Review

Published in Tasmanian Times 13/12/2017
by Sue Waterworth

Funny things books! Some of us like some of them, some of the time. But There be dragons might be an exception. It fits into a lot of categories and will appeal to lots of people….in fact, anyone who’s ever been a child.

Not a children’s book; don’t even let them near it, or they’ll get ideas, and learn very uncool things about their parents they don’t need to know.

Prepare to be dropped right back into childhood, especially if you’re ‘a certain age’. Heather Donaldson offers a palpable essence of childhood that works, no matter what your generation.

But they’re personal stories too. And they’ll make you laugh out loud. She writes in a simple child’s voice with an adult commenting over her shoulder.

Doesn’t matter that you lived somewhere else and your friends had different names; you’ll recognize them – the Danny Crawfords of this world are like universal archetypes!

It’s a social history as well.  Backyard incinerators, dad plucking the rooster for Christmas, or groups of kids going off to play in the park don’t exist much anymore, but were the stuff of endless adventures, not to say misadventures.

Don’t miss this one; buy a stack of them, and you’ll have pretty much sorted your Christmas shopping.

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Published on….

There Be Dragons is a collection of seventeen very short stories of the quirkiness and larger-than-life feelings of childhood.

They are told with sensitivity, and remind us that the lives of children can revolve so satisfyingly around the most simple of things, and how earnestly children strive to achieve their own objectives in the face of parental forbidding.

My favourite of the stories recounts the explosions of forbidden laughter when the author’s sibling pulled a very particular face in church. The illustrations throughout the book are charming. I would have liked some more background though on the small town the author lived in.

Tina

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Published in The Examiner, JANUARY 20 2018

Era of childhood innocence narrated in new book There Be Dragons by Heather Donaldson

by Lucy Stone

Stories: Launceston author and nurse Heather Donaldson with her book of childhood short stories There Be Dragons, published by 40 Degrees South. Picture: Phillip Biggs

 Stories: Launceston author and nurse Heather Donaldson with her book of childhood short stories There Be Dragons, published by 40 Degrees South. Picture: Phillip Biggs

It was a different Tasmania when Heather Donaldson grew up.

One of a pack of sunburnt, wild kids with scraped knees running about from dawn to dusk, Donaldson said she remembered some of the most innocent times growing up in Launceston.

Her memories have been translated into a collection of short stories, There Be Dragons, published by 40 Degrees South.

The stories are all based on true events, complemented by whimsical charcoal sketches by Donaldson’s daughter Matilda.

“Some of the characters are composite, but it’s all real – the kind of things every kid got up to about that time, there was so much freedom,” Donaldson said.

“Our parents would say ‘off you go, come back when you’re hungry or come back when it’s dark’.

“No one ever asked ‘where have you been, who were you with, what did you do?’”

Revisiting her childhood to write the stories, Donaldson said looking back she realised how lucky she and her compatriots to grow up in a safe and welcoming town.

It’s all real – the kind of things every kid got up to about that time, there was so much freedom.  Author Heather Donaldson

“We were very street-wise and I think in many ways it makes you resilient,” she said.

“We never went anywhere on our own, it was always a little gang of kids. We developed an instinct that I think if kids are coddled, they don’t have the chance to do that.”

Her stories are short, narrative pieces soaked in childhood fears – real and imagined – from navigating the terrifying ‘Brickfields gang’ to get to school each day, to the fantastical fears of Danny Crawford’s dragons in the woodshed.

Donaldson said she began writing the warm, character-filled stories more than 20 years ago, but despite the urging of a close friend at the time, didn’t submit them to a publisher.

Her life as a nurse, working in New Guinea, travelling around Australia and finally returning to Tasmania, consumed much of her time for many years before she turned back to writing.

With There Be Dragons completed, Donaldson says “one day” she will write the remarkable story of her time in New Guinea as a young, solo nurse living deep in the remote jungle.

“I was the only medical person for 5000 miles,” she said.

“I will write that story one day.”