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The World of The Angels of Abbey Creek

In my last post , I told you how I wrote my very first children's story and then sent it to Father James Tierney, author of the Bush ...

Sue Elvis

Sue Elvis

Hi, I'm Sue. Welcome to my blog!

Please come in. Take a look around. There’s not a great deal to see at the moment but that will change. Oh yes, I have big plans. I’m going to fill this blog with lots of things I hope children will like.

I want to share my stories: some excerpts, some complete ones, even some in the process of being written. And I have lots of associated things I want to post about too.

I'd like to tell you about the things I mention in my stories such as lorikeets and kookaburras, First Holy Communion dresses and Mother's Day flowers, our beautiful Australian bush and perfect beach holidays.

By doing this, I'll be sharing the world of my fictional characters. It's a lot like my world so I'll be telling some family stories along the way!

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Trapped by El Cid the Snake

In the front garden of our back-to-front house was a huge garage. It had two roll-up doors at the front for cars, and a smaller regular door at the side for people. Under the side door was a hole. I never took much notice of that hole. I didn’t think it was very important. I was wrong.

One day, I opened the back door of our house and ran down the four wobbly steps. I took only one step along the path before I found myself sprinting back into the house. I slammed the door shut, and then with my heart beating fast, I yelled, “Kids! Don't go outside!”

I headed to a bedroom window with my children following, and we all peered out. Lying on the path between our house and the garage was a huge snake. Its golden scales were glistening in the sun.

We couldn't keep our eyes off the snake. Minutes passed. An hour or two passed. And still we remained at the window. The snake looked like it had no intention of moving either. What were we to do?

“You could ring WIRES, Mum,” one of my children suggested.

Oh yes, the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service might rescue us. They could take the snake away. We'd no longer be trapped in our own home. I flipped through the phone book looking for the right number and then a few minutes later, I was talking to a snake expert: “It sounds like you have a copperhead snake.”

After some discussion, we decided the snake had probably come out of the hole near the garage door.

“Can you come and remove it for us?” I asked.

“No point doing that,” said the expert. “There could be a whole family of snakes living under your garage. If we remove this one, you’ll still have the others.”

“But what shall we do?” I asked. “What if it bites us?”

“Just leave it alone and it won’t hurt you,” said the WIRES man. “It’s probably been living under your garage for years, and it hasn’t caused you any trouble before. As long as you don’t agitate it, you’ll be okay.”

I wasn't exactly happy with this advice, but I had to accept it. There wasn't anything else we could do. Except name the snake. By the time my husband, Andy, arrived home from work, everyone was eager to tell him about El Cid, the copperhead snake. By this time, it had slithered off presumably back down his hole under the garage.

We only saw El Cid on one other occasion. My son Duncan was mowing the lawn when suddenly it appeared out of the long grass. Duncan stepped back quickly, gave the snake plenty of room and it moved off in the opposite direction.

I suppose the WIRES man was right about snakes. If we don't provoke them, they’ll leave us alone.

I found this information on the Australian Museum website:

Copperheads tend to be secretive and prefer to avoid encounters with humans. If cornered a copperhead will hiss loudly, flatten its body and thrash or flick about, but usually without biting. Further provocation will cause the snake to lash out and bite. The venom is powerfully neurotoxic, haemolytic and cytotoxic, and a bite from an adult of any of the species may be potentially fatal without medical assistance.

Some years ago, the cow paddocks surrounding our house were turned into a new housing estate. Our old home was knocked down to make room for a bigger, more expensive, modern dwelling. Our garage was demolished too. When that happened, we wondered about El Cid.

“Do you think the workmen saw El Cid?” asked one of my kids. “Or do you think he slithered away unnoticed?”

I don’t really know. But if El Cid did suddenly appear, followed by all his slithery snake family, I can just imagine the looks on the men's faces. 

Granny Angel has never met a snake on her garden path. But who knows? There might be a family of copperheads living under her garage. I did notice a hole near her side garage door the last time I was between the covers of my book The Angels of Abbey Creek. El Cid might be down there. What if he slithered up in search of some sun? I wonder what Granny would do? Do you think she’d panic? Would she ring WIRES like we did? What do you think?

Have you ever had a close encounter with a snake or other dangerous creature?


How Elvis Fought the Bushfire and Saved the House

In my last post, I told you how we used to live in a back-to-front house. This house faced a paddock. And in the paddock were lots of cows.

We loved watching those cows. They'd move slowly nearer and nearer to our house, munching the grass along the way.

One spring morning, we looked out of our window expecting to see cows and saw something far more exciting. Too exciting. It was a bushfire.

The fire was charging across the paddock eating up everything in its path. We could see the fire front moving parallel to our house. Its red flames were rearing high into the sky, igniting the trees in its path. As we watched, a water-bombing helicopter appeared through the smoke. It was Elvis, the Erickson Air-Crane. It dumped its load of water, slowing the progress of the fire, and then swung round and retreated. We assumed it was off to refill its tanks.

We ran outside to the garden and peered over the fence at the flames. Our neighbours, John and Patty, joined us. John had a mobile phone pressed to his ear. "He's speaking to his mother," explained Patty. "Her house is in the path of the fire." Everyone's eyes were glued to the fire.

A few minutes passed and then John took the phone from his ear. "The house is gone." He slumped against the fence post. "There's nothing they can do. They're running for safety." We looked at each other. We looked at the fire. We didn't know what to say. We bit our lips. We tried not to cry.

Later, on that smoke-filled day, John knocked on our door. "My mother's house..." He smiled.  "At the very last moment, they saved it. A load of water from Elvis... Everything around the house is burnt to the ground but it's okay."

What wonderful news! Elvis had saved the day. Our mood changed instantly. We all grinned.

That bushfire swept through our paddock on November 10th 2002. I remember the date because that's our son Thomas' death day. We had trouble getting to the cemetery that evening because of road closures due to the fire.

In chapter 18 of The Angels of Abbey Creek, the Angel family visits Granny. Soon after they arrive, Lizzie looks out the living room window of Granny's back-to-front house and she sees a fire charging across the paddock. It's very much like our fire.

Once Dad is sure Granny's house is safe, he decides he'd better drive his family back to their village. He hopes they don't meet the bushfire on the way. And they don't. But they do see where it has been.

“Look at that!” exclaims Dad, pointing to a house surrounded by black ash. “The fire must have come right up to the front door. That water bomber helicopter must have saved the house. I bet a load of water was dropped just in time.” The firefighters have saved other houses too. It all seems rather remarkable..."

Our firefighters are magnificent people. If it wasn't for their bravery and skill, our home would have burnt down in another bushfire two years ago. But that's another story!

I don't have any photos of the fire which roared through our paddock. It all happened too quickly. We didn't think of grabbing our cameras. But I did find a short Youtube video showing Elvis filling its tanks (it takes 45 seconds) and then dropping its load of 9500 litres of water.

So why is the water bombing helicopter called Elvis? It gained this name after working for the United States National Guard in Memphis, where singer Elvis Presley lived for most of his life.

How did we get our name? I don't really know but it has nothing to do with Elvis Presley!

I wonder if your home has ever been in danger. Have you ever seen a bushfire? Or perhaps you've faced severe storms or an earthquake or another natural disaster?

The Back-to-Front House

We used to live in a back-to-front house.

The back door of our house faced the road. And the front door was all the way around the other side of the building, in our back garden. I don't suppose anyone knew it existed. No one ever knocked on it. No, all our visitors came through our back door, which wasn't always convenient.

Someone would knock on our door. "Come on in," I'd say. And then I'd add, "Sorry about the mess." The back door led straight into our laundry. We'd manoeuvre around buckets and brooms and squeeze past baskets of dirty clothes until we came to the kitchen.

"Sorry about the mess," I'd repeat as we exited the laundry and entered the kitchen. I'd hurry past the benches covered in dishes and hope the floor looked clean.

"Sit down," I'd say with relief as we finally arrived at the living room. "Make yourself at home."

It would have been much easier if our guests had come through the front door directly into the living room, and avoided the laundry and kitchen altogether. But they never did.

During the Christmas season, our front door (around the back of the house) was inaccessible because we always placed our Christmas tree behind it.

"What if someone knocks on our front door while the tree is up," asked one of my children. "We won't be able to open the door to let them in."

I thought it was very unlikely anyone would knock on that door. But just in case someone got lost, wandered around to the back garden and then decided to use the right door instead of the wrong door, I wrote a notice:


I pinned it to the door no one ever used, the front door around the back of the house.

Granny, from The Angels of Abbey Creek, also lives in a back-to-front house. Her grandchildren love her strange little home.

They all go inside Granny’s house. It’s very different to their house. The Angels’ house is new with big windows and lots of  light. Granny’s house is much older. Dad calls it a house with character. Mum calls it old, damp and musty. But the children like it.

It’s a strange little house that is the wrong way round. The front door is actually at the back of the house. No one ever comes to the front door. Perhaps they don’t know it’s there. 

Granny  doesn’t mind having a back-to-front house because most of her windows face the fields. She can sit in the living room and watch the cows while she drinks her tea. Watching the cows is much more interesting than watching television. This is just as well because Granny doesn’t have a television.

Our house also faced paddocks of cows. We enjoyed looking out our windows and seeing the cows grazing the grass. They'd wander closer and closer to our fence and then they'd turn and move away again. Unless, of course, they spied the grass on our side of the fence. Ours was greener and thicker than theirs, and sometimes a cow or two couldn't resist. They'd charge through the fence. Their feet would get tangled up in the loose wire... 

But that's another story. You'll find that one in my soon-to-be-published novel The Angels of Gum Tree Road!

All this talk of back and front and right and wrong and other doors. Did I confuse anyone? And has anyone else ever lived in a strange house?

Image: This is the front of the strange house we used to live in. Up those steep steps is the front door. Of course, the table and chairs are in the back garden!

Our Neighbours' Noisy Bird

We have new neighbours. A few weeks ago, a man and a woman, a boy, two dogs and a bird moved into the house next door.

We’ve seen the adults and the boy. We’ve spoken to them over the fence. We’ve seen the dogs too. But we haven’t seen the bird. But we know it’s there. We can hear it. Just as it begins to get light each morning, the bird screeches, “Wake up! Wake up!” And even when we're no longer asleep, it keeps on calling. All day long.

“That bird next door woke me up again,” yawns my daughter Imogen as she stumbles into the kitchen looking for her breakfast. "I've been awake for hours." She's not smiling. Nor is her sister Charlotte.

“That bird is as bad as Jeremy,” says Charlotte. “Do you remember how he used to wake us up far too early every day?”

Jeremy was a scaly-breasted lorikeet. One day, my son Callum phoned me from a friend's house: "Mum, we found a lorikeet. It's very friendly. I think it's been hand-reared. We can't find its owner. Can I bring it home?"

I was going to say, "No, Callum, we have far too many pets," but I found myself saying, "I'll go to the pet shop and buy a cage." 

"Thanks, Mum! The bird will be my pet. He's going to be my friend." I didn't need to see Callum's face to know he was grinning.

Did Jeremy and Callum become the best of friends? Not exactly. It didn't take Callum very long to realise his bird was a lot of trouble. Yes, Jeremy woke us up far too early each morning. But that's not all he did. He...  Perhaps I shouldn't say anymore. I might spoil the story. You see...

Edward Angel also has a bird called Jeremy. He’s a lot like Callum's bird. In fact, he’s identical.

If you'd like to find out what happened to Callum's and Edward's lorikeets, you could read Chapter 10 of my novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek.

So what are we going to do about our neighbour's noisy bird? I don't suppose we can complain. What good would that do? We know from experience, it's not easy to keep a lorikeet quiet. Anyway, if we complain about their bird, our next-door-neighbours might complain about our dog. 

Early this morning, just after the sun had risen, I put on my running gear and then I grabbed our dog's leash. But as soon as Nora saw me coming towards her, she ran in the opposite direction. She didn't look where she was going and tripped over her metal food bowl. It flew through the air and then bounced a few times along the concrete path: Clatter! Clatter! Clatter!

"You silly dog," I said. "You've probably woken the neighbours."

I can't find any photos of Jeremy. But I did find a Youtube video about scaly-breasted lorikeets.

And I do have a photo of Nora, our dog. Here she is with my daughter Sophie. 

I don't suppose you have a dog who trips over metal food bowls. But do you have a noisy bird?

Lenten Sacrifices

This morning I went running through the bush with four of my daughters: Imogen, Charlotte, Sophie and Gemma-Rose. Before breakfast, we set off down the main fire trail with our dog Nora.

Nora loves running with us. She's one of the girls, part of the pack. As she runs, she grins. She also points her nose high as she sniffs the air. Today, Nora strained forward on her leash. Her eyes were fixed on the bush. Had she seen something? Was it a kangaroo? I don't know.

The girls and I didn't see anything except the rocks beneath our feet. Eyes down, we picked our way over the uneven ground as the trail descended through the bush. After we'd run 2.5 km, we turned around and began climbing back up the steep hill. It was hard work. Would we make it back to the top?

"Think about breakfast. That'll keep you going, "I encouraged.

"No, don't think about breakfast," said Imogen.

"Why not?"

"Have you forgotten? It's Ash Wednesday. We can't eat a big breakfast today. It's better not to think about food."

Yes, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It's a day of fasting and abstinence. This morning, I didn't eat a huge bowl of porridge topped with nuts and syrup when I got home from our run. Instead, I had a small snack and a bean.

A bean? Yes, there are two jars on our family altar. One is full of beans. The other is almost empty. Each time we make a sacrifice during Lent, we will take a bean from the first jar and place it in the second. By the time Easter arrives, hopefully, we'll have transferred all the beans from one jar to the other.

The Angel family have a bean jar just like ours.

"I don't mind making sacrifices," says Celeste. "I like the bean jar."

A large glass jar will sit on the family altar for the next six weeks. Every time someone says a prayer, or gives up something they usually enjoy or does a good deed, they can pop a bean into the jar. By the time Easter arrives, the jar should be overflowing with beans. And the Angel family should be overflowing with grace.

They look out for opportunities to earn beans.

At morning tea time, Mum decides not to have her usual cup of coffee. She prefers to have a bean instead.  

Even Annie wants to drop a bean into the jar. When Mum is reading to all the children, she sits quietly and plays with her doll. "Was I good? Can I have a bean?" she asks.

Mum smiles. "Of course, you can." Mum likes beans. She likes it when everyone tries hard to be kind and helpful and hard working. She wishes they could have a bean jar all the time.  

By the time Dad arrives home from work, there are quite a few beans in the jar. Dad adds a few beans of his own. He decided not to buy a newspaper this morning. He's going to put the newspaper money in the Lenten charity box. He also didn't grumble when he got stuck in a traffic jam on his way home from work. Instead of complaining, he said the Rosary.

These quotes come from Chapter 6 of my soon-to-be-published novel, The Angels of Gum Tree Road.

In the story, Lenten Sacrifices, Mum and Dad have some news for the children. It's surprising news. And Kate doesn't like it. She will have to make a huge sacrifice, and she doesn't want to.

What does Kate have to give up? Maybe you will find out soon!

Our bean jars are rather ordinary. We just grabbed a couple of old glass jars from the kitchen cupboard. Our beans are dried cannellini beans. We've had the same ones for years. I've always wanted to dye them purple but have never actually got around to doing this. Purple Lenten beans? Wouldn't that be perfect?

I wonder: Do you have a Lenten bean jar too?

The Angels of Abbey Creek FREE on Kindle

Have you read my children's novel The Angels of Abbey Creek? If you haven't, would you like to? For free?

The Kindle version will be available for free on Amazon for three days starting on Friday 5th February and ending on Sunday 7th February.

This free offer begins approximately at midnight Standard Pacific Time. I just did some Googling and found out that NSW Australia (where I live) is 19 hours ahead of Pacific Time.  It'll be 7 pm on Friday before Australians will be able to download a free copy of my book. (If I have done the maths correctly!)

I love sharing my stories so I hope you'll take advantage of this offer. Perhaps you can share this news with your friends. And if you enjoy my novel, please let me know!

The above photo is of my youngest daughter, Gemma-Rose. Of course, she's holding a copy of The Angels of Abbey Creek. Gemma-Rose took my book down to the bush. Her sister Sophie went with her. Sophie, who is passionate about photography, took her camera and then captured this photo (and lots of others.) I'll show you more of them another day!

PS If you'd like a free copy of the Angels of Abbey Creek paper dolls to go with your book, please email me.

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