Friday, June 7, 2013

Wendy Laharnar, The UnHewn Stone and Billy the Bonsai Bull

AUTHOR: Wendy Laharnar  -website ;    

BIO:  Mother of two, Wendy and her husband have left their farm and herd of Murray Grey cattle. Now they live by the sea on Australia's east coast, with their mini Schnauzer, Spitzli. When she's not writing, Wendy enjoys long walks on the beach, reading, travelling, sewing, knitting and Formula1.
BOOK TITLES : Billy the Bonsai Bull         --   MG short chapter book, 6,500 words
                        : The Unhewn Stone         -- YA Medieval time travel.  Novel 93,000 words
Available from    MuseItUp
                               Barnes and Noble
and all online bookstores
PUBLISHER: MuseItUp Publishing Inc.   

 If a reader would like a free copy of the short chapter book, Billy the Bonsai Bull, to review, just answer the question below and email your answer to  the author  
Question: Why did I write Billy the Bonsai Bull for my husband and me?

Why do I Write for Children?

The simple answer is…I don’t, not consciously. I write stories for myself which, apparently, suit young readers. 

I have a suspicion I never really abandoned my childhood, so it’s not surprising most of my short stories and novels are children’s stories and YA fiction. I guess that’s because I loved the mystery and adventure of being a kid and those memories surface in whatever I write. 

As an only child I could be anyone I wanted to be and play all the roles. I was the Indian and the cavalry soldier, the pirate and the captive; I could tap dance on tables or climb trees and swing through the jungle on ropes. My early stories, often about smugglers and pirates, were written in my head and acted out with my friends.  

My first real attempt to write a short story was in the late 1970s, when I had children of my own. It wasn’t for children or for me. I was trying too hard to be ‘a writer’, writing about something of which I had no experience. That story, short on words but covering too long a time span, (a man’s life in the Australian outback) showed me I needed to learn the craft if I wanted to find real enjoyment from writing, so I spent the next few years studying. Writing short stories and poetry for the assignments in the various courses added a new dimension to those years.  I wasn’t satisfied, though, and eventually did a BA, majoring in English Lit and Classical Lit. I still seek out and apply useful writing tips.  

In 2003, an Australian print magazine published my science fiction short story titled Bianca’s Birthday Present. Although this was not a children’s story, the plot hinges on the futuristic Bianca’s childhood memories. Last year I rewrote and expanded it for MuseItUp. This was published as Happiness Guaranteed

Nowadays, ‘real life’ as an adult influences much of my writing for children. Take Billy the Bonsai Bull, for instance. This story comes directly from my experiences breeding beef cattle. Billy is real, right down to his name, so are the other cows, the human characters, the setting and the situation. To be fully in tune with Billy and my senses, I’d wander among the cows in the paddocks or sit on a log in one of our small forests, breathing deeply, listening and gazing; absorbing. Thinking about this, now, makes me misty. I miss the farm.

Initially, I hadn’t considered Billy’s story as one specifically for Middle Grade children.  I wrote it for my husband and me because Billy symbolized our life on the farm. Adults read it in its first draft. During the second draft, as I added more detail, I discovered I’d touched on the themes of Bullying and Loneliness as well as Friendship and Kindness. Since these topics are always concerns for children, I gave ‘the young visitors to the farm’ a broader role to expand these themes. I involved real children more as I rewrote the story, not that they were aware of it at the time.

When I wrote my YA novel, The Unhewn Stone, also from MuseItUp, I had High School History students in mind. I wanted them to experience medieval history first hand by drawing them inside the medieval legend of Wilhelm Tell. My hero, Stefan, is a modern teen on the brink of adulthood, just like them. I sent him back to 1307AD to prevent the legend from happening. He gets to meet his long distant ancestors and live as they do, which proves quite overwhelming for him. The story deals with finding one’s true self, pride, courage and friendship, particularly when one is out of one’s depth. 

The truth is, I wanted to experience medieval life, too. For years I ‘lived’ in the Middle Ages, researching this story and had heaps of fun with it, scared myself too. I didn’t want to leave. That’s why it took so long to write. The supporting cast includes a tyrant governor and his noble mother and son, an evil knight, a shape shifting sibyl, an alchemist, an innkeeper and his daughter, peasants, monks, and of course Wilhelm Tell. They all come together in the beautiful Swiss setting where Tell lived. The setting is real. I know because I spent real time there, twice, in summer and winter, with my husband and two granddaughters whose input into this story I truly value.

To writers contemplating writing for children, I suggest you draw on the memories of your own childhood but also listen to the way children speak today; note their expressions and gestures and take notice of what affects and interests modern youth. Ask questions to make sure your story is in tune with them. If you are fortunate enough to have a child read and comment on your work in progress, you’ll be truly blessed. I asked a school boy what he remembered most about his lessons on medieval history. He said ‘the torture, in particular the dunking stool’. I found a way to add this to The Unhewn Stone –naturally. # 

Short Excerpt from Billy the Bonsai Bull:

The calf padded forward. He looked into his mother’s face and mooed softly. Her glazed, weepy eyes no longer focused on his. He nibbled on her ear. She didn’t stir.
The farmer’s wife sighed and reached forward to pat his head. “Come on, little bull. I’ll get you a nice warm drink. What do you think of that?” 
His hair bristled. Without his mother’s protection, he didn’t feel comfortable with these people. He darted away to the safety of a gum tree.
“This calf will be harder for you to rear than mothering a newborn,” the farmer warned his wife. “This one’s had the real thing for three weeks.”
“Maybe, but you’ll have to help me get a collar and lead on it. After that, how hard can it be? Besides, I must succeed. I promised Misty.” #

Short Excerpt from Chapter One, The Unhewn Stone.

Bürglen, Central Switzerland
December, Present day
High in the attic, above the fuss and commotion of the party preparations, Stefan Gessler stepped around his old Saint Bernard and reached for the Saint Nikolas costume on the back of the door. He pulled the gold satin shift over his head. It smelled of camphor; stale, like this ancient Gasthüüs; stagnant, like his life. The leather of a long, black boot tightened over his gammy leg. He moaned and wished to be any place but here.

‘Stop it,’ a familiar voice sang inside his head. ‘You are on the brink.’ Stefan glanced at the portrait above the bed. Always, the handsome jester on the rearing black horse laughed at him through the cracked canvas. His costume had green and crimson trousers patched at the knee and a faded three-tailed hat with tiny bells on the ends. His cloak swept forward as if windblown, its colour matched his purple-blue eyes. They were Gessler eyes, the same as Stefan’s and his grandfather’s. Perhaps in the distant past the jester entertained Bürglen villagers, too. He would gladly change places with this ancestor.

A sharp knocking sent his dog bounding across the floor. Stefan shoved his arms into the sleeves of a scarlet robe and hurried after him to greet the only person who ever bothered to climb the third flight of stairs. He flung open the door. “Come in, Ääni. I’m almost ready.” He hugged his grandfather.

The old man’s skin smelled like the damp timber of the Gasthüüs. He wore his green velvet magician’s coat trimmed with gold. It weighed heavily on his frail frame, causing him to stoop more than usual, and the matching hat looked too big for his head. 

Ääni smiled. His knurled face creased like an old tree trunk. “Your guests are arriving, but before we go downstairs I have something for you.” He slumped on Stefan’s swivel chair, taking a moment to catch his breath. Then he produced a pack of cards from his pocket and offered them to Stefan. “Shuffle them and place three upside down on the desk.”

Stefan hesitated. “You want a quick look at my future?” He scratched the ridged scar on his face and neck. Hesitantly, he took the pack from his grandfather. “Not sure I’m ready for this, Ääni.”
Outside, squares of yellow light from windows in a rival guesthouse across the road changed the darkness to an eerie grey. Snowflakes settled on the stunted pine tree at the front and on the timber heaped for the night’s bonfire. Cold, sharp mountains lurked like grotesque giants. Stefan shivered.
He placed the top three cards on the desk and turned over the first one. “There. Death. I knew it. I had a bad feeling about this.”
Ääni seemed unperturbed. “Next.”
Stefan revealed Temperance, reversed. Ääni pursed his lips and frowned.
Stefan fingered the last card. He closed his eyes and prayed it would reveal something special in his future. Maybe The Chariot, to speed him away from this narrow valley or, better still, The Lovers. He flipped the card.
The Fool.
‘Perfect,’ said the voice inside his head. He glanced at the portrait and at his grandfather. They were both smiling at him.  #

Thank you for hosting me, Penny. It is a joy and an honour to be on your blog with all of the talented authors.



  1. I love the way you have presented my post, Penny. Thank you!

  2. Very interesting, Wendy. I didn't know Happiness Guaranteed was yours. Guess I'll have to pick that one up too. Am greatly enjoying The Unhewn Stone. You've led a very interesting life and it's fun to see that Spitzli is real and alive! I suspect I have never quite grown up either. I enjoy playing pretend with my kids!

  3. Hi Suzanne, I'm so glad to find you here. Thank you for your lovely comment. I'm happy that you are enjoying Stefan's story, It's fun being a kid, even if only in our stories. :)

    I'm off to bed now. Will call back in the morning.

  4. Sounds like you write from the heart. Your books sound interesting and with meaning. Nice to meet you, Wendy.

  5. Hi Wendy,
    I think we all haven't really 'grown up.' There is that little bit of child still in us. The pretend stage. That's why we write.
    Lovely presentation, I enjoyed reading it.

  6. Lovely to meet you too, S. Willett. Thank you for being here. Yes, like most of us, I do write from the heart. Trouble is, I can't write at all unless the heart is willing, even though the head always is :)

    I'm sure you are right, Lorrie. Today's writers are the new pretenders; the escape artists, conjurers and alchemists of old. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Lovely post, Penny. Wendy, I get misty eyed reading the excerpt from Billy's story. You capture the little fellow so well. It is a story for all ages, as is The Unhewn Stone.
    Writing from the heart must be what gives your work the magic touch to reach your readers and impact on them. I know each of your stories leaves indelible memories. They make you smile, they can cause tears, but they each leave the reader feeling satisfied and well entertained.

  8. Thank you, Rosalie. You are such a supportive friend. You write from the heart too and have such a clever turn of phrase, that awes me. Your sci-fi fantasy series the Chronicles of Caleath would definitely appeal to older teens.

  9. Wendy, I enjoyed your insightful post. Your idea that being an only child made you pretend to be other characters is just gorgeous! And I love your comment about today's writers being the alchemists of old. The storytellers of yore created their fairy tales, epics, and poetry for all ages, no neat little marketing nooks. We have nooks now, but thankfully, readers aren't afraid to cross them. Who knows what treasures we'll find? Best to you and your wonderful tales.

  10. Hi Pat, thank you for being here. I agree, there should be no age barriers, really. Your lovely stories enchant all ages. Writers belong to a long and distinguished group. We are so privileged to have stories to tell.

  11. Nice excerpts! And interview!

  12. Wendy and Penny, a very nice interview. I enjoyed reading The Unhewn Stone. It was a magical book and experience.

  13. Great excerpt and interview, Wendy.

  14. Wendy, I love that you don't specifically write for children, you just write!

  15. Hello Cheryl,
    Thank you. I'm so glad you came.

    You too, Marian. Lovely to see you here.

    Leona, Thank you for reading Stefan's story and for the wonderful review you gave it. I'm glad you liked it. That means the world to me. :)

  16. Wonderful interview, ladies. What a great picture of Billy. I love all Wendy's stories! Hugs to Spitzli


  17. Hi Victoria,
    Yes, it's funny how most of my writing brings out the child in me. Theoretically, that was supposed to keep me young, but alas... Then again, I've always had old hands. :)

    Thanks Nancy, my dear editor!! I love your stories too. Spitzli wagged her tail when I gave her that hug from you. Wish I could write a story about her but I'm too close to the subject. :)

    Hello swapnanil. It's great of you to comment... I think (?!?)