Fire by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

Fire is the second book that French & Whatley have done together to address the 2 major natural disasters that have affected Australians in the past few years.

According to her afterword, Fire was written in homage to all the hard-working volunteers and professionals who battle bushfires on a regular basis, saving lives, homes and properties, including hers.

Meanwhile, Whatley’s illustrations are vivid reminders of the devastating bushfires that traumatised rural Victoria February 2009. 173 people died during a firestorm that is now referred to as Black Saturday. The images from this fire are seared into our memories. Whatley’s paintings bring to mind these images again.

French’s poem describes the colours, sounds & mood of a bushfire day so clearly that you can almost feel the air being sucked out of you by the intensity of the heat and wind.

One small spark brought fire awake, 
Winding like a black snake,
Fire flickered, fire crept,
Flames snickered, bushfire leapt...”

Whatley’s illustrations are full of the haziness, the dirtiness & the heat of the blaze. It feels dangerous & intense. Combined with French’s poem, a very moving and frightening account is portrayed.

The last couple of pages, finally offer us the hope of rain, renewal and regrowth.

Flood was published late in 2011. It detailed events from the awful flooding in and around Brisbane during January 2011.

The story is very moving, especially as it is based on events as told to French by some of her family who lived through the deluge.

“The rain stopped, but the wall of water surged into the river. Hour by hour the river rose. In some places water only nibbled at the bank, but in others it burst across the river bends…up into the streets.
It sounded like a helicopter.
It sounded like a flood.”

However, the thing that really amazes me about this book is that Whatley painted the pictures with his non-dominant hand.

He was working on his PhD at the time about ‘Left Hand Right Hand: Implications of ambidextrous image making.’ He ascertains that we are all better drawers than we think – it’s just that we’re doing it with the wrong hand. The majority of the population is right-handed which is great for language and words, but using our left hand can open us up to a world of spatial & emotional creativity.

One thought on “Fire by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

  1. I found Fire in my local bookshop late last week. I read it in the store and then bought it. It's amazing. I loved Flood too- it's extraordinary what Bruce Whatley can do with his left hand. Some of us can't draw anything let alone draw/paint with our non-dominant hand.

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