Answers Just Beyond Our Grasp: Colleen Keating launches ‘Black Mountain’ by Carol Chandler

Black Mountain by Carol Chandler, Ginninderra Press 2017, was launched by Colleen Keating at Better Read Than Dead Bookshop, Newtown, on 6 August

Carol Chandler, (left) and Colleen Keating at the launch of Black Mountain

Firstly I invite a pause for us to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, on which we gather and   to pay respect for Elders past and present.

What a gathering in this wonderful environment of books and music and art, and what a great honour for Carol that you have taken the time to be with her to celebrate.

Most of you would be aware writing is a lonely trek, a long haul,  a footslog, an odyssey. Sometimes lost in the bush,  sometimes all at sea, sometimes desert-dry, sometimes energising but mostly a solitary and gruelling task. As a writing community we appreciate that, and we are here to honour the loneliness of the long distance writer and to celebrate Carol’s successful outcome. And what an outcome.

Black Mountain is a psychological thriller –  and what a thriller. What a journey!  We are taken by the narrator, Sarah, into the back waters of a country area, a place up in the hills not far from the coast in a lonely desolate ‘neck of the woods’.  Sarah, a teacher  has escaped from this town and this life, but on, page one, she is drawn back into its eerie world  trying to make sense of the past and find out what really happened to her brother Liam who died in a house fire.  By page eight we are woven into the mystery and, for us, there is no return .

You and I know how easy it is to get caught back into the dark web of our past,  –   into the tangle of relatives, families , friends. . . where there are all the hurts and intrigues, suicide, murders, lovers, drugs  and especially secrets, lies and cover ups.

People are watching …..the threat of dogs always in the background..… the sharpness of the knife edge that glints in the moon light…….   that scary feeling you are being followed and  that strand of foreshadowing…. and  of course the world of gossip.

Even when we escape to the coast, the ocean doesn’t give us reprieve, not even a breather. We are kept in the dark web of intrigue.

Carol has given us a thriller. Everyone loves a good mystery……  but here there is the added complexity of human psychology,   what’s beneath the surface in human action and reaction .

The pivotal characters Freya and Tyler and the mystery of Lola a young girl who has disappeared, gives us a sense of place and how that connects with identity.

And with  the pains of the past that hold their secrets and hold us in their mystery, we become caught in the struggle and search for meaning.

What is it all about? ……. We are immersed in a thriller . . . a metaphor for life, where the questions materialise at every turn, but the answers are just beyond our grasp.

The many characters, that fill this small world of intrigue, even Aden and Radic and the dogs Nero and Jet and the mountain all are colourful and well formed. One could possibility recognise archetypes from Carl Jung’s  collective unconscious but this is held lightly,  This is not a philosophy book, it is a short psychological thriller to take to bed,  or curl up one rainy afternoon and enjoy an escape for a few hours.

Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter says: “Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic” and Black Mountain has the magic of a good read.

I  congratulate Carol and proudly declare Black Mountain launched.

Black Mountain is available from

Colleen Keating. belongs to the Women Writers Network that meets every Wednesday at the NSW Writers Centre in Roselle .  Her collection of poetry, A Call to Listen is available from Grinninderra Press and her second collection, Fire on Water, is forthcoming from the same publisher. Colleen can be found at

Binding Politics with Poetry: Anna Kerdijk Nicholson launches ‘swimming underground’ by Jenni Nixon

swimming underground by Jenni Nixon, Ginninderra Press 2015, was launched by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson at Gleebooks, Sydney on 27 September 2015.

swimming undergroundJenni Nixon’s new collection swimming underground, published by Ginninderra Press, is slim and neat but it packs a punch.

What interests me most about the poetry in Jenni’s new collection is how she has achieved her aims. For make no mistake, these are political poems which are outspoken. I have been thinking about her performative history, including her acting career, her role in outreach education using theatre, her performance-poetry and how she has translated this successfully onto the page. Jenni had long, long-standing poetic friendships with Dr Kerry Leves and Vikki Viidikas, both of whom were poets of ecstasy and outrage. All of that history and technique is here in these pages.

So how has she captured so much with such a light touch?

Excuse me if I read excerpts from the book as I know that Jenni is going to read you a rich selection of the pieces which you will enjoy all the more, hearing it in her own voice. So I’m going to give you exploratory tasters of how Jenni goes about her poetic work.

I think she’s worked to position the poems against one another so that they flesh out her political themes.

Jenni’s divided the book into four sections exploring her political concerns: war in all its forms including the domestic; the infection which is family; the marginalised in society; and the effect of the misuse of power.

Notice that somewhat strange glib assessment I made back there: ‘war in all its forms including the domestic.’ You see, this is the effect of Jenni saying things in her ‘Jenni’ way. The poems have soldiers come back into the domestic – her grandfather, her father and Tom Uren; and the battle ground of the home. Let me introduce you to her experience of Tom Uren. She travels on the 442 bus, describing the White Bay entry to Balmain in all its dodgy politics and she’s sitting next to Tom Uren whose history she relates. Mixing the present and the past, Jenni conflates the demonstration against war—which she attended and he led—with her meeting with him on the bus.

called the conscience of parliament
broken nose champion prizefighter
large practical hands rest on his knees
jovial smile under a brown bush hat
Tom Uren is travelling home to Balmain.


Tom Uren was witness in Japan
distant mushroom cloud atom bomb
………..dropped on Nagasaki
he protests war in Iraq and Afghanistan
…………………….marching out the front
I hobbled along back in the throng
Tom Uren tells me you stay in your seat
until the bus stops
you could fall.

 – a bombadier on the bus

Poetry which is political and defiant is often poetry which uses, ineffectively, hectoring or remonstration. Jenni’s poetry works ‘as well as it does’ because she controls her poetic style and her voice. The result is that she deals with insanity and its benign counterpart, eccentricity; suicide; alcoholism and sobriety; and successfully celebrates the marginalised because of her stance, her perspective. It is the tone of the work—that thing which is so very difficult to define but which is essential to good poetry—which binds the politics with the poetry, the personal with the general. Something which comedy, satire and irony have in common: a lightness of touch when dealing with the objectionable and, very importantly, entry into the problematic lived experience.

Here are some small parts of ‘dragons’ a superbly-toned poem about a child’s repetition of received family opinion and bearing witness to dysfunctionality:

tonight gran and i will study Word Power
read stories from the Reader’s Digest
laugh together at Humour in Uniform
she’ll correct my pro-nun-see-ay-shon
then off to bed with clean white sheets all starchy
as my new school uniform’s black box pleats


gran thinks granddad
too friendly with the local kids
written them poems on their dead dogs and stuff
kinda nice but she tells him to stop
they sleep in separate bedrooms

dinner tonight we had Rhinegold
love the bottle round with a green leaf
want more tingly sparkles
chase each other down my throat
gran’s teaching me to drink properly
so i won’t become a drunk like my dad

dad hates gran too bossy a regular dragon
he says she interferes too much
but i like it over here mum’s mad again
up all night for days talking to herself
writes things down on crumpled bits of paper


gran gets so tired taking care of us
her mouth is shrinking

 – dragons

When you have read the collection you will feel entertained, but that’s deceptive, because Jenni won’t let anyone, including herself, get away with it. The ‘it’ against which she uses her wit and descriptive power includes Clive Palmer, Centrelink, the invasiveness of CCTV, domestic violence, the Government’s transgressive treatment of asylum seekers, fracking, government resistance to same-sex marriage, and cant.

[…] i know your body like my own. the curves smells
folds of it. the licks of tongues to fire passions breath of it.
though we share our bed you cannot be my wife.
forbidden. no white frocks gold rings wedding bells
no rainbow confetti. no battered shoes to knock
the road behind a sign: just married. my love
here is my proposal. when the law is changed. marry me.

 –  proposal

She is also very aware of the layering of all history, particularly in this, our Harbour City.

… this harbour city thumping under constant reconstruction
in a ‘bag lady’s waltz’ twirl of traffic through tunnels
burning rubber over buried shell middens
of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation
on to freeways and down thoroughfares into back alleys
in an eternal search for parking.

– harbour spin

She’s framed the book with this starting poem about Sydney Harbour and given us a coda which is the epitome of her satirical pieces. She leads us to think she’s on our side and then turns the lens on us, lets us know that we are (and that includes Jenni) part of the local and global problems she wants us to help solve.

As we head toward the end of the book, Jenni uses this technique consistently and to good effect — not letting any of us get away with it. This is from Sydney Siege about the Lindt Café on Martin Place:

sprinkles of rain lightly fell
on field of flower left by mourners
that became a shrine
with a plaque for the dead.

snarled in traffic
the city is open for business
thousands offer #illridewithyou
…………for those fearing racist backlash
yet women in headscarves are spat on.

 – Sydney Seige

The final poem in the collection takes the ecstasy of near-resolution of our issues and holds up a mirror to us. It starts with the epigraph from Phil Ochs for the final section: ‘ah, but in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty’.

into blue

space junk has in cracks and crannies life forms that change with
intense heat into a subatomic new life force that melds with a
meteorite on re-entry merges with everything metallic on Earth
to form a new cosmic collective consciousness that’s galaxy-blue
and humming. they’ve come home to their Creators. first law
of hummers is to harm no humans. fridges phones buildings
homes billion-dollar aircraft and bombs are turning blue and
hum. guns and bullets purr in people’s pockets. a young thug
at a convenience store pulls a knife that squeals turns blue
is hot and rubbery. with a yelp of pain the youth flees. the
knife returns to a pleasant vibrating whirr. In war zones planes
with bluish bombs refuse to fly. rockets won’t fire. cars don’t
crash. galaxy-blue is hard for dye makers to match but soon
the populace of New York and London are kitted out in blue.
some begin to worship hummers as the new manifestation of
Krishna. first were hip-replacements but now bodies turn blue
as Avatars in the fantasy film. no more wars. we hold our breath.
turn galaxy-blue. – awake breathless hear on the radio David
Bowie singing Planet earth is blue. And there’s nothing I can do…
a blue marble spinning in the cosmic playground is in danger
of losing the game.

 – Anna Kerdijk Nicholson


Anna Kerdijk Nicolson has a new book of poetry published by Puncher & Wattman – Everyday Epic.  ‘Her celebrated skill with form—so apparent in her first book, The Bundanon Cantos, and utilised to great effect with the modern sonnets in Possession—is also present, but in a playful way. Everyday Epic honours the courage of our small twenty first century selves who battle on—in the face of prejudice, racism, the Intervention, Australia’s Immigration policy—despite our ‘pathetic human-ness’.”

swimming underground is available from


All Features Great and Small: Robbie Coburn Reviews ‘Between Giants’ by Ashley Capes

Between Giants by Ashley Capes, Ginninderra Press. 2012

betweengiantswebTo read Ashley Capes’ poetry is like standing on your veranda or in your lounge room, or anywhere for that matter, and simply finding the poetry that lies in the every day. In fact, Capes acknowledges this fact in stating he will ‘keep sucking poetry from small things” (‘a table set for thousands’), a statement that sets the tone for his latest offering Between Giants nicely.

This type of work is expertly balanced and a breath of fresh air amidst the countless collections of difficult and unnecessarily thesaurus-laden modern poetry. Capes has an impressive ability to reflect on the every day and make it so much more in his lines and sentiments, sourcing beauty and food for thought in even the most mundane of things, in a voice that feels genuine, assured and intelligent. As Jane Williams states on the back cover, Capes’ poetry “[favours] sincerity over artifice and meaning over wordplay”.

Finely tuned, vivid and accessible, Between Giants goes further in expanding the reputation he has established in his previous collections, Pollen and the Storm, Orion Tips the Saucepan and Stepping Over Seasons, exploring a range of experiences, topics and landscapes.

The fantastic opener ‘transitions’ displays to the reader that they are about to be taken to a different cultural landscape by the poet, and as the collection progresses, it is clear this landscape is Italy, namely Rome.

The standout poems in the collection are derived from these overseas travels, such as the excellent “St. Mark’s Square” which closes the collection:

we eventually have to stop,
as people invariably halt
to stare up at bronze, replica horses
and unhook
their jeep-like cameras
right in the middle of the flow

Here he applies his unforced, Australian poetic voice with the unfamiliar and beautiful imagery of Italy from his point of view. This creates somewhat of a poetic travelogue and is possibly Capes’ best work to date. This view is verified by the inclusion of his poem ‘archaeological moment’’ in John Tranter’s The Best Australian Poems 2012 (Black Inc.), where the simple discovery of an old coin in the dirt while on holiday in Italy becomes a brilliant exploration of the changing in the land, and the monumental travel of lost objects through time:

a penny has come thousands of miles
to hibernate in the dirt

it’s not worth much
but neither is it worth nothing

The poem then forwards into a future where the coin is left behind, waiting to be rediscovered by future travellers:

 years later when moving house
and neither one goes back for it

the penny can close its tiny eyes
and wait for a more archaeological moment.’

The non-travel poems are also strong, always keenly observed, exploring connections between people and places, and deriving beauty from streets, nature and even popular culture, such as in ‘stubble’, which references Clint Eastwood’s facial hair in A Fistful of Dollars, and ‘the colour purple’, which compares Australian nature to ‘a lost set piece from The Wizard of Oz’. It is this ability to find poetry in virtually anything that makes Capes such a fine observer of our modern world and the way we inhabit it.

The subtle and comical monologue ‘acceptance speech’ is a standout in which Capes thanks several acquaintances from his life for their various contributions to his wellbeing, displaying the range of his work and drawing from things generally not associated with poetry:

actually, while I’m here
I’d like to thank my dentist
for standing up to my recklessness,
even if the remorse
of the sugar-junkie never lasts

This piece is an interesting take on something we have all witnessed, and demands to be re-read and paralleled with our own lives.

 Between Giants, a reference to witnessing the old structures of Rome, is a fine title for this collection, as there are plenty of big and memorable moments within the covers, and also an appropriate representation of Capes as a poet: between the famous names, the giants of Australian poetry, Ashley Capes stands most impressively.

More importantly, Between Giants reminds us that wherever there is life, in Rome or in Australia, there is always poetry and vice versa.


 Robbie Coburn is a poet and writer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published in 2012 and his first full collection Rain Season is forthcoming from Picaro Press this year. For more go to:

Between Giants is available from Ginninderra Press:


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Unbroken: John Jenkins launches Chain of Hearts by Karen Throssell

Chain of Hearts, poems by Karen Throssell (Ginninderra Press, 2012).

This is  a slightly edited version of the John Jenkins’ launch speech for Karen Throssell’s third book Chain of Hearts. The launch took place at Collected Works on 18th August 2012.

It’s a pleasure to launch Chain of Hearts, the third book of poems by my friend, neighbour and fellow writer Karen Throssell. These are poems marked by their clarity, intimacy of tone and directness of address. As a poet, Karen takes you into her confidence, and the poems unfold in a natural and sympathetic way. Some poems are highly personal and emotionally edgy, yet their intensity is counter-balanced by a familiar and conversational style.

Karen’s egalitarianism is always a given. Her poems are addressed at ‘eye-level’, and at first-person-pronoun-I-level, too… as if to a friend. To me, this is, one of the most engaging qualities of this book. The poet has (at least, for the most part) an uncomplicated and pragmatic approach to the English language and its endlessly rich resources.

Karen’s poems connect with us individually, and – as if to heighten this welcoming effect – many are set in domestic interiors, so there is an immediate sense of warmth and inclusion. In contrast to the many home-centred poems, however, are ones of travel and the open road, where a wider, humanistic engagement is never absent. Concern for people’s ordinary lives illuminates Buildings The Colour of Sky, which is set in Paris…

Buildings the Colour of Sky

The haunting hollow echo
of homeward tramping hordes,
sucked deep by roaring tides.

Swept along
on tired currents
through tiled tunnels,

until Sortie
they’re spat out

into white/ grey light.

Buildings the colour of sky.
Sleet – white slate – grey,
broken by black lace balconies

which beckon with curled fingers,
to small evening rooms
warm with soup

and clink of drink.
Little teeming pockets
of life up there.

Down here, there’s rain-black roads,
and coal-black coats
wrapped like wind.

We wear these too –
our Paris garb,
blurring us into blank-faced crowd.

Walk fast like them, look straight ahead –
not up in wonder at chariots of gold
gleaming out from all that grey.

Try not to feel too dwarfed
by all that towering history –
t­he tiers and tiers of years:

Battles, Kings and Guillotines
blood seeps out of solemn stone,
flowing onto cobbled streets

which echo still
with swish of skirt
and groan of cart.

Pressing home to bread and cheese
ignore the beckoning bars,
slink past the brassieres,

where wrapped in mellow glow
the lucky sit. They sip their wine
in clouds of smoke and smugly pass the time.

And all the others’ surging rush
so many, packed so tight –
rushing home to tiny rooms,

just another Paris night.

For the past 20 years Karen has managed Warrandyte Neighbourhood House, which co-ordinates teaching courses in the community. (Warrandyte is a Yarra River suburb 24 km north-east of Melbourne). Karen also organises the annual ‘Grand Read’ in Warrandyte – a showcase of local writing talent. She is one of those absolutely essential people who spread a lot of sunshine into their corner of the world, and is a champion of localism.

Karen seems to have found an agreeable niche in her river town of Warrandyte:  “I think that it’s got me / this sleepy dream town… // Me, the girl from Fitzroy / came here on a whim…” // Now I am here, / the river’s turned bossy, says Never Again! / to Best Practice meetings / and work-till-you-drop.” (from ‘River Town’).

Karen has been writing poetry for about 15 years, though non-fiction for a lot longer – and an important poetic mentor was the multi-talented writer and teacher Anne Edgeworth, in Canberra. Early influences included political poets such as Neruda. Karen, as some of you may know, has spent a lifetime in left politics, with a focus on social-justice, advocacy and equity.

The following is from another travel poem, Source of Life Not for  Sale… It describes a vicious cycle that has closed in on ordinary lives, and the concern is a global one:

“… What once fell free from the sky / Is now bottled / For those who can pay // And those clean containers / Fill slimy rivers / Carcasses bobbing with poisoned fish // Like a snake that swallows its tail / They kill the rivers / And sell us water // In bottles, / Which kill the river / So we need to buy plastic water… // All that brown tide / Should flow free / Fill the earth’s cup…” (from ‘Source of Life Not For Sale… conservationist poster, India 2006’.)

Particularly in this book, poetry and biography coincide. Karen’s father, Ric Throssell, was a career diplomat, posted overseas, and Karen spent her first four years in Brazil. Then her family returned to Canberra, where Karen’s academic path began, first at the ANU, then Sydney Uni, then Adelaide Uni for her Masters in politics; then La Trobe.

Karen has worked as an academic, both in universities and TAFE; and in the late 1970s for the Labour Resource (and Research) Centre, taking part in work projects for Victorian unions. In the Victorian Cain labour years, she was an equal opportunities officer, across many industries and challenges, which included helping female motor mechanics further their careers.

Her first non-fiction book, a history of Australian foreign policy, was published in 1988; titled The Pursuit of Happiness: Australia, “the Empire”, ANZUS, nuclear disarmament and neutrality. Her second non-fiction title, Taking Back Time: How Part-Time Work Will Revolutionize Your Life is now doing the rounds of publishers, and we wish it a good landing.

Karen’s trajectory of commitment, whether directly or implicitly, finds wide and various expression in Chain of Hearts. Recently, Karen has campaigned against gambling addiction, and more specifically, against investments in poker machines by Australia’s two supermarket giants. As several poems attest, it is not a disinterested campaign, as Karen and her family have been touched personally by this problem.

In a previous rocky campaign, Karen was threatened with legal action by ‘the Big Mac’ itself, after a pamphlet was written by Karen and several others, titled ‘Rip-off Ronald: How McDonalds is Exploiting our Kids”.

And here is a poem-pebble slung against yet another multinational Goliath, titled The Colour of Money…                      

The Colour of Money

I hear BP is taking out a patent
on a shade of green.

Green is the bush:
Australian green.
the layers and shadows of
blue-grey, green-blue,
hints of mist
and bushfire smoke,
shades upon shades,
green bleeding mauve
in the day’s cooling –
green as not-green.

Even so,
there are still echoes
of that English green,
tree-shorn fields
rolling in foreign ways,
and moss,
softly, velvety
yearning to be stroked –
green as England.

shiny monsterio tendrilled
frog an fern unfolding
bright dripping soggy green,
of damp twining wetness –
green as jungles.

My first party dress:
dark emerald green,
real silk velvet,
with a white fur collar.
I stroked its sumptuousness
thinking of Queens, elves
and deep mossy pools –
green as growing girls.

I have a friend
who wears only green.
I think of her,
in her olives and jades –
shirts, silk and sea-coloured,
with shining scarves,
their twining teals
humming together –
green as gorgeous.

She’s a gardener, swathed,
immersed in it,
willing newborns –
green as innocent,
green as young –
to poke defiant through
stubborn-clay, parched dirt –
green as growth.

I hear there is a patent out
on a shade of green.

Finally, we come to family matters, often a highly personal (and powerfully expressed) arena, of both solace and distress, in Chain of Hearts. And where the biographical elements are most strongly linked to the poetic. Some of these family poems register shocks to the soul, as only the surprise loss of loved ones can detonate. Others take us into the harrowing territory of serious illness and the personal grief that surrounds it.Yet, despite the difficulties illuminated in this book, it remains an essay in quiet hope.

A long and extraordinary literary legacy within Karen’s family is also traced here, which might have began with Karen’s great grandfather – who was once editor of The Fiji Times and, later, of the Melbourne Sun.

Then followed Karen’s grand-mother, Katherine Susannah Prichard … author of 13 novels, as well as plays, journalism and verse – who declared she was, “born with ink in my veins…” Katherine Susannah Prichard, famously, was also a foundation member of The Communist Party of Australia. So much of that ink is red!

The ink kept steadily flowing, and down through the entire family.Karen’s father, Ric Throssell – as well as being a career diplomat – was author of 26 plays, as well as non-fiction titles.In the 1950s, Ric Throssell became victim of the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War. And Karen is currently completing a play, titled The Man Who Wasn’t There, about that crazy era, and her father’s long fight for justice, after he became swept up in the infamous Petrov Affair and was falsely accused of being a spy.

More recently, the family ink seems to be fuelling the pens of Karen’s two daughters, Bryony and Katie.Bryony won the FAW junior poetry award when she was 16… And her attractive cover artwork is on Chain of Hearts.Katie, meanwhile, now lives in France, and translates extensively between English and French; mainly academic work so far, but lately gravitating towards the literary memoir in her own writing.

I will read perhaps the gentlest of Karen’s family series, about a CD of music once given to her sick mother.  Titled The Final Indulgence. It is also, wonderfully, a poem about music itself.

The Final Indulgence

(Ave Maria by Guillio Caccini)

The lingering: note of the violin
followed by the refrain – rising, falling
(molto crescendo, diminuendo)
languorous waves at sunset.

Long slow afternoons,
sadness seeping in.
Pate winter sun stroking her bedspread.

Repeated, until the same long note
is echoed by the soprano
the undulation
tremulous, tragic.

We have evening drinks together
like we always did,
but now gathered around her bed.

Then the voice soars –
(crescendo, aggravato)

the notes building up and up,
hovering –
the knife-sharp note poised.

This can’t be happening.
Maybe there’s more time.
She can’t die yet.

Then the despair of
the downwards swoop
(diminuendo, tenuto)
a slide into fathomless grief.

But in our hearts we know
these are her final days
the last of rose, all summers.

Now, as in conversation
the softer echo of the violins;
(pianissimo molto)
the sinking diminuendo.

This music was to be
my gift to her – ‘The Final Indulgence.’
before we knew –

The violins’ last refrain
so quiet, so slow
(lento, lento)
it becomes a prayer
until the final chord fades –

then silence.


To end on a very happy note, it’s not every author who has a new book – and becomes a proud grandmother! – in the same year. Katie and her husband, Gowan, live and work in Chartres, France, where six months ago, their first son, Sasha, was born, so the chain of hearts continues unbroken, and with gathering strength. It’s a little too early for Sasha to pick up a pen, so we will have to wait for that … In the meantime, we have Chain of Hearts to read… which I now declare launched!

– John Jenkins


John Jenkins lived with Carol Novack in Sydney in the mid 1970s, when he first met many uniquely creative people, including Rae Jones. He is a sometimes visitor to Rochford Street, though now lives near the outer Melbourne suburb of Warrandyte, where Karen Throssell continues her writing and community-building work. His most recent poetry books are Growing Up With Mr Menzies (John Leonard Press, 2008) and (with Ken Bolton) Lucky for Some (Little Esther, 2012).

Chain of Heart is available from Ginninderra Press