I spent my early childhood living in developing countries with my Australian mother and Canadian father attached to the Canadian Embassy (Jakarta, Indonesia 1979-80; Bucharest, Romania 1980-82; Quito, Ecuador 1982-85; Libreville, Gabon 1985-87). The family was posted to Manila a year after the Philippine’s People Power Revolution and we were evacuated from Manila to Townsville following the December 1989 attempted coup against President Corazon Aquino.
With 4 children under 9, my parents decided to settle down in Australia so us kids could have a stable and safe passage through the high school years. We bought my Gramma’s old house, renovated and settled down in Charters Towers, a small country town in outback North Queensland and attended Blackheath and Thornburgh College from Year 6 to Year 12.
I was quite shy and introverted during high school, and I escaped into books whenever I could. I have fond memories of hot summer days spent in the top most branches of our mango tree, reading Tolkien in the dappled sunlight and listening to the chatter of rainbow lorikeets drunk on fermented mangoes.
I was a dreamy, whimsical child, which was eternally frustrating for my teachers who frequently wrote in my report cards “would reach her full potential if she stopped daydreaming during class.” I loved art class, the theory as well as practice and I loved music, the practice much more than the theory. I played violin and flute, was part of the school band and orchestra, and sang in the choir. I also loved acting and I was in every school play and many of the town’s Theatre Company plays, which was odd considering how introverted I was.
I’ve always loved animals and dreamt of becoming a biologist or zoo-keeper for most of high school. I was often in trouble for bringing home strays and I had pet frogs, geckos and rhino beetles. I loved snakes and was fascinated by the huge huntsman spiders that lurked in the corners of the house, though I found them unnerving. I was so determined to have a career working with animals that I did work experience at the Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville and studied physics and chemistry in the hopes of getting into a biology or marine biology course at university.
Unfortunately I failed both physics and chemistry for two years running though I did well in Advanced Maths, which I decided to ditch in favour of my beloved art classes. Needless to say I didn’t get my first preference courses but I did get into a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland to study International Relations and Indonesian.
Uni was an epiphany. Interesting people, fascinating subjects like ‘Terrorism in the 21st Century,’ ‘ International Development and Human Rights,’ coffees and debates about politics and the world in the Great Court. I joined the United Nations Students Association, was elected President (an amazing change from the shy girl I was in high school) and became active in organising fundraising events, conferences and workshops.
My career goals changed as dramatically as my personailty. International development and human rights became my new passion and I wanted to do something that was worthwhile, which made a difference in the world. I failed my first semester because I was too busy discussing politics to study politics but pulled myself and my marks up enough to score an amazing job straight out of uni (2000), working in project support for Asia Pacific Health Services (now Abt JTA) on the PNG Health Services Support Program.
Even though I was working on a really interesting project, I wanted to do more, help more, be more. So I applied for the Australian Volunteers Abroad program and was selected for a position in Jakarta, Indonesia working with the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development. I lived and worked in the kampung (back streets) of Jakarta for a year, and had some amazing adventures.
After I returned to Australia, I married an Airforce Officer and moved on postings with him around Australia. Still gripped by the need to help people, I changed careers again. I worked as Assistant In Nursing in the aged and disability care sector while studying a Bachelor of Nursing through the University of South Australia (2008). My last ‘Prac Block’ got me hooked on working in theatres and I was accepted into the New Grad Program – Perioperative specialisation at Calvary Hospital in Canberra.
As much as I loved nursing, particularly working in the operating rooms, I burnt out quickly after 5 years with all the long hours, shift work, on call and overtime we were expected to do. I also found it emotionally draining to work in a system that was so broken, seeing the pain and suffering of patients and their families. Being pregnant and horribly ill with morning sickness was the final motivation I needed to move away from clinical nursing. I took a year off to have and care for my son and since going back to work I’ve have been working in project management in the health sector in various capacities.
The birth of my son, William stirred something long-lost in me. It germinated the seed of creativity that had withered and laid dormant for all the years I was focused on my career. The story of an adventurous little mouse filled my head, charmed and delighted me. It was a story that unfolded organically while I had small windows to daydream. I was so excited to find real events and people to match my story, that I finally wrote it down, and ‘The Adventures of William Brambleberry: Aviator Mouse’ was born in 2013.
In another series of fortunate events, I found an illustrator to work in equal partnership with me and bring my characters to life. With a lot of hard work and a steep learning curve, I self published the book in May 2015. More stories of brave and adventurous mice from the Brambleberry family tumbled around in my imagination and led me to collect those stories into the ‘Tales from Brambleberry Farm.’ The second book in this first part of the collection is written, with the illustrations mostly complete for publication in 2018 of ‘Bianca: The Greatest Spy Mouse There Ever Was.’ A third book has been researched and plotted but still needs to be written.
I launched a website and brand, ‘Very Brambleberry,’ in 2016 to sell my books and merchandise online. The Australian War Memorial, and the Military Shop stock my book, as well as the gift shop in my local town. I’ve uploaded the research I did for my books onto my website here and I’ve also produced a gorgeous William Brambleberry soft toy. I’m excitedly waiting for my second edition of ‘The Adventures of William Brambleberry: Aviator Mouse’ books in hardcover to be shipped to me, which I have independently published under my own imprint ‘Brambleberry Press.’
I also have been inspired to pick up my pencils, pens and paints this year through joining the 52 Week Illustration Challenge on Facebook. It’s not surprising to find that my little mice friends feature in every illustration I have done so far. I’ve also started using watercolours for the first time and I’m in love with them. The community of artists in this group are wonderful and the talent is amazing. I feel so inspired and satisfied by my first dive into the world of illustration.
This year I also joined the ACT Writers Centre, and the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I have met the most wonderful, inspiring and supportive people in this world of creativity and childish imagination. It is thanks to them and my growing passion for writing and illustrating that I have taken the plunge to quit my job and dedicate my time to writing, illustrating and producing my books in 2018. I feel like I am finally home to my genuine self, after a long detour, thanks to a little mouse with a story that needed to be told.
Lots more creative projects are bubbling away behind the scenes, waiting for their time. In between my imagination and my artistic pursuits, I enjoy life with my precious boys: husband David, son William, cat Marmalade, and dog Tin Tin, in my gorgeous little town of Bungendore. I love my little home and pottering about in the garden.