunch and dinner – generally a progressive task that takes up most the day, so it’s understandable that they barely looked up when I arrived. But being a curious lot, I only had to sit on a log and ponder for a few minutes before I had their full attention. The friendliest was the first to approach. She applied her usual warm greeting before returning to the task at hand, albeit nearby.

The second one, my cheeky, lovable boy, came in for his share of the attention. He sniffed my boots and nuzzled in for his ears to be scratched. After a polite lick of my hand he moved away, nibbling casually at sustenance and keeping one eye on me.

Number three is an outsider of sorts. Unlike the other two, she hasn’t lived on the property since the day she was born. She’s had a couple of prior homes and been an overseas traveler and a twice over mother to boot. When she first arrived she was an anxious little thing, quiet and gentle but suspicious, ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. But she’s been here a good while now. She’s learn’t our ways and seen that we mean only to keep her safe. She’s been to school, mastered the balance required to carry me on her back, allowed me to enjoy her strength and talent and shown me her sweet personality. She took her time, but lately she really does seem to have cast off her wariness and relaxed into us. I took myself to her. She stood and allowed me to scratch her neck, even leaned in a bit and sniffed at my sleeve.

Being around these guys is often enough for me. While their presence creates endless opportunities for exercising myself and them, I’m often simply content to watch, to smell, to touch, and to be with them. So it was today. I moved away from my guarded little girl and found a friendly tree trunk to lean against. In the weekday silence, a dozen varieties of birds were going about their daily chatter. The sky, a dozen shades of blue, performed a morning duet with the sun. How blessed I felt just to have the privilege of being out on such a day.

Just seconds after I settled myself into a crouch at the tree base, her brown head appeared beside me. She sniffed and nuzzled and licked my hand. Inches from my face, liquid eyes looked into mine.  I felt her warm breath. Her whiskers brushed my cheek. We breathed each other in. My knees and ankles began a dull ache but I wasn’t inclined to shift my position. She seemed to have assumed a protective stance, standing above me with a doe-eyed calmness, head down beside mine, eyes open, just as she might stand watch over a sleeping foal.

I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside the mind of any horse, I’m just grateful to have them in my life. As I am after all, a writer, I hope this post tells a story of sorts. The day’s half gone already and I haven’t crossed a single thing off my list, Conversely, the day is only half over but already I feel completely satisfied! Whatever happens for the rest of it, today has been a truly productive day!

 

Talking Books with Talking Horses.

Australian Children’s Author on Safari in Africa.

Posting a podcast recorded while out on the Masai Mara in Kenya. My advice – Always keep your ‘game’ face on. You never know when you’ll need it!

A pleasure to be interviewed by the lovely Dianne Denton from Talking Horses, about my Riding High Australian Children’s Books, among others, books in the wild and books in incubation.

For seven days in August 2015, I joined a group of intrepid Aussies exploring the Kenyan plains on horseback. On the last day, we waited to be driven back to the dusty airfield,and a light plane that would take us to Nairobi for the flight home. We sat and chatted about my pathway into writing Australian Children’s books and the move on to writing children’s book series based around horses and ponies.

It was a slightly odd feeling to be interviewed for a podcast while sitting out in the African bush. We were perched on the banks of the Mara River, a dozen noisy hippos burped and basked just a few meters upriver. Our fellow riders were gathered around too, as we sat under the only shade, in the large tent where our meals had been served by amazing bush cooks for the past week. Along with the others, Dianne and I had shared the holiday of a lifetime, the second time for this Australian Children’s writer, which is in itself a testament to the alluring magic of Africa.

It’s hard to say which part of the experience I loved the most. The animals of course, and the enveloping, hypnotic landscape, the welcoming Masai people with their vivid colours and traditions and their beautiful, ever smiling children, or the great bunch of adventurers I found myself surrounded by. The memories stay with me. They are oh so sweet.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

 

 

The Wonderful World of Children’s Book Creators

http://bernadettekelly.com.au/2017/01/23/the-wonderful-wo…ns-book-creators/Yesterday I attended an event to celebrate the work of another children’s author, one who happens to be a cherished friend. It was wonderful to be there and wonderful to see so many others attending. This particular author works tirelessly to create and promote her beautiful books. Over the past few years, she is enjoying success after success and it’s so wonderful to see her determination and effort translating to professional reward.

But as fabulous as it was, that’s not why I’m writing this piece. In our tight-knit little writing community, it seems there is always an event going on somewhere. Of course, regretfully, timing and distance doesn’t allow any of us to attend every single event we’d like to be at.

For the times I do manage to get out there and mix it with my colleagues, I’m always struck by the camaraderie, support and generosity of the children’s book industry. And then there are the readers! Those wonderful people who support and sustain us, and hungrily devour the books that keep the industry wheels turning. It’s been said before, in a myriad of ways, I know. Yesterday, as I greeted and was greeted by smiles and affection, as I chatted and observed and mingled, my heart and soul wore a secret smile.

Working as a creator of books, be it for children or adults, is not generally an easy way to make a living. Most don’t in fact, make a proper living, but work in other areas or are supported by generous and sometimes long suffering partners. So many of us struggle with the will to produce versus the way to a contract versus the need to pay the bills and feed ourselves. Even the big selling author’s and illustrator’s incomes are supplemented by periphery activities such as speaking engagements and workshops.

But such is the nature of the job, the immense satisfaction that comes from a name on a cover or a reader’s praise, or even the sublime and cerebral act of writing itself, that there will always be people lining up to join us, to test their words and to dream of that best selling break that allows them to work full time on this thing they love.

Of course, if you look for it, you’ll find the usual egos and hidden agendas that can be found in any industry. That’s not a criticism. Every one of us has an ego and an agenda. For an individual, part of traversing any social or professional landscape is to learn to negotiate personalities, to find the ones who share a connection and try not to upset those who do not.

Events like the one I attended yesterday reiterate to me that the last thing I want to do is look for agendas. Who cares! Writing has given me such joy and satisfaction over the years, and it’s been within the nurturing space of the children’s book industry that I’ve made some of my dearest friends.

So here I sit, typing out this little piece of writing. It’s not to announce any particular thing, it’s just to express my gratitude at being a part of it all, and to raise a fictional glass in a figurative toast to all the book lovers out there. Whether you are author, illustrator, editor, publisher, designer, publicist, proof reader, educator, child reader, teen reader, adult reader, or any one with any connection to books, you are all part of something truly wonderful.

Lucky me at a bookish event with a group of fellow bookish people.                                                                                           Rear from left: Caz Goodwin, Marjorie Gardner, Chris Bell, Myself, Anne Ryan,                                                                   Front row from left: Corinne Fenton, Claire Saxby, Jo Burnell.

 

Breaking news : If Wishes Were Horses found inside a Swedish Activity Bag

After months in the making, I have finally received a long awaited mail delivery and I can now show it off to the world.

Egmont Publishing has produced a Swedish version of my children’s novel, If Wishes Were Horses, the first book in the (aus)Riding High/ (usa-uk) Ridgeview Riding Club series.

The books have been translated with new covers as part of a promotional activity bag for Min Hast, for those of you who don’t read Swedish (that would be me) that means ‘My Horse’. Min Hast is a magazine for children about all things horse related.

The activity bag includes a sticker set, bag, magazine and a copy of ‘If Wishes Were Horses’. Unless I learn Swedish I won’t be reading my copies but it’s such a treat to see my book with a whole new look.

Thank you to Egmont Publishing and Min Hast magazine for the translation and the gorgeous new covers. All you Swedish kids out there who love horses as much as I do, I hope you enjoy the read. Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know.

Link

And Here’s Another Random Poem.

Grass is a constant when you have livestock. there’s always either too much or not enough of it. Recently, thoughts of grass and hay became a poem.

Farm Grass

Pasture.

Spread thin over damp Autumn canvas

Like emerald velvet.

Winter.

Huddled, hugging frozen soil.

Moist stalks. Sparse grey light.

Spring.

Stretching.

Olive arms bend to wind’s will,

Taller, taller, fast as blinking.

Camouflage for knees, hooves, tail tips.

Summer seed.

Cut down. Prone. Slain victims.

Fades. Dries. Golden stems.

Bashed. Raked. Mounds in rows.

Sucked through steel.

Spat out. Strung in.

Lines like soldiers.

Survivors ,

squat, faded,

burnt to dust.

A Poem for the New Year

News | Posted by Bernadette on Monday 2nd January 2017

2017 we’re standing in it! My new year’s eve was spent quietly with dear friends playing cards. What about yours?  A post from another friend inspired me to write a poem. I do love to write rhyme, but this one one came out as free verse. A little something to bring in the year.

New Year’s Eve

Time’s footsteps

bearing whole weight of being,

Champagne breath. A luminous breeze.

Party heels.

Or wistful silence , mute fanfare, quiet contemplation.

Sensible shoes.

Across the 12th divide

Second to second. Tireless momentum. Unfaltering pace.

Carries all. Paths  enigmatic.

Ripe fruit for harvest, promises whispered, delights untasted,

tears unshed.

Marching, relentlessly forward,

into a shimmering haze of hope

 

and a brand new year.

 

Here’s To Making Hay in 2016

News | Posted by Bernadette on Tuesday 27th December 2016

With only a few more days until the door is closed on 2016, I’m making good on my resolution to blog more often. Seems logical to start with a reflection on the past year.

It’s been a big one. No new published books to add to the stable but plenty of writing projects on the go. Time and experience has taught me to think big picture when it comes to writing. Nothing is wasted and all work will come to light at some point, although not always in the form of it’s original idea. One project in particular is moving closer to book stage but it’s too soon yet to announce details.

Writing time has been wedged in around a busy bookish schedule. I’ve visited schools, organised writing workshops, and been a guest speaker at a SCBWI (society of children’s book writers and illustrators) meeting. I’ve attended award ceremonies, and been a delegate at the Children’s Book Council conference in Sydney. And I’ve managed to squeeze in some research trips that could not have been more of a contrast, from the majestic Snowy Mountains, to the starry skies of the Kimberley to the sparkling views over Sydney Harbour.

With the help of some clever ‘Tradie’ types, my 1970’s house has been renovated (finally). It was a relatively small renovation but it took a huge amount of time. We began in February and finally finished in November. I am completely in love with my ‘new’ home so it was all worth it in the end.

I’ve been working on some fantastic new projects at The Story Wizard, my freelance communications business, including developing websites and writing/creating promotional material for a couple of large companies.

When Spring arrived with a vengeance, it was action stations at home. One of the responsibilities of owning a country property is keeping up with maintenance. A wet winter and even wetter spring had the grass growing FAST and me battling to keep up. For months now, it seems like my waking hours have been taken up with mowing around the house, slashing the paddocks to prepare for the fire season, and managing horses to keep them from becoming too fat on all that green growth.

Then came the hay harvest. A group of us followed the hay baler around the paddocks, scrambling to get every bale in and stacked in the shed while the weather held. There were a LOT of bales, and by the time we’d finished the job there wasn’t a part of me that didn’t ache. Keeping up with the property is a never ending job but I love the green hills around me so it’s best to just get on with it. The physical aches and pains fade away, but when I sit out on my deck and look around, I’m healed and sustained as I breath it all in. I’m surrounded by trees, birds and wildlife, and my wonderful horses. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I consider myself to be very fortunate. I have in my life beautiful family and friends and a wealth of opportunity to follow my passions wherever they may lead me. Not sure what’s next in the story but I’m looking forward to turning the page on this year and opening a new chapter called 2017.