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“Hi, I’m Joanne van Os, and I’m reading from my new children’s novel, The Secret of the Lonely Isles, published by Random House.
The daggiest house in the Bay. That was how people talked about the Isherwood House. It squatted beside its spruced up neighbours like a big shaggy mongrel at a pedigree dog show. The Isherwood House had survived white ants, a war, cyclones and generations of children.
It had survived the disapproval of its fussy neighbours, but whether it would survive another door slamming like the one that had just rattled all its windows was a good question.
‘I HATE YOU!!’ shouted a tall skinny girl as she flung herself down the back stairs and across the lawn to the garden shed, sending brown and white chickens flapping out of her path. She slammed the door of the garden shed too, and a pane of glass fell out and smashed onto the concrete step below. The chickens clucked nervously at each other. A boy poked his head out of a granny flat beneath the house. He stared after the girl for a moment, and went back inside.
‘What was all that racket?’ said his grandmother, who lived in the flat.
‘Just Maddy,’ he said, picking up the dice from the snakes and ladders game on the table. He didn’t know what was going on with his sister. She got angry for no reason these days. Most of the time it was a good idea to stay out of her way. She’d obviously had a fight with their mother again. He rolled the dice, and moved his counter up a ladder on the board.
‘Your turn Neenie,’ he said, handing the old woman the dice.
Jeremy Isherwood was thirteen years old and he was doomed. He was doomed to being the shortest kid in his family, and the shortest kid in his class, and he was doomed to play snakes and ladders with his dotty old grandmother for the rest of his life.
‘She’ll be in trouble for breaking that glass,’ said Neenie, shaking her head. Jem stared at her. Today was a good day. She was making sense. She was even beating him at snakes and ladders. Neenie was short for Irene, her real name. When her first grandchild tried to say ‘Irene’ it had come out as ‘Neenie’, and the name had stuck.
The Isherwood House was the last daggy house in the Bay mostly because of Neenie. Real estate agents haunted the place, hoping to get it off the old lady for a good price so they could make a fortune turning it into a block of flats. Or they did until Neenie tipped a bucket of fish guts over the last one and chased him off the property with her half-blind old blue heeler Rambo. That was a couple of years ago. Now, thought Jem, a smart salesman’d get the place off her for a bag of lollies on the right day.”
ABOUT JOANNE VAN OS:
Joanne van Os lives in Darwin with her husband on their sailing yacht. Her first book, best-selling memoir Outback Heart, told the story of her marriage to the “real Crocodile Dundee” Rod Ansell and the tragedy surrounding his death. It’s also a story about the NT bush and a way of life that’s all but disappeared.
Three children’s novels followed, old fashioned adventure stories for the “in-betweens”, the kids too old for children’s books, but not ready for heavy YA fiction.
Jo writes on board her boat in a Darwin marina, and is currently working on her first adult fiction.
“I had a wonderful two week fellowship at Varuna in November 2006” Joanne van Os
Outback Heart – A Memoir (Random House 2005)
Brumby Plains (Random House 2006)
Castaway (Random House 2007)
The Secret of the Lonely Isles (Random House 2011)
Agent: Selwa Anthony
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