*Thank you, Mark and Frane, for supplying all of the text and information of your book for this article.
Author: Mark Greenwood
Illustrator: Frané Lessac
A foal is born at midnight, on the homestead side of a river in Australia. Coal black. Star ablaze. Moonlight in her eyes. On October 31, 1917, the 4th and 12th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse took part in one of the last great cavalry charges in history. Among the first to leap the enemy trenches was Lieutenant Guy Haydon riding his beloved mare, Midnight. This is their story.
In the fading afternoon light, on October 31st 1917, the mounted infantry division of the 4th and 12th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse took part in one of the last great cavalry charges in history. The capture of the wells of Beersheba (in Negev desert of southern Israel) against a well-entrenched enemy, was a glorious hour in Australian military history. The audacious victory held the key to the Middle East campaign of World War 1, and led to the liberation of Jerusalem and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
This book was inspired by the folklore of the Haydon family from in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Riding his beloved mare, Midnight, Guy Haydon who was a 25 year old stockman, enlisted with the 12th Light Horse Regiment on 15th of February 1915.
“The spark to write about the light horse and the charge at Beersheba came from a visit to a school in Queensland where I saw the famous photograph of the charge hanging in the school hall.
I was instantly intrigued by the photo, and the controversy surrounding it. I began reading many light horse books with a view to writing a story that would bring this moment in our history to life.
I’m drawn to little known slices of history where themes like courage and mateship play an important role in defining our past. So I began a search for a story within the story – I was searching for a tale of one horse and one rider among those brave 800 – a story that would give readers a sense of atmosphere and participation and excitement about that historic event.
And that’s how Midnight’s story found me!
I visited the Haydon’s Bloomfield homestead in the Hunter Valley, NSW where Midnight was born. I was graciously granted access to Guy’s letters from the trenches at Gallipoli and throughout the campaign in Palestine. Then, together with Frane, we travelled to the scene of the famous charge and retraced the places where Guy and Midnight camped in the last few days leading up to the charge. For me, going to the setting I’m writing about, where the historical event actually occurred, is one of the crucial stages in bringing history to life. It is a fascinating part of the process of writing about the past, so that, the safety of a story, readers can imagine the past and understand events and struggles. They can experience war and conflict and the suffering and despair on imaginative journeys that provide opportunities for thinking critically and making judgments about the tragedy that war is capable of inflicting on individuals, families and nations. – Mark Greenwood
Lt. Haydon was parted from his horse when he was sent to Gallipoli (Turkey). He returned to Egypt he was given another horse, but no horse could replace Midnight. Lieutenant Haydon searched for weeks among the thousands of army horses until he found Midnight with another regiment. Negotiations between the commanding officers of both regiments to swap horses eventually reunited the soldier and his horse.
During the battle for Gaza, Midnight remained continuously under saddle for seven days and nights – testament to the endurance of this wonderful horse, as well as to the care she received from Guy Haydon.
The Lieutenant and Midnight served together until the sunset on the 31st of October 1917 when the 4th and 12th Regiments of Australian Light Horse charged the Turkish stronghold of Beersheba. Riding Midnight, Lieutenant Haydon was one of the first to leap the enemy trenches.
Below is The Flying Shetlands interview with both Mark Greenwood and his wife, Frane Lessac, who is the illustrator of Midnight!
TFS: When did you start writing? Did you always want a career as an author?
MG: Before I was a writer I was a professional musician. I spent many years touring and recording in Australia and overseas with the record producers and well known musicians. I learnt the language of lyrics by listening to great songwriters and then developed from writing lyrics into creating stories for children. Music has had a big influence on my writing in terms of the being aware of the rhythm and flow of words. I associate language and rhythm with pleasure. Initially music was a way for me to connect with people. Now I find writing gives me that connection.
TFS: Have you written any other books about horses besides Midnight?
MG: Not about horses….but a brave donkey – yes!
Simpson and his Donkey is released in the US as the donkey of Gallipoli.
Along with Midnight, I’m interested in the theme of animal war heroes.
TFS: Any advice for other writers?
MG: …embrace the solitude of writing. I’ve learned the importance of finding time to read for pleasure and not just for research. I’ve learnt that to write well is an ongoing lifelong process and to strive to learn and improve….and importantly – READ READ READ. If you are genuine about writing, ‘read with a writer’s eye’. Reading is the source of knowledge about writing.
How do you come up with your ideas for your books?
MG: *Initial spark – perhaps generated by a character or a setting or a photograph that teases my imagination.
*Inquisitive mind begins the obsessive research process.
*Sifting through clues like a detective, analyzing data and evidence.
* Go to place where the actual events occurred
* Then months of drafts and discarded writing and changes of direction before the idea is realized.
I’m not sure where my passion for writing about history came from, but I do know I’m very curious about the past – the well-known and little known slices of history – folklore, legends, characters, journeys, quests and challenges. I enjoy fossicking (prospecting) for stories that make me want to search for the truth. My passion is sharing those stories.
I want to breathe life into history so learning about characters and events in our past is inspiring for young readers. My task is to seek stories that connect students of all ages to people and situations, so they can also develop an interest in our history. My intention is that my books will become a springboard for further deeper study and understanding about the past.
TFS: Any works in progress?
MG: I have a new book out in May 2016 – Boomerang and Bat – the remarkable story of Australia’s real first eleven.
(The first Australians to tour England to play cricket were a determined team of Aboriginal stockmen. In 1868 they set off on a journey across the world…)
I’m currently writing a series of Historical Mysetries. The first 4 middle grade novels will be released in Febuary 2017.
TFS: Can you tell us more about your style?
FL: I never thought one day I’d be creating picture books and now I have over forty books out there in the world. I’ve always loved art, but was never the best artist in the class. In fact, in high school, the art teacher considered me ‘unteachable’ and I’ve never attended art school. My style of art is called naïve art or primitive art.
TFS: Are there any artists/people that inspire you with your art/books, or that you admire for something?
FL: After university, I lived in Paris where many of my favorite artists and writers lived before me. Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cocteau, Rousseau, Hemingway, Durrell. I romanticized about their lives as I walked down the quaint streets and visiting the same cafes they once frequented. It was there I read a book by Henry Miller entitled “Paint as You Like and Die Happy,” In Miller’s book he recalls “In art class, my ineptitude was so infamous that I was soon informed not to bother attending class.” That struck a familiar cord for me.
TFS: Any wise words for other artists and aspiring book illustrators?
FL: Don’t be a closet artist illustrator – share your ideas. Create a portfolio showing a diversity of work. Include animals, children, and anything else you love to draw. Send out samples to editors and art directors. Join organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It’s the best way to keep your finger on the children’s book publishing pulse. You’ll make firm friends and enjoy the generous support of a global network on your journey to getting your first book published.
TFS: What are the ways you find most useful for promoting your books?
FL: When I’m not in my studio creating books, I’m on the road speaking in schools, libraries and festivals around the world. Meeting students, parents, agents, publishers and booksellers – making that personal connection is important for me. At the moment, I’m taking part in this interview from China where I’m on tour visiting schools in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou!
TFS: Do you have any books in progress?
FL: My next release will be Pattan’s Pumpkin An exciting, vibrantly illustrated flood story from India.
I’m also in the middle of illustrating an alphabet book based on Australian animals – so many unique creatures for Walker Books. It will be called “A is for Australian Animals”.