Month: April 2019

The Emerald Isle with Eva – part 1

Where would you find a Swiss Cottage in Ireland? or the World’s best Irish dancer who works in a pub at Dingle, or for that matter, who would take you to the dungeons of Huntington Castle where a feminine shrine is created for interested tourists? Who loves to talk non-stop and balances wit, charm and practical good sense all in one – well, it’s Eva Donoghue, the young, dynamic girl ( she says she’s 26 and wearing braces!) who was our guide on the Back Roads 12 day tour in Ireland.

Eva along with Kirstie, a brilliant driver whose road skills we admired, made our holiday fantastic. Thirteen eager travellers, mostly from Australia, including a lovely couple from the UK, journeyed in a small coach, the winding back roads, country roads, through the cities, past castles and bridges, sheep grazing and steeper narrow streets of the green hills of Ireland.

Kirstie was the “bag” woman – efficient in carrying our suitcases to the hotels and making sure they returned. Eva spilled out all her love of Ireland, the Celtic stories, legends, history and political ideals. She even hired local guides to cover things that she was not knowledgeable on, like the lads from the Black taxi in Belfast. Accents, jokes, poking fun at each other and the Peace Walls all come into play here with these men.








one happy carefree child in the flowers at Blarney castle


A display of bluebells in a garden

From local guide Charlene’s passionate speech in Derry (Londonderry) to Dave’s theatrical storytelling in Kinsale in the south, the tour provided many opportunities to interact with the locals. It’s the people, their warmth and friendliness that appealed to all of us. Open hearted, spirited and in tune with their violent past, the Irish have moved forward to strengthen their ideas and values. It was very emotive for my husband Bill who wrote a poem and read it to the group. As Fran said, “it encapsulated perfectly the sorrow/ laughter and hope of the Irish people.” That very evening in Derry, young journalist was killed, Lyra whose compassion and work for peace and justice, will not be forgotten. Sadly, it reminded us all of the precious moments of our lives.






From William Morris wallpaper in Kilkenny castle, with its Gothic Revival ceilings of the 1820’s, the Tapestry Room and Library with claret silk damask curtains and Berber style floor carpets into the Blue bedroom, Chinese bedroom and panoramic views of the gardens, our Back Roads riders were privileged to see so much beauty and heritage.

Me in the Tapestry Room


Gothic Revival hand painted ceiling in Kilkenny Castle
rocking horse and doll in child’s nursery


Now we visited many fine castles. Up steps, into hallways, through corridors, out into the splendid gardens with fountains and yew trees and the few fun dogs like Bill and Myrtle.

Sheep, donkeys, and museums were all on the agenda. From Gaelic football, street art, the hurling statue, the famine walk of Doolough Valley where many families died, to the magnificent Blasket Islands, to the Dingle Peninsula, Galway, Cork, Tipperary, County Kerry – so much to take in.

Fine dining – YES!! We enjoyed a lunch at Richard and Rosanne’s mansion, the gardens at Blarney castle, the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. PLUS all the delicious filling meals at the fine hotels.





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The Back Roads team at the Stone Circle




Richard and Rosalind’s mansion.


Bill and I really enjoyed seeing Newgrange. It’s a prehistoric monument in County Meath, located about 8 kilometres west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

That’s enough to read now for part one of our tour. The memories will live on. And Eva seemed to solve any problem we had, including feeling hungry on the bus. Out came the Penguin chocolate bars and honey and oat bars, lollies and brilliant maps to follow. Stay with me for Part 2 later. More on Dublin, the sheep dog trials, Ulster American Folk Park and the pub scene.

Kinsale and Bill


Highlights in Italy

Italy in April best shows in these photos taken on my iPhone as I wander through busy streets, along back ways, in Piazzas, near shops, on stone walls, in the country. Gazing up brings tall towers and church bells, looking down, the uneven surfaces of brick and stone. All around me there is history, an ancient past and sometimes forgotten ruins.


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A day in San Gimiginano


Italy covers many scenes during the day from busy train stations, buzzing cafes, carefree restaurants, sacred churches, quiet parklands, challenging street crossings, welcoming leather shops with their intense leather smell, old museums, medieval walls of Lucca, the sea at Viareggio, hidden galleries, public squares, fountains, Basilicas, book shops, wineries.

I have seen many colours in Italy, mostly Tuscan red, orange, sunflower yellow or mustard painted houses. green in different shades of olive, sage and dark green are popular too. The cracked and peeling stone walls vary from browns, to rusts and beige, but always beautiful to the eye, old and worn yet charming. From students cycling to fields of cypress trees and olives in the country, there is something for everyone in Italy.


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In medieval Lucca


Bologna Highlights – part 2

After day one struggling with the crowds, finding my way through the mazes of people, I rocked up on day 2 and 3 near the entrance and sipped an American coffee and wrote in my notebook. There’s a familiar feeling about walking through the gates confidently and ready to march over to the Hello from Australia stand a second time. A smile from Ann Haddon, (Books Illustrated, Melbourne) greeted me. There was illustrator Ann James rearing to go, Alison Lester in orange and Jonathon Bentley and Ruth Waters.

Antonia and Ann James ( right)



Indigenous books are popular
Italian illustrator/ author

One of the Masterclasses I attended was called Toddlers, the very first books for absolute beginners – an international deep-dive into books for zero-three-year olds. Speakers from Poland, France, Colombia, Child Health experts and Professor of History of Illustration and expert in children’s books ( Silvana Sola) and librarians ( Russia) delivered their presentations. The room was packed. I sat at the back next to a couple from London.

Tips to take away: Variety of books matter for a child. Recipriocity between care-giver and child is vital for intimacy and connection. Mindfulness of infant’s thoughts and emotions. Nurturing the whole brain. Books help with confidence, developing language, building bridges.

Our very own Sydney illustrator Antonia Pesenti delivers brilliant board books for toddlers that reveal design, colour, shapes and rhymes. Look out for her work.

Toddlers love stories that entertain, to touch and feel, to peepo, cheerful stories that surprise ( puppets) lift the flap therefore, interactive. Look, find and squeak! Stylish illustrations and bright colours that burst with joy! Books that teach the ABC’s and numbers. A child can search for numbers, identify parks and animals, celebrate birthdays. The fold out book in France is popular.

Brigitte Morel Publishers



So much to say about Toddlers, so I’ll move onto Tara Publishers from India. This small stand delivered exquisite handmade picture books from 25-40 euros ( expensive). I was happy to browse here with Gabrielle Wang and later Morris Gleitzman appeared too. Beautiful gift cards were also for sale. The imagery of trees, peacocks, cats and beasts all spellbinding covers.



I might have to add part three of Bologna. Keep a watch. Here’s a few pics from our wanderings.

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Husband Bill


Bologna Towers and one leaning


Bologna Highlights – part 1

The Bologna Book fair in Italy is a place where artists find their way and publishers discover new talents. And so the day arrives for me on April 1 as I catch the bus ( standing room only) out to the busy venue where crowds and crowds of visitors ( ME) and exhibitors, ¬†(THEM) pass through the doors. It’s truly quite overwhelming, first time round. The program is over four days, jam packed with Masterclasses, Illustrator Cafes, meetings with publishers, lectures, the ABC of Switzerland, booksellers, Red Hall 30, Purple Hall 30, workshops and more! I has set out with specific places to go and marked them on my program. ¬†However, inside all this changed as I squeezed between thousands of passionate onlookers and keen book illustrators letting go of my plans. It was better for me to do this. I wandered around observing, excited, muddled, surprised and confused, a traveller, writer and onlooker to this whole world of children’s books.

Alison Lester posing !


Some Bologna facts! This fair is the biggest internationally and Switzerland is the honour country for 2019. It’s the biggest event in publishing year’s calendar built around children’s content.

26,000 people pass through in 4 days.

It’s the market place for trading rights for publishing and translations.

Silent Books – what are they? Who is Tomi Ungerer? Morris Gleitzman, Australian author of Maybe, Once and After – what title has he been given? The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards – who is the winner?

So many questions! So many new faces! So much to learn. I was really happy to meet lovely Mary Hare above left and Gabrielle Wang whose illustrations and books are popular in Australia. Gabrielle and I went to view the Silent Books ( wordless picture books) which are sold well in Europe but not so in Australia. The exhibition was excellent.

Over the three days I visited the Fair, my comfort zone was at the Hello from Australia stand where I met Alison Lester, Ann James, Ann Haddon, Davina Bell, Gabby Wang, Antonia Pesenti, Mark Greenwood and Frene Lessac, Anna Walker and many others. An excellent program ran each day with illustrators showcasing their skills. We were all so proud. Across from Australia, was Tiny Owl publications ( Iranian) Bloomsbury ( London and NY) Scholastic (UK, NZ, USA) Irish storytellers, Pavillion Books, Hachette, Cambridge School of Art, etc. Spread out in huge halls were countries, Poland, Spain, ( Edelvives) Italy, France, Uganda, Tara Pub of India, and too many to name. In a nutshell, there was a sea of imagery, a hub of happiness and perhaps an energy that I have not witnessed.

Vilija Kvieskaite from Lithuania

One of the highlights for me was meeting young illustrator Vilija above. She had published 2 picture books from the Baltic region of Europe. Vibrant, positive and totally engaging, she spent ten minutes talking to me about her process of collaboration with the writer and herself. I was captivated by her enthusiasm and talent.

Her beautiful picture books are about a crow and a squirrel. What a treat!


Tilly a new picture book by Anna Walker

When I saw Australian author and illustrator Anna Walker’s new book called Tilly, to be released later this year, I had to get a photo for my grand daughter Matilda (Tilly)

My days at the Fair started around 8.30am and I usually left about 5.30pm so long, full hours of traipsing around and getting lost, side tracked and bewildered. The welcomed coffee and gelato helped. I brought my own lunch to prevent me queuing and water was essential. For now, I’ll stop, pause and reflect on the next instalment of my time at the Bologna Book fair. Thanks for reading and sharing this with me.

Me, Marg Gibbs near my apartment in the city.