My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.


What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.


It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.


Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.


We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.


How Getting Pushed Around Changed My Perspective.

You see things differently when you’re in a wheelchair.

Today we went to a very large store that specialises in flat-pack furniture of Nordic design. It’s an amazing store full of very interesting things to look at.

Including me, apparently.

Being on crutches with an injured foot, I was anxious about how long I was going to last before I was exhausted, so my friends asked for a courtesy wheelchair. And thank God they did. I would have fallen over in tears before I got through the first section.

It came as a shock to realise, though, that when you’re in a wheelchair, people don’t look at you the same way as they do other people.

Sometimes it’s a look of sympathy. Sometimes it’s an expression that says, “You look surprisingly normal”.

And then there’s the occasional person who looks at you with fear and contempt, like you’re dangerous, or they might catch whatever it is that put you in the chair.

One woman gasped audibly, glared at me and pulled her child away from the aisle I was in, although he wasnt actually anywhere near me. What an appalling display of ignorance!

Seriously, folks. It’s my leg that doesn’t work properly, not my mind. And with limited mobility, I’m certainly no threat.

Then I had a sobering thought. Is this what people who are in wheelchairs permanently or long-term experience every day?

How absolutely awful.

It has never entered my mind to look at other people so differently. A disability or physical limitation does not define one’s character or personality. To me, a person is a person is a person.

Apparently, that is not the case for everyone.

Some people seem to think it’s acceptable to look at a person differently, or treat them differently, or pull their children away just because they look or move or get around differently than you most people.

I’m pretty sure that in the 21st century, we can be more decent and open-minded than that.

International Women’s Day, 2018

Why We Should Celebrate International Women’s Day.

As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.

“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.

While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.

This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:

Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.

It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.

It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.

It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.

It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.

These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.

That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.

I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.

My Favourite Escape.

When life takes an unexpected turn, there is no better place to escape than into a book.

What a week!

It was the first full week back at school with students after the summer break. New students, new classes, new schedules, new demands.  Not only was I ready, I was keen! I was determined to get through the week without falling in a heap.

The first day was great.

Then, just after recess on Wednesday, I got a call from my local medical clinic. My elderly father was unwell – again – and was on his way to hospital in an ambulance. Everything stopped except my mind: Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end? Must let the others know. Must tell the boss that I have to leave work. Must keep breathing. Can’t breathe. Okay. One thing at a time. Call the boss. Explain. No – don’t fall apart now. You don’t have time. 

I got to the hospital half an hour ahead of Dad because I work in town and the ambulance had a 45 minute trip, plus some road works to negotiate. I completed the necessary paperwork for him, and sat down to wait.

Waiting rooms suck on a major level. You sit there, surrounded by other people’s pain and misery, feeling alone and fearful, and trying to keep everything under control in your own overactive imagination – it’s quite some challenge.

reading-wonder.jpegSo while I sat and waited, I took refuge in a book. It didn’t stop me from looking up every time an ambulance rolled in, wondering if that was Dad being wheeled in. It didn’t stop me checking my phone and answering messages and questions from my siblings. But it did give me somewhere to go.

For the six and a half hours that I sat by Dad’s bedside in the Emergency Department, with medical questions answered and initial treatment under way, I escaped back into the book whenever I could. Dad knew I was there, but he wasn’t up to conversation. Reading someone else’s story kept me from focusing on my own, and it kept me from being overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that threatened to sweep me away while witnessing the pain and distress of my increasingly frail father.

After a somewhat tearful journey home, I thought I might be exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as I got to bed. Nope. No such luck. Yet again, it was a book that came to the rescue. It didn’t put me to sleep, but it did relax me enough to be able to rest.

Taking refuge in a book is something I have often done in the troubled times of my life. Over the past couple of years, that has taken the form of both reading them and writing them. There are times, though, when I can’t write because the pain and fear is actually too close to think about at that level of depth. Wednesday was one such day.

Thursday was a blur of medical consultations, visits with various physical therapists, and further tests for Dad. Thankfully, at the end of all of that, I was able to bring him home again. It will take time for him, and for me, to recover. There will, undoubtedly, be further moments when I feel the need to make the world around me stop by escaping into a book.

Today, I’ve tried to catch up on the things I’ve let slide over the last few days. I haven’t quite managed yet to pick up all the threads again. I use Buffer, so my Twitter feed has kept on rolling, but many other things, including my writing, are at a standstill. Social media has only had the occasional cursory glance. I’ll get there – but not today.

For now, I’m thankful that Dad and I both survived the week, and that things are starting to return to normal.

And to the authors who continually craft such brilliant stories for me to escape into: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Your gifts mean more to people than you realise.





Teacher exhaustion is real.

School has resumed after the six week summer break that we enjoy here in Australia. After completing my First Aid, Asthma/Anaphylaxis First Aid and CPR re-certs last week, followed by three full-on days of professional development and preparation, I had my first day with classes today.

The kids are great and, if the first day is any indication, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a good year together.

But holy beaverschnitz! I am exhausted. I don’t remember being this tired at the start of a school year before.

Exhaustion by Jessica Cross via Flickr 

I’ve come home every evening this week, fallen onto my bed and wept until I fell asleep like a two-year-old who still desperately needs that afternoon nap. I honestly have no idea why they resist that so much!

This afternoon a colleague asked me a question about something that happened last year, and I told him quite honestly that I was having trouble remembering yesterday. I can’t do social media. I can’t read. I can’t write. It’s a good thing I did my preparation for the semester over summer, because there’s no way I could get it done now given the shape I’m in at the moment.

There’s a running joke in my house – okay, so it’s actually not much of a joke, to be honest – that my husband makes me a double shot in the mornings because it’s my kick starter dose of Vitamin DHP – “Don’t Hurt People”. That double shot usually keeps me going most of the day. Today, it got me to about 10.15am and then my grip on reality started to crumble. I focused on my classes, tried to make all the words make sense, and dragged myself to lunchtime, and then downed 600ml of Coke Zero in record time – even for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I know it’s part of my job and it will pass. I’m just trying to explain why the blog has been quiet, why I’m not active on social media, and why emails are going longer than usual before I respond.

The only thing I can do effectively right now is hope I snap back into the rhythm and routine of teacher life quickly, because the pile of essays and papers in need of grading is going to start mounting up very soon.

Until then, though, if you see me staring into space or collapsed at my desk, administer caffeine… and please, be kind.



Focus: Looking Beyond The Cloud In My Silver Lining.

It’s time to focus my time and energy on what really matters: writing.

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A week of camping by the river has given me opportunity for reflection about the past year, particularly in terms of my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – two new books of poetry, two deliciously macabre horror titles, and two reinvented fairy tale novellas in a completely unique and absolutely gorgeous anthology collection. I’ve also had poems included in a couple of themed anthologies and a number of magazines. I have received emails and messages when something I’ve written has moved or helped someone else in a powerful way, which gives me confidence that what I write is actually pretty good. At this point, I’m highly motivated to move on and write more.

There is, however, a cloud in my silver lining. In my experience, the biggest downside of being an Indie author is that the demands of social media can be a whirlwind – marketing, promotion, teasers, creating new material to keep up momentum, engaging so that others don’t think you’re only there to push your own stuff… It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex and start to believe that marketing is the be-all and end-all of your writing career.

Yes, marketing and promotion matters. I want to find readers who will be interested in my books. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me to invest my time and energy into is writing.

The time has come to redirect my focus. Of course, I will still engage in social media and promote my work there, but I need to do it differently so that I spend more time each day writing than I do trying to leap across people’s screens to get noticed. I’m going to work out how to use Facebook‘s mysterious algorithms, which are set to change yet again, to my advantage instead of the other way around. Furthermore, I’m not going to give them one cent to achieve that. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing on Twitter, as that’s working well for me thus far. My blogs will see some revision, and hopefully some renewed focus there will have good results.

There are so many stories and poems I want to write. Some of the stories are planned and outlined. Some are just ideas at this point in time. The poems happen when the muse overtakes me, but I have quite a few ideas written down so that they can simmer away on the back burner of my mind, developing slowly until they’re ready to go. A renewed focus on bringing my ideas to life on the page for others to read will serve me well: writing is the most satisfying and therapeutic thing I do.


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My New Years Resolutions for 2018.

My goals for 2018 are realistic and achievable… so here goes!

I’m not the world’s biggest believer in New Year’s Resolutions, because I’ve seen plenty of people make ridiculous decisions that fall over before January 5th.

Even so, I decided at this time last year to write down a few things I needed to do, and I did fairly well at achieving them.

So, I’m doing the same thing for 2018. Here are my goals for this year, in no particular order:

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1. Beat the TBR Backlist – read and review the books in my kindle that I have not yet read. I haven’t counted how many books are on it… but I know it’s a lot.

2. Write and publish three more books.

3. Be kinder to myself. I am probably my own harshest critic and most demanding taskmaster. That needs to change.

4. Unleash the Squirrel! Grow his profile with Twitter, Facebook and the Book Squirrel blog with continued reviews, featured author interviews and a regular mailing list.

5. Build my Twitter list to 5000.

6. Be more consistent in posting to Instagram.

They’re certainly achievable, so here goes!

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: How Did I Do?

An honest response to the list of resolutions I wrote for myself a year ago.

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Lots of people are talking today about New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t always set a lot of importance upon them, but at the beginning of this year I did make some resolutions.

Today, I thought I should revisit them and evaluate my “performance”.



#1. Get 500 followers on Twitter.
Check! I started the year on about 317. Today, I have just over 3100.

#2. Write a review for every book I read.
So, there were two books for which I did not leave a review. They were… how do I say this nicely? The reviews would not have been positive, nor would they have helped to sell any further books.
I did, however, email both authors with my responses and comments. Hopefully they made some changes, hired an editor, and improved the quality of their book.
Goodreads tells me that I read and reviewed 68 books, so that’s a fair effort!
I’m checking that one off, too.

#3. Develop my book blog.Book Squirrel Reading TSF
This is something of which I am very proud. Book Squirrel has spent the year featuring books, authors, new releases, and book reviews. On December 15th, Book Squirrel announced the inaugural Golden Squirrel Awards for Indie books of excellence.
This is a definite check!

#4. Publish two more books.
Done! In fact, I added five (Five! How the heck did I manage that?) more books to my author’s shelf, two in a new genre for me, and two novellas in a wonderful collection of reinvented fairy tales. I also have two poems published in two different anthologies, one on forgiveness and one on fairy tales and folklore. Whew!

#5. Be nicer to people.
In all honesty, I’ve tried. I haven’t always succeeded. But when I wrote this on my note almost a year ago, I had no idea just how much grace or forbearance I was going to need in order to survive some of the treatment I’ve received this year, either.
I want to give this a check, but with a “work in progress” disclaimer.


All in all, I think I’ve done okay. Some of these will feed into my resolutions for 2018. I’ll be posting about those tomorrow!

If you have suggestions, or reflections on your own resolutions, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.

One Year of New Horizons.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try.
It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me. 

Promo New Horizons Cover eBookSIBA 2017 badged

What a surprise this morning to realise it has been a year since ‘New Horizons’ was published.

When it launched, I was nervous about how it would be received. People knew me as a poet. Would they be interested in these stories? Would they find them as meaningful and profound as my poems?

It was certainly fitting that these stories are about how people encounter and respond to changes and new situations in their lives. Heaven knows, I was experiencing that for myself at the time.

Since then, it has sold around the world in paperback as well as ebook, and has won the 2017 SIBA Award for Best Short Story collection. It now has a shiny badge on its cover to announce that recognition to the world.

This gave me good reason for positive reflection this morning. There are times when life feels as though it’s at a standstill, or when it feels like I’m not achieving what I want to as a writer.

Yet in the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever would have thought or dared to imagine twelve months ago:

  • Three new poetry collections, all of which have been nominated for awards.
    Of those three books, Nova has won awards for 2017 Top Female Author – Poetry, Reality Bites 2017 Best Non-Romance, and the bronze medal for a poetry collection in the 2017 SIBA Awards.
  • Two poems in two different themed anthologies, nestled in amongst the work of some incredible writers.
  • Two macabre/horror titles.
  • Two ‘reinvented’ fairy tales about to be published in a magnificent anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’,  with other stories written by five of the most creative minds I know.

Who knew?

If you’re a writer – published, aspiring, or just for your own enjoyment – be encouraged. You may feel like you’re not achieving much, but you are. You may feel like you’re a small fish in a very large sea, but every small fish has its place and a purpose, too.

If there’s something you feel you’d like to do, or try, but you’re lacking confidence – be encouraged. You will never know what you can do until you try. The only way to find out where any road will take you is to follow it.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try. It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me.

So here’s to another year and whatever challenges, journeys and victories it brings.

Promo New Horizons Fiji Sunset

On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.