Illustrator Leigh Hedstrom and I at the launch.
Photo by A. Morris

Well I’ve reached the end of my first week as a real published author!

If you somehow missed the news, my first picture book launched exactly a week ago.

The illustrator, Leigh Hedstrom and I had a little party at the NSW Writer’s Centre (I love that eclectic old place!) with about 60 adults and 40 kids.  We had a ball!

The kids did a colouring competition, which was judged by our MC – the illustrator’s hubby, 2012 Archibald finalist, Ben Hedstrom.  For those who saw the exhibition earlier in the year, Ben did the painting of Sydney band Boy and Bear titled Annandale Band Meeting.  I noted with amusement that the little girl who won the colouring-in competition was the daughter of Thirsty Merc drummer, Karl Robertson, whose wife Diana was performing at the launch.  I was glad their daughter won the colouring competition because both she and her sister have food allergies.  I must admit I’m secretly hoping this connection might precipitate a painting of Thirsty Merc in the next Archibald’s… We’ll have to wait and see!

The kids had lots of fun decorating some monkey cookies and enjoyed the beautiful cupcakes by Bee Allergy Friendly, who make egg-free, nut-free and dairy-free cupcakes and biscuits.  Baking genius Mel Ross, shared with us that she started her business because her first child is allergic to seven of the eight most common allergens.  “It was impossible to find any treats they could eat,” she said, “So I decided to make them myself.  It wasn’t long before I was taking orders from other parents.”

Dr Elizabeth Pickford from RPA Allergy Clinic addressed the crowd on the importance of making sure children with food allergies are not left out of social occasions.

She said the best part of her job is working with families to find solutions that work for them.  “We don’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach to managing allergies,” she said.  I was thrilled that Dr Pickford was able to be there on the night because I think the work she does is so vital.

But now that the party is packed up, and the champagne has stopped flowing, the hard grind of promoting the book and getting the food allergy message out to the community has begun.  (Many authors had warned me that getting the book published is the easy bit – the hard bit is getting it to its readers!)

This morning I read in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australian children have one of the highest rates of food allergies in the world.

Speaking at the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy Conference in New Zealand this week, Professor Johan Garssen admitted that scientists really have no idea why allergies are becoming more common, getting worse and lasting longer into adulthood.  He said, “If I could answer why this is happening, I would win a Nobel prize.”

What I do know is that Aussie Mums, Dads and teachers are on the front line, trying to negotiate the mindfield that is living with a food allergy. 

There are no simple answers and like Dr Pickford said at the launch, there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that will work for everyone.  What I tried to show in the book is that Marty, his Mum and his friends have to work together to keep Marty safe.

With a growing number of allergic children in our community, the burden of care can’t fall onto the parents alone.  We all have to come to the party to keep our kids safe.