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Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

Wildlife Carer Escapes Unprecedented Fire to Look after Native Animals

This is my home state. There are many like Rena who carry out such important work in the face of tragedy, and my heart goes out to her in her own losses.

Two years ago it was my home under threat and my region on fire. We were all so encouraged by the way the rest of the country supported us, and I know Aussies will support those who are suffering now.

We’re a resilient and good-hearted bunch.

My thoughts and love to all those who have lost, and all those who are still fighting, hoping and praying.

Melissa H North

Evacuating Goongerah with belongings and animals.

Wildlife carer Rena Gaborovevacuated her home and wildlife shelter with an eight-month-old wombat named Fred, a six-month-old ringtail possum named Ginger, and three joeys named Satin, Lenny and Link, as a great wall of fire approached their property.

Residents from Goongerah, East Gippsland, were urged to leave on Friday when fire authorities’ door-knocked expressing imminent danger.

Since then Rena and her partner Joe Henderson have set up a temporary shelter for wildlife in Sarsfield, over two hours away from their home.

“There haven’t been many animals come off the fire ground, I think it’s because at the moment we can’t get access to it.”

However, with 15 years of wildlife experience up her sleeve and a compassionate community, local landowners are helping feed animals with pellets, hay and lucerne from their properties.

Rena, who also lost her home in the fire, felt deeply about…

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There are many things I have learned to do again, albeit differently, since my spinal surgery 15 months ago. 

It seems, however, that stairs are still my nemesis. I can manage one or two steps if I go slowly and carefully but, as I discovered tonight, walking up a whole flight of stairs still causes me significant pain. 

We went out for dinner with friends, who had booked at a first floor restaurant that had no elevator. It did, however, have a beautiful circular staircase. 
Beautiful… and an enormous challenge.

I went very slowly, but by the fifth or sixth stair my lower back was screaming. Before I got to the top, I could feel the sciatic pain in my butt and staring to extend down my legs. I couldn’t stay there, so I had to either keep going or go back down. Slower still, and even more carefully, I made it to the top.

The first thing I did was hit my friends up for whatever analgesics they had. One had ibuprofen, the other had paracetamol. I took both, as my doctors have instructed me to do when I need to. I also chose not to sit until my meal was delivered, even though standing up in a large room of diners made me feel very self-conscious.  

It didn’t help that some people were quite obvious about the way they looked at me – and all I was doing was standing up. Once again, it reminded me of how much harder it must be for those whose differences or disabilities are more obviously noticeable.  

Dinner was delicious, but as soon as I had finished, I stood up again. We took the rear door out of the pub, as it opened onto the driveway. Even through it was quite a slope, it was still easier than the stairs. 

It’s disappointing that the establishment had not been more thoughtful about accessibility. An assumption that everyone who visits is able-bodied enough to use the stairs is ignorant at best. Perhaps if there were a “disabled access” sign pointing to the rear of the building, I might have been able to enjoy my meal and the great company without either kind of discomfort. I cannot imagine I am the only person who would benefit from that, 

And, if you’re ever out for dinner and there’s someone standing up for most of the evening, or doing anything else out of the ordinary, just know they have their reasons and be kind enough to pretend you haven’t noticed.

It’s Official: I’m A Book Lover

I didn’t need this quiz to tell me I’m a book lover, and it certainly won’t come as any surprise to seasoned readers of this blog. 

Still, it’s a fun quiz that highlights the fun things about loving great books. 

For the record, there were three things on this list that i didn’t check off. 

I haven’t missed a bus or train stop because I’ve been engrossed in a book in at least 30 years, simply because public transport isn’t really a thing  where I live. 

I haven’t joined, or thought about joining a book club, because my experience tells me that  I like different books than most people. The minute I joined, they’d choose for us all to read some soppy romance or militant women’s fiction, and I’d have to fake my own death to escape. It really is a better choice to just leave them to it. 

If you want to know what books I enjoy, follow my Book Squirrel blog for reviews and recommendations! 

Book Squirrel is also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The Miracle of A River Otter

Photo by WordyNerdBird. All rights reserved.

This wonderful post from April Stace echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world we live in. It also features otters, which are among my favourite creatures in the world… so I felt compelled to share it.

Thank you, April, for your insights.

April Stace

The darkest point of the year is when we start preparing for the sun.

This is the simple truth, embedded in many earth-based forms of spirituality and religion (which most modern world religion retain, at least in their practices.) It is when the earth seems frozen that we start to think about planting seeds; it is when light and warmth are scarce that we celebrate the light and warmth in our homes, our communities, our families, our spirits.

There have been years, a decade or more, in my life when I have felt the coming of winter darkness as a threat. I have entered the season with great trepidation, anti-depressants in hand, always feeling that the autumn was just a time of watching the life be drained from flora and fauna, watching a death descend that might just get me this year as well.

Lou, Luke and I spent a…

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New Year… Same Old Me

Yesterday I mentioned that I was not at all sorry to see the end of the year.

Still, I admit to feeling uncomfortable with the number of “new year, new me” posts on social media in the past 24 hours. 

New year? Undoubtedly. New beginnings? Sure. 

But I am not a “new me”. 
I am the same old me: the one who survived the trauma, grew stronger through it, and resolved to keep going. 
I am the me who worked hard for every one of my achievements: nobody else was ever going to do it for me. 
I am the me who stood tall in the face of false friends and two-faced people, and then walked away and slammed the door on them for good.
I am the me who refused to be intimidated by those who don’t understand me… the me who will not be ashamed of who and what I am.
I am the me who embraces creativity, individuality, and difference… and encourages others to do the same. 
I am the me who encourages young people to choose kindness and reject hate. 

Those are all good things. Powerful things. Brave things. 
I have earned them, and I will own them. 

I’m not perfect. I still have things to learn and growth to accomplish. 
But those who would prefer a different, more comfortable, easier-to-live-with me? They can go and boil their heads, because that’s not going to happen. 

As The Year Ends

Like any year, 2019 had some great moments and some wonderful memorable have been made. 

Among my favourite memories are performing in Monty Python’s Spamalot! with the amazing Camperdown Theatre Company, weekend escapes camping by the beach with our closest friends, my bestie and I kidnapping each other and running away for a day or two at a time, and my own production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. I had three new books published, and am very proud of each of them. 


I am incredibly thankful for good friends, for those who believe in me, and for the encouragement I have received from both friends and strangers. I am blessed to be loved as fully and enthusiastically as I am. 

The past year has also left some scars that, while they may fade with time, will never truly heal. I do not wish to dwell on those, especially here. Even so, I will say in no uncertain terms — and not for the first time — that cancer, chronic illness, liars, backstabbers, and two-faced people can all improve the world by disappearing and not coming back. 

Here’s to closing the door on what has passed, and welcoming new beginnings and opportunities in the year ahead! 



The 2019 Golden Squirrel Awards

Book Squirrel has announced the winners of the 2019 Golden Squirrel indie Book Awards

Just to make it clear, this is not a contest that people can vote on. This is an entirely subjective and preference-driven selection process. Book Squirrel knows what he likes, and that’s what he reads. When he reads, he always leaves a review. And on the Book Squirrel blog, he awards gold, silver or bronze acorns instead of a star rating system. 

At the end of the year, he chooses the best of the books he has read and reviewed, and gives some nice shiny awards to the wonderful authors who entertained and enlightened him in the past twelve months. 

This year, gold and silver awards were given to books in 20 genres, across a variety of age ranges, interests and styles. 

While Book Squirrel is fully committed to being as fair and impartial as a squirrel can be, so you can be sure that the winners of Golden Squirrel Awards are excellent reads, and worthy of recognition. 

Check out the winners here!



Great Gift Ideas for Writers

Christmas is just around the corner, but these gift ideas would work just as well for birthday gifts, or just to say “keep going!” when the writer in your life needs a little encouragement.

Notebooks. Bookstores, stationers and newsagents carry a range of different notebooks to suit any budget.  There are beautiful notebooks available, from leather bound journals to new-fangled clever notebooks that enable your device to take a photo of a note and import it into Evernote or OneNote as a fully editable note. You can get plain, dotted or lined pages, so there are plenty of options.  Any writer, journaller or blogger is going to enjoy using a notebook given out of love. 

Things to write with: the gist of a nice pen shows you respect their craft. However, so does the gift of a pack of their favourite ball point, gel or felt tip pens in their preferred colour ink. Some writers use a favourite brand of pencil. 

Sticky notes. The humble sticky note is a fabulous tool for planning, plotting, sequencing, tracking character trajectories, and keeping track or writing ideas. There is a huge range of colours, and sizes available, but there is also quite a range in quality. Sadly, the cheapest ones tend to lose their stick rather quickly. A range of lined and plain notes in various sizes and colours, and some page flags and place keepers might be just the ticket. 

A gift voucher from a stationers or office supply store is basically a free ticket to a treasure hunt In writer’s heaven. Some people shy away from vouchers as gifts because they seem impersonal, but a writer will think this is a perfect gift. 

Coffee or Tea. Writers seem to thrive on coffee and tea. A gift of freshly roasted beans or a favourite blend of tea will always be appreciated. Vouchers or gift cards from a favourite barista or coffee shop will likewise be welcomed by anyone whose writing thrives on caffeine. 

Writing snacks. Fuel their writing with a box or basket of their favourite chocolate, nuts, candy, pretzels and trail mix. 

Writing time! Often, writers are limited by the demands of life. A voucher that promises uninterrupted writing time while you mind their kids, walk their dog, cook dinner for their family or clean their house for them is a great way to show your love  and appreciation for them.  Keep in mind, though, that if you choose this option, you need to keep that promise or you will have a very sad reader on your hands!

Book promotion credits. One of the things that authors often struggle with is having the time and resources to promote their books. A gift of book promotion for a month or more is sure to be well received and very much appreciated. Book Squirrel offers a range of promotion options tailored for Indie authors at very affordable prices.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce is one that has always fascinated me and saddened me at the same time.

I know they were all fighting for their country, and most of them were fighting for something they believed in, but it must have been strange if not incredibly difficult to go back to war and shooting at the men they’d befriended the day before.

Thanks to Jill Dennison for this excellent post.

Filosofa's Word

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum…

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