Dorothy Johnston on her third 'sea-change mystery'

Republished with permission from

Republished with permission from

Well, the countdown has begun in earnest now, to the publication of my third sea-change mystery and twelfth novel, Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune. A few days ago, I was asked what clan tartan the cover designer, John Cozzi, had used.

It’s a hybrid, based on the Johnston, my family’s tartan on my father’s side, but with brown lines added. Those lines, and the pale green ones as well, suggest bars on a cell to me, and will perhaps to others too, when they read the story. My murder victim, Gerard Hardy, is found in a cell-like room at the end of a basement corridor, underneath Queenscliff’s historic Royal hotel.

The title is a play on The Fortunes of Richard Mahony and Hardy is a Henry Handel Richardson scholar, in Queenscliff to conduct some unorthodox research.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I find Richardson’s a compelling presence still, just up the hill from the Royal, at 26 Mercer Street, where she lived as a small girl with her mother and father and her sister, Lil.

Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune isn’t an historical novel, but the history of the Richardson family does play an important part.

And the glue that holds the whole thing together is provided by the main characters in my first two sea-change mysteries, Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt.

Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune  cover

Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune cover

Gerard Hardy’s Misfortune is the third intriguing installment in Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mystery series which includes Through a Camel’s Eye and The Swan Island Connection. Set for release on 28 October, you can pre-order a copy in our store now!

Who is Bettina Ehrlich?

Bettina Ehrlich nee Bauer, 1903 - 1985

Bettina Ehrlich nee Bauer, 1903 - 1985

Last week in Canberra, For Pity Sake Publishing was honoured to have the Austrian Ambassador, His Excellency Dr Zimburg, formally launch two of the Bettina Ehrlich illustrated children’s books we’ve re-produced to date – Francesco and Francesco and The Goat Boy

How did that even happen, I hear you ask?  Well for one thing, author and artist Bettina Ehrlich is Austrian although she lived most of her life in England. Born Bettina Bauer in Vienna in 1903, she married sculptor Georg Ehrlich in 1930. After the Nazi Anschluss in March 1938, it was no longer safe for the Ehrlich’s to stay in Austria. Bettina joined her husband who was already in England in July of that year, living there until her death in London in 1985.

The other reason is The Goat Boy itself.  Of the six Bettina Ehrlich books For Pity Sake has secured the rights to reproduce, it is the only one that is set in Austria.  When His Excellency the Austrian Ambassador first laid eyes on The Goat Boy he was enchanted by Bettina’s beautiful illustrations, saying how much they reminded him of home.   

Having never heard of Bettina Ehrlich himself, the next question His Excellency asked was how a small, indie publisher on Sydney’s Northern Beaches came to reproduce six of an Austrian author’s children’s books?

Well there’s a story behind that too.  Most of you already know that For Pity Sake Publishing was named for my dad, Keith McDonald OBE, a media executive of some note who also begat four lively daughters. ‘For pity sake!’ was an exclamation I heard a lot while growing up.

Dad started his career as a finance journalist so it’s no surprise that he loved words and stories.  Given the hours he worked, it’s a minor miracle my sisters and I ever had bedtime stories read to us, but we did and many of them.  The Bettina books were part of this ritual and I distinctly remember the first time I ever laid eyes on The Goat Boy. Originally published by Oxford University Press in 1965, I must have been five or six years old when Dad brought the book home from one of his sojourns to the largest bookshop in Brisbane at the time, the Queensland Book Depot.

I recall tugging on his suit sleeve, begging him to read it to me right there and then.  But he didn’t.  Instead he disappeared downstairs to his office (or the bat-cave as his daughters called it) and covered the book in plastic.  He did that with every subsequent Bettina Ehrlich book he ever bought for us, and I’m so glad he did.  The same six books I remember from childhood – The Goat Boy, Francesco and Francesco, Sardines and the Angel, Trovato, Angelo and Rosaline and For the Leg of a Chicken – have survived relatively well in spite of hundreds of readings over two generations of McDonalds.  So well in fact that when I started For Pity Sake five years ago, it became my mission to figure out how we could get Bettina’s beautifully illustrated stories back into circulation. 

In order to do that we had to ascertain who held the publishing rights for these works now that Bettina Ehrlich was no longer with us.  The first port of call was the original publisher Oxford University Press in the UK. The contract manager we corresponded with confirmed that they knew of Bettina and her work but that Oxford University Press no longer held the publishing rights nor any of the original illustrations or designs. That prompted a full-on, international search for Bettina’s last Will and Testament, which eventually led us to Jewish Blind and Disabled. Hailed as the only Jewish organisation in the UK providing mobility and independent living services for the disabled and visually impaired, Bettina was probably resident here at the time of her death, bequeathing the rights to her work to JBD in her Will.  

JBD kindly granted For Pity Sake the worldwide rights to republish the six Bettina children’s books mentioned earlier, the first two being Francesco and Francesca and The Goat Boy with Sardines and the Angel scheduled for release in 2020.

Apart from being an admirer of great storytelling, my dad also put a high value on quality in the production process. This ranged from the registration of photographs and veracity of skin tones when colour was introduced to newspaper production, to the quality of the print job on hardback children’s books.  He often exhorted my sisters and I to take care of our books because, ‘Books are our friends’. 

When embarking on the reproduction of Bettina Ehrlich’s beautifully illustrated children’s books, these words rang in my ears. Enter Barbie Robinson, our Canberra-based designer, who became a kindred spirit in the quest to do justice to these wonderful works AND to have quality hardback versions printed right here in Australia. Barbie painstakingly resized and laid out high quality scanned images of the original pages to resemble the originals as closely as possible. After a few years of fruitless searching for an Australian printer who would actually produce hardbacked large-sized children’s books (everyone does them in China), the international self-publishing platform, IngramSpark, finally introduced this capability to its Melbourne-based operations.  We’re so thrilled they did, and equally thrilled at the quality of the end-product. I think my dad would be well pleased.

To celebrate the official launch of For Pity Sake’s re-published Bettina Ehrlich children’s books, we’re offering a 20% discount on the print, ebook and audiobook formats of The Goat Boy and Francesco and Francesca. Just use the code AUSTRIA at check out.

The Earthier Side of the Japanese

by Warren Reed, former ASIS agent and celebrated authorPre-order Warren's new spy novel 'An Elephant On Your Nose' here.

Wherever we travel, people in the countryside are generally more direct and down-to-earth than those in big cities. This applies especially to Japan, which is odd in the sense that Japan is comparatively small in geographic terms. As the crow flies, the distance between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka and any point deep in the Japanese Alps is a mere hop, step and jump compared to Melbourne and Sydney and a point in the outback.

Japan has recently become a favourite of international tourism and with the country's network of high-speed trains more foreigners are venturing off the beaten track than ever before.

Australians, particularly those lucky enough to be posted overseas, are inveterate travellers. Working in the Australian Embassy in Tokyo decades ago, many of us were already visiting out-of-the-way places. We'd heard of a well-known (to the Japanese) Saturday market at a fishing village on the northern tip of the Noto Peninsula, which projects out into the Sea of Japan from the inner-elbow of the main island of Honshu. We arrived just as the market got under way. The fishermen were selling their catch at the quayside, while a dozen or so old Japanese women sat cross-legged on blankets nearby with fruit and vegetables they'd grown themselves for sale. Most were in their mid-eighties and had probably been widowed during WWII. You could feel the bond between them and their impish sense of humour.

One of them heard me speaking Japanese and called out, "Hey, Mr Foreigner! Don't waste your time with those old birds. Come over here and give me a thrill!" I marched over like a soldier and stood in front of her, clicking my heels and saluting.

"Now, let me think," I said, as the other women listened. "What can I tell you?"

"If you're stuck for words," the old lady quipped, "let me tell you something." The others seemed to know it would be saucy.

"If I were seventy years younger," she said, "I'd whip you back to my place up on the hillside there and give you a time you'd never forget!" The other women were in stitches.

"Damn it!" I replied. "I knew I should have come up here long before this."

"Watch out!" one of the other women joked. "She's still up for it."

The old lady let me take her photo so I could do a portrait of her back in the capital. Naturally, a condition was that I send her a photo of it later, which I did. I tried as hard as I could to capture her impish grin.

A similar thing happened on a trip to the renowned pottery of Bizen in western Japan. I was driving my Honda Civic and had three Japanese friends onboard. We came over a saddle in the hills on a narrow, less-travelled road and as I glanced down to the terraced rice-fields below I spotted a farmer cutting the tall weeds that had grown up between the rice paddies. He happened to look up as I spotted him. He was only about 150 metres away. I jammed on the brakes, grabbed my camera and ventured down to where he was standing.

He wasn't unduly surprised and was pleased when I spoke to him in Japanese. "Even from up on the road there," I said, "I could see your wonderful, lived-in face." I explained that I was down from Tokyo and often painted portraits, usually from photographs I had taken.

"OK," he said with a casual air. "How do you want me? My old lady thinks this is my best profile, but the pesky young woman I catch up with in the local town prefers this one. Anyhow, as a man you can just take me full-frontal! How does that sound?"

Now I was in stitches. It was such a natural exchange and typified a side of the Japanese I came to love very much.

I sent him a photograph, too.





Claims on Islands in Asian Waters – Where Does the Truth Lie? by Warren Reed

We’re so excited to have announced pre-orders for author and former ASIS agent Warren Reed’s newest book ‘An Elephant On Your Nose’. Here, Warren writes about some of the background to the book. You can order your copy now by clicking here

The comparatively small numbers of Australians who have studied, worked and lived in Asian countries know how important it is to understand how history has shaped those nations.

For example, a few years ago we were saturated with news about the Senkaku Islands – which the Chinese call the Diaoyutai – that are south of Okinawa. The Senkakus are administered by Japan but are claimed by the Chinese as their own traditional territory. Though the Senkakus have now dropped out of the media completely, they were until recently seen to be a possible flashpoint for military conflict between Japan and China. Coastguard ships and naval destroyers were patrolling the area and it seemed that skirmishes were about to take place, which could escalate into something far more serious.

No one in the media, even in Japan, bothered to check out the history of the islands, beyond countering China’s historical claims. Despite China’s assertions, there was an incident just under one-hundred years ago that tells a very different story.

In November, 1919, a Chinese fishing boat from China’s Fujian Province – 15.6 metres long, with a beam of 5.4 metres and powered by sail, rather than an engine – was fishing in Japanese waters off the Senkakus. Thirty-one men were aboard, mainly from one family, with the eldest aged 60 and quite a few youngsters aged between 11-16. A typhoon struck, seriously damaging the vessel, and to save it the crew had to cut the mast away to avoid capsizing. The storm raged for more than a month, with the crew tossed about by the wind and waves and drifting helplessly as they attempted to repair their boat. In late December, with no improvement in the weather they found themselves again within sight of the Senkakus but unfortunately their vessel was so badly damaged that it sank. The crew managed to save themselves by taking to three small dinghies they had on board.

They carefully made their way to the Islands, where Japanese fishermen from the settlement there spotted them and helped bring them ashore. They were looked after by the Japanese and their health and spirits restored until the storm finally abated in mid-January 1920. As a result of this, no lives were lost. The leader of the Japanese settlement then took them in his fishing vessel to Ishigaki Island, which is part of the Japanese island chain that stretches all the way from southern Kyushu to Formosa: now Taiwan but then Japanese territory. Ishigaki City was the administrative headquarters and was the centre of activity in the southern region of the Prefecture of Okinawa that governed the overall island chain from Naha, the capital.

COVER FINAL-An ELephant on Your Nose

COVER FINAL-An ELephant on Your Nose

The Chinese crew stayed in the city for ten days while their health improved, after which they were taken by the regular ferry service to the port of Keelung in Formosa. From there, they were repatriated to their hometown in Fujian. There were numerous communications at the time about the rescue, between the Japanese mayor of Ishigaki and the governor of the Prefecture of Okinawa, as well as with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs in Tokyo. Also in the loop was the Chinese Consul in Nagasaki in the north-western part of Japan’s Kyushu Island, who wrote a remarkable seven official letters of gratitude in Chinese on behalf of the Government of the Republic of China. All of the key Japanese involved in the rescue and repatriation of the crew were thanked, and all expenses incurred by the Japanese reimbursed. A gratuity was also included by the Chinese in appreciation of the assistance the Japanese had rendered.

All of the official documentation raised at the time, in both Chinese and Japanese, still exists in the archives. The letter that the Chinese Consul sent to the leader of the Japanese settlement in the Senkakus was lodged by his eldest son in a museum in Ishigaki City in the 1990s. There was never any dispute at the time over the fact that the Senkaku Islands belonged to Japan.

Also little known is that Okinawa itself, once the centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom, was a tributary state of China. For some centuries after the various islands in that chain were unified by the Okinawans, who were not Japanese, it was a focal point of booming Asian maritime trade. Vessels from Southeast Asia and beyond would unload their cargoes there, which were them divided up for transhipment to various ports on the China Coast. Many Chinese administrators lived there and coordinated this trade.

So, when we hear about China’s claim on islands in the East and South China Seas, we need to be mindful that history can often tell us much more than what’s presented to us by media reporters averse to a quick Google search before putting pen to paper.