The Timeslip Series

Slip back in time with this award-winning series of Australian historical adventures.

Each of these books has a modern day stream about a girl, who finds an old piece of jewellery which is a link to somebody who lived a long time ago. In many of the books, the character travels back in time to meet that person, find out what their life was like and have all sorts of adventures in the past.

The Lost Sapphire

“The Lost Sapphire is a fascinating and wonderful historical book…. The intertwining of the lives of the characters in this story is fabulous …”

Lamont Book of the Month, May 2016

The Lost Sapphire is “Highly recommended.. This charming historical mystery, connecting a young, contemporary girl, Marli, with her forebears and their life in the 1920’s… This unveiling is captivating.”

ReadPlus July 12, 2016

“Belinda’s books appeal to all ages and her historical fiction novels are some of the best around. ‘The Lost Sapphire’  is a fascinating time-slip novel, and, as usual, Murrell handles the time-slip beautifully..”

Megan Daley ABC Radio

The Lost Sapphire

What is the fascinating secret of a long-lost sapphire ring?

CBCA Notable Book 2017
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Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.

A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .

In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.

Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?

Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?


There is something totally fascinating about walled gardens and abandoned houses. One of my favourite books as a child was The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1910. Some of the ideas for The Lost Sapphire, were inspired by this book, particularly family secrets and discord, the idea of a girl and a boy, who initially don’t get on, building a friendship and being healed by bringing a lost garden back to life. The cheeky robin, who helped show the way into the garden, inspired my fairy wren.

My father’s family was originally from Melbourne, and I spent many long summer holidays playing and swimming on the banks of the Yarra River. More recently, I have explored this beautiful city on multiple trips, visiting old mansions and gardens; wandering the streets, laneways and markets; and eating food from many different cultural backgrounds including Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian, Greek, French and Russian. It is one of my favourite cities in the world!

1. What is the inspiration for The Lost Sapphire?

The Lost Sapphire, is set in Melbourne during the fabulous roaring 1920s. It was originally inspired by a couple of experiences where I was taken to visit some beautiful historic mansions, which had been abandoned. One of these was in Melbourne and another was in Tenterfield in Northern NSW. With both houses I immediately began wondering about the people who had lived there and why the mansion might have been abandoned.  Then suddenly I seemed to stumble across several derelict houses, all with fascinating stories.


2. Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

With all of my time slip books, I am fascinated by the idea of exploring the past, and learning lessons which can help us understand our own time and issues more clearly. The Lost Sapphire is set in the Roaring 20s in Melbourne – a fascinating time where the world shifted. A frivolous era of short skirts, bobbed hair and risqué jazzing, but also of massive social change. The old ways, where on one side of the Yarra River, Melbourne’s aristocrats lived a life of extravagance and wealth, contrasted sharply to life in the slums, just across the bridge,  – of poverty, disease and crime, where 13 year old kids had to work long hours to feed their families. It was also a time where prejudices ran strong. Intolerance of Anglicans versus Catholics. Suspicion and fear of different cultural, social or religious practises. Yet Australian society was very much made up of refugees seeking a better life – whether those fleeing poverty in Ireland or Italy or Scotland, or those fleeing war-torn Europe or the Russian Revolution.


3. What resources do you use to research your book?

Research is a huge part of my planning for the books. I can spend months reading old newspapers, magazines, advertisements, history books, diaries, articles on the internet, books written during the 1920s, biographies, letters, and memoirs. I also try to understand the culture of the period by watching historic film clips and home movies and listening to music. Trove, the on-line archive of the National Library of Australia is a fantastic research tool. For this book, I also went to Melbourne to visit historic houses, museums, exhibitions of fashion and clothes, old factories, and ensure that my setting was as accurate as possible.

Life in Melbourne during the 1920s was brought to life by newspaper articles, film clips and memoirs of wealthy debutantes, factory workers, and servants.  The Hamilton Glove factory was inspired by the Simpson’s Glove Factory which was located on Victoria Street, Richmond and its collection of artefacts held by Museum Victoria. Riversleigh was inspired by several old Melbourne mansions I visited including Como House, Labassa, Balmerino and Rippon Lea.


4. Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?

My protagonist from 1922 is Violet Hamilton, a fifteen year old girl, whose mother is dead and whose father is distant, stubborn and conservative. Violet’s life is one of luxury, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. Over one summer, Violet comes to learn about the lives of those who live in the slums of Richmond, just across the Yarra River, and to realise that all is not as it seems for the servants who look after the family – especially new chauffeur Nikolai, a young Russian émigré. Violet must decide what is important to her and to stand up for what she believes in.


The Sequin Star

“The Sequin Star is such an awesome book! … Compelling and full of magic, this read will really stay with you long after you’ve devoured every page.”


The Sequin Star

‘This is impossible. I must be dreaming. Why does the newspaper have a date that is more than eighty years ago?’

Shortlisted for KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards)
YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award)
COOL Awards 2015
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Claire finds a sequin star among her grandmother’s treasures. Why does she own such a cheap piece? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932.

Claire finds herself stranded in a circus camp. The Great Depression has made life difficult, but Claire befriends performers Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who watches the show every night.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire wonders who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?

Inspiration for The Sequin Star


1. What inspired you to write The Sequin Star?

I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with my father and being entranced by the performing bears (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia). I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. So I have wanted to write a story about an old fashioned circus for a long time. The 1930s seemed like an ideal time to set it because it was a very harsh period in Australian history.


2. Did you visit any circuses to get ideas while you were working on The Sequin Star?

Yes, it is important for me to actually visit the places where I set my books (or as close as I can get to it) so I can create a very vivid and detailed setting. Lots of the fans who write to me tell me that one of the things that they love about my books is that the detail is so realistic that when they are reading the book, they feel like they are really there.  For my research, I visited the Great Moscow Circus, taking lots of photographs around the lot and chatting to the circus people. I also took my daughter to visit Cavalia when it was touring Australia. We were lucky enough to meet several of the performers and talk to them about life on the road, training, their passion for horses and trick riding.  It was a fascinating experience.


3. Did you make any surprising discoveries when you were researching this book?

Lots of my books have been inspired by my family, and at first I thought that this book was not. However halfway through writing and researching the book, we made an amazing discovery. There actually was a member of my husband’s family who ran away and joined the circus. Nearly a hundred years ago, Rob’s great uncle Max Murrell, ran away when he was a teenager and joined a circus. He eloped with a gorgeous young girl called Gertrude and together they travelled all over the world to Asia, India, Africa and America. They developed an aerial equilibrist act which included doing handstands on the back of a chair, balanced on a tightrope high above the ground. My father-in-law Lee told me stories about watching Max perform tricks at family parties.

The River Charm

“The River Charm .. is a story of hope, strength and courage and the determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds… This convincing book … is honest and realistic depicting life in colonial Australia with all its beauty and difficulties …”


“A beautifully described story of courage.”

The River Charm

‘Could I be anything I want to be? What do I want to be? Maybe just . . . brave?’

Shortlisted WAYBRA - West Australian Young Readers Awards 2014
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Could the ghost girl Millie has painted be her own ancestor? The river pebble charm has an astonishing story to tell…

In 1839, Charlotte Atkinson lives on a grand estate with her mamma and her sisters and brother. But after her father dies, things go terribly wrong – murderous convicts, marauding bushrangers and a cruel new stepfather. The family flees on horseback to a hut in the wilderness. They must fight to save their property, their independence and even their right to stay together. Will they ever return to their beautiful home?

Based on the incredible true-life battles of Belinda Murrell’s own ancestors, the Atkinsons of Oldbury.

The River Charm Inspiration

When I was about 10 years old my grandparents took me on a journey. We drove down to the Southern Highlands past Moss Vale. We bumped along a rough, dirt road until we came to a grand old sandstone house.  The house was surrounded by overgrown gardens and looked neglected and forlorn. It looked like something out of a fairytale – romantic, forgotten by time, a little forbidding. The house was called Oldbury.

My grandparents took me there to show me the grand estate which had been built by my great-great-great-great grandparents James and Charlotte Atkinson in 1828. While we were there and many times in subsequent years, they told me stories about the Atkinson family. They were fascinating, romantic stories of adventure, bravery, tragedy, determination and defiance.


1. Why did you write the book?

The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

I wanted to write this book to tell the story of this fascinating family, but also to highlight some of the forgotten stories of women in Australian history and the important roles they played in the development of our culture and nation.


2. How long from idea to publication?

It was about two years. The idea first came to me in 2011, which was the 170 year anniversary of the publication of the first Australian children’s book which was written by my 4x-great grandmother Charlotte Waring Atkinson (who is called Mamma in The River Charm to avoid confusion with her daughter who is also Charlotte Atkinson!). My sister Kate Forsyth and I were asked to speak at many school events and festivals about this unusual family of writers. There were several writers in the Atkinson family, who published many books and articles between 1826 and 1870. Coincidentally, there are still many writers in my family including my sister Kate Forsyth and my brother Nick Humphrey. We discovered that children were absolutely fascinated by these family stories.


3. What was the hardest thing about writing it?

There was a huge amount of research. It took months. Writing the book was like solving a very complex jigsaw puzzle, when many of the pieces had been hidden in the mists of time. It was both incredibly exciting and also sometimes frustrating when I found conflicting information or had to guess at what might have happened. Fortunately, because the family were writers there were plenty of primary sources. There were also many contemporary newspapers articles, legal documents and letters as well as modern books written about the family. I loved discovering so much about the incredible courage and determination that my ancestors showed. Every time my publisher commented on something which seemed incredible or far-fetched, I always seemed to reply ‘Í know – but that part is absolutely true!’


4. Coolest thing about your book?

That is all based on true events and true places. After immersing myself in the book for about a year, I had the opportunity to visit the grand old house called Oldbury which was built by my 4 x great grandparents. I went with my sister Kate and my mother Gilly. We walked through the front gate and I burst into tears, totally overwhelmed by the emotion of visiting this amazing place.


5. Something you learnt through writing the book?

One of my most exciting discoveries was a journal written in 1826 by Charlotte Waring (my 4 x-great grandmother) which is now held in the National Library. It was amazing to read her handwritten account of her voyage to Australia. The journal covers just a short few weeks but during this time she left her family and homeland for ever, and met her future husband James Atkinson. There is a description of a terrifying storm which nearly destroyed their ship. Charlotte was swept away by a huge wave, and with her heavy petticoats was pulled under the water. James Atkinson leapt to her rescue, saved her and tenderly wrapped her in his cloak. The ship survived the storm and James proposed. They had only known each other for three weeks. It was incredibly moving to read these events in my ancestor’s own handwriting. I also read a letter written by her daughter Charlotte which listed the fascinating items which James Atkinson brought out on that journey with him – including a fine stallion, several dogs, plus white lillies in glass topped boxes for his garden.  Like my family, the Atkinson family loved animals and raised many orphan creatures including a pet koala, wallabies and baby possums.

The Forgotten Pearl

“The Forgotten Pearl ….This colourful, deeply moving saga of Poppy’s family is an utterly enthralling tale.”


The Forgotten Pearl

‘Let me tell you a story. A story about friendship and sisters, about grief and love and danger, and about growing up . . .’

YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award) Hall of Fame Award 2022
KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) Hall of Fame Award 2022
Honour Book 2013 KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Award)
Shortlisted for KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards)
Shortlisted WAYBRA - West Australian Young Readers Awards 2013
YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award)
COOL Awards 2013, 2016
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When Chloe visits her grandmother, she learns how close war came to destroying her family. Could Poppy’s experiences help Chloe face her own problems?

In 1941, Poppy lives in Darwin, a peaceful paradise. But when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and then Australia, everything Poppy holds dear is threatened. Terrified, she flees to Sydney – only to find that the danger follows her there. Poppy must face her war with courage and determination. Will her world ever be the same?

Inspiration for the Forgotten Pearl – Escape Into a Forgotten World

A few years ago my family and I decided to run away. We decided to pack up our home, and leave school and work, and go travelling for two years. The purpose of running away was to have some amazing adventures together as a family and to give me the opportunity to focus on researching and writing books for children.

I home schooled my three children, who were then six, eight and ten, for two years. We wandered through Europe for five months, where I researched two of my time-slip books The Locket of Dreams and The Ruby Talisman, then after many exciting, family adventures came back to Australia for another eighteen months of travelling, home schooling and writing along the way.

We set off in a trusty 4WD car and caravan to explore this amazing country of ours. After many weeks of driving along dusty rough dirt tracks we discovered the mysterious country of the Top End – the Never-Never. This was a land of vast cattle stations – millions of acres in size. Some of them were bigger than entire European countries. It is a land of incredible beauty where you could go for days without seeing any other humans. It is also a land of danger – where saltwater crocodiles lurk beneath the water waiting to snap up unwary travelers. It was a land rich with history.

While we were in the Top End we discovered stories that no-one seemed to talk about. Stories that had been half forgotten for nearly seventy years. These stories were what happened to everyday Australians in 1942 when the world was at war. We didn’t know that during the war the Japanese attacked Australia nearly 100 times. We didn’t know that they attacked many cities and towns around Australia, including Darwin, Broome, Townsville, Sydney and Newcastle. We didn’t know that they killed hundreds of people in these attacks including over 100 women and children.

We also discovered stories of immense bravery and courage by everyday Australian families – by children, teenagers, mothers, fathers and grandparents who had suddenly found their everyday lives turned upside down.
These stories are what inspired The Forgotten Pearl.

Can you imagine what it might have been like to be a child living here in Australia seventy-five years ago when Australia was at war?

Seventy-five years ago a young boy was playing in his garden in Manly in Sydney when he looked up and saw a strange looking plane. He recognized the plane immediately as a Japanese float plane, a spy plane. He rushed to his mother and together they reported the sighting to the authorities – but the authorities didn’t believe him. They said it was impossible. But he was right – it was an enemy spy-plane planning an attack.

Seventy-five years ago three mini submarines invaded Sydney Harbour to attack ships. There was a terrifying battle in the harbour, with bombs and bullets flying everywhere which could be heard and seen for miles around Sydney. The next morning the newspapers said nothing – the Government wanted to keep it a secret. Most of Sydney heard or saw it for themselves including a group of teenagers who were coming home on the Manly ferry and were caught up in the frightening battle.

I loved the idea of discovering these long-forgotten secrets and bringing them to life for modern day kids to read. It seems kids agree because The Forgotten Pearl has been voted by thousands of Australian kids as one of their favourite books in the KOALA, YABBA and COOL awards multiple times.

The Ivory Rose

“Fans of Belinda Murrell’s time-slip tales will not be disappointed.”


The Ivory Rose

A mysterious gothic ghost tale set in the Witches’ Houses of Annandale in 1895.

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2012 Highly Commended
CBCA Notable Book 2012
Shortlisted Davitt Crime fiction Awards 2012
Shortlisted for KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards)
YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award)
COOL Awards 2012 and 2017
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‘Georgie’s sad. She wants me to help her. Can’t you see her, Jemma? She’s right there.’ 

Jemma has just landed her first babysitting job, in one of the famous Witches’ Houses. Sammy says it’s haunted, but Jemma doesn’t know what to believe.

One day Jemma discovers an ivory rose charm. As she touches it she sees a terrifying flashback. Is it the moment the ghost girl was murdered? Jemma runs away but tumbles down the stairs. She wakes up in 1895, unable to get home.

Jemma becomes a maid – but all is not well in the grand house. Jemma begins to suspect that the young heiress, Georgiana, is being poisoned. Now she must find the proof and rescue her friend – before time runs out.

The Ivory Rose Inspiration – Ghosts, Timeslip and Talismans

When we originally moved into our house, when my children were little, it was very rundown. The house was about a hundred years old – creaky and rattling, musty and tumbling down. Doors seemed to slam shut all by themselves. My three children (6, 4 and 2) announced one day that their shared bedroom was haunted. I made all sorts of soothing noises about the wicked wind and funny noises.

Until one day something absolutely startling happened.  I walked into my kids’ bedroom, and propped up on the bookshelf was a piece of pink card, with a note on it. The handwriting was instantly familiar – with its loopy, rather shaky calligraphy. The message was brief but beautiful – Remember I will always love you, Nonnie.

It was from my beloved grandmother. The problem was – my grandmother had died eight weeks before. She had never been to this house.

My life over the last few weeks had been traumatic – my grandmother died. My son had been admitted to hospital with a life threatening infection. My husband had bought this tumbledown old cottage meaning we’d had to sell our beautiful renovated little home. My house had been robbed, stealing all the precious jewellery my grandmother had left me. The move had been messy and stressful.

Yet here was this impossible, amazing, wonderful note. But how did it get there?

My husband had never seen it before. I had certainly not placed it there. And as for the children? Did they find it tucked into a toy box or a book and bring it out? Or did the spirit of my grandmother make it appear just when I needed it. Over time, life settled down, and the children stopped reporting the presence of a ghost in their bedroom. But every now and again, over the years, when my life gets overwhelming or terribly stressful, this note mysteriously, reassuringly reappears somewhere in the house to remind me of my grandmother’s love.

A year or so later, one of my best friends bought another of Manly’s original old homes – this time a gracious Victorian mansion. One day while we were having tea, my friend confessed that her three year old daughter was convinced there was a ghost who she could often see sitting up in her pram. ‘Can’t you see him, mama?’ The story gave us both the shivers…. And so my interest in ghosts was ignited.

When I decided to write a gothic ghost story, I searched for a setting that would do it justice – an Australian version of a crumbling castle or abandoned manor house. Almost immediately I remembered the spooky Witches Houses in Annandale. For many years, my sister had lived in Annandale just a couple of streets back from them, and every time I visited her, I passed them and wondered about their history. Annandale seemed an ideal setting for my book – with its mixture of faded grandeur, gritty working class history and fascinating characters.

The Witches Houses were built in the 1880’s by John Young, who dreamed of developing a grand estate for Sydney’s wealthy. Then a severe depression hit Australia in 1890, bringing enormous social and economic upheaval –  high unemployment, ruined businesses, lower wages, strikes and agitation for greater rights. For Australia, the depression created a climate where new ideas flourished – leading to the creation of the Labor Party, the right for women to vote, nationalism, and the push for Federation.

For Annandale, this meant the large land blocks were subdivided to provide tiny workers’ cottages and factories. The impoverished gentility and struggling workers were living cheek by jowl. An iconic character of the period is a prime example – Sir Henry Parkes, the Father of Federation and long-time Premier of New South Wales lived in one of the Witches Houses. With eleven children to care for, the self-made man was declared bankrupt and lived in the mansion on the charity of his friends until his death in 1896. He died before his dream for Federation came to pass.

While many of my books have a historical setting, it is not just the grand picture of politics and social change which intrigues me – it is the everyday family lives of ordinary people. As a child I always wished that I could magically slip back in time and experience how people lived. So my time-slip books are set both in contemporary Australia and different historical settings. Reading a time-slip book is the closest we can come to travelling back in time!

The Ruby Talisman

“The Ruby Talisman is …A classic adventure novel. The action is fast-paced, the characters gutsy… and the danger ever present..”

Sun Herald

The Ruby Talisman

‘Tilly visualised the ruby pendant, recreating its crimson fire. She felt herself diving into that pool of colour . . . down into a deep, vivid dream.’

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Tilly falls asleep wishing she could escape to a more adventurous life. In 1789, Amelie-Mathilde is living in luxury at the Palace of Versailles – but her guardians want her to marry the horrible Chevalier. She falls asleep wishing someone would rescue her.

Tilly wakes up beside Amelie-Mathilde. The timing couldn’t be worse. Starving peasants are rioting and the palace is in chaos. Tilly knows Amelie and her cousin Henri must escape if they are to survive the Revolution. With mutinous villagers, vengeful servants and threats at every turn, will they ever reach safety?

The Ruby Talisman Inspiration


I have always been fascinated with the French Revolution and the beautiful and tragic Queen Marie-Anotoinette. This fascination was reinspired in 2007, when I spent several weeks living and traveling in France, including exploring the catacomb tunnels under the streets of Paris, wandering the gilded salons of Versailles, experiencing Paris and the surrounding countryside. As I stood in the dank, dark tunnels,– surrounded by the skulls and bones of people killed during the revolution, I decided I must write a book set during this tumultuous time.


1. The Ruby Talisman was so full of historical detail! Did you do a lot of research for this book?

It took me months! My family and I spent about six weeks in France in 2007 so I wandered the gilded salons and lavish gardens of Versailles, explored extravagant chateaux and townhouses like the ones owned by the Montjoyeuse family and crept through the dank tunnels and catacombs under Paris.

I read dozens of historical books, not just about the history of the French Revolution but about life, clothing, food and etiquette in France during the eighteenth century. Some of these were written by people who experienced the revolution firsthand such as the Memoirs of the Private Life of Marie-Antoinette by Madame Campan  (1818), and others were modern histories such as Marie Anotoinette – The Journey by Antonia Fraser (2001), all of which gave me lots of facts to base my story on.

I searched the internet for menus, court protocol and even weather, and kept a notebook of interesting facts and details. We even cooked many of the meals described in the book. The whole research process was fascinating!

2. Why the French revolution? Is there something about this time or about France that really attracted your interest?

I love France – its culture, cooking, landscape, language and history. As a child I remember being fascinated by Queen Marie-Antoinette and reading adventure books such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, with daring plots to rescue innocent aristocrats from the guillotine. While travelling through France, there seemed to be reminders of the French Revolution everywhere we went, so I began imagining all sorts of exciting adventures.

3. Do you speak French? I loved the vocab list at the beginning of the book.

French is such a beautiful language – I love the sound of it being spoken. I learnt French at school (many years ago), and can speak rusty traveller’s French. When I was homeschooling my three children, we started learning French together to prepare us for our time in Europe, but I do find it a difficult language to speak fluently. I used a lot of French phrases in the book, but tried to keep them simple and consistent so hopefully it added to the flavor of the book, not distracted readers from being able to enjoy the story.


4. Can you explain what exactly a time-slip story is, and how it’s different from a time-travel story.

This is a tricky one! My understanding of a time-slip story is where the protagonist travels back in time through supernatural or magical means, such as falling asleep wearing a magic locket or talisman, whereas time travel depends on a more scientific explanation such as a time travel machine or falling through a wormhole. In my last book The Locket of Dreams Sophie, falls asleep wearing a magic locket and slips back and forth in time for short periods, like an invisible ghost, to experience events in the past. In The Ruby Talisman, Tilly also falls asleep wearing a magic pendant, but she stays in the past for the whole adventure, and is physically present as an active, living person.

5. Do you think aristocrats like Henri and Amelie got what was coming to them, or maybe the peasants were a bit harsh?

In many ways, Amelie is how I imagined Queen Marie-Antoinette to be as a teenager. She loves fashion and jewels, she enjoys dancing and horse-riding and being pretty, she is told to marry someone she has never met to suit her family’s aspirations. In the beginning, Amelie is totally thoughtless about the plight of the peasants, however she is essentially a kind and good-hearted person.

Henri is more aware of the political and cultural climate of France, and critical of the regime, yet he is more talk than action, until he personally experiences the plight of the peasants. So for these particular aristocrats, I don’t think they deserved to be murdered, or to lose their home and family. However, while I could never condone the violence of the revolution, I can understand how desperate and angry the French peasants were at the extreme inequality and injustice of their lives, compared to the extravagant lifestyles of the aristocracy. The peasants had been treated so badly for so long, that the resulting revolution was excessively bloody.

Dear Mum

I’m writing this to you wondering if I’ll ever see you again. I know this letter could never possibly reach you, but it makes me feel better writing my thoughts down.

I’m sorry I’ve been so horrible the last few months. I’ve been so angry – with you, with dad for leaving us, with Tim and most of all with myself. I guess I thought if I’d been more loveable, dad wouldn’t have gone away.

Anyway all that seems so long ago. Well really it’s so far in the future that compared to what’s happening now, it doesn’t seem so bad. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but you see the most amazing thing has happened.

When I was staying at Auntie Kara’s she showed me an old Ruby Talisman that belonged to our ancestress Amelie-Mathilde-Louise de Montjoyeuse. It was the only belonging Amelie managed to save when she fled France during the revolution.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I fell asleep wearing the ruby at Kara’s and when I woke up I was in a huge four poster bed at Versailles on the 14th of July 1789, the day the French peasants stormed the Bastille. Sleeping right beside me was Amelie-Mathilde.

At first I thought Amelie was silly and spoilt. She’s been brought up as an aristocrat during one of the most decadent periods in history. Her life at Versailles was awesome – the clothes, the jewels, the food, the opulence.  But things soon turned ugly, once the Bastille fell. Aristocrats are being killed in the streets of Paris. Chateaus are being burnt all over France and their owners slaughtered. We had to escape.

Since then we’ve been running for our lives with her cousin Henri. It’s been terrifying and so strange. Amelie and I have become really good friends, and Henri too.  I feel like I’ve been magically sent back in time to help them escape.

The only thing that has kept me going is the hope that I can get home again to see you and Tim, and dad, and Kara, and my friends. I miss you all so much. If I get home again, I promise I’ll make it up to you.

All my love

Tilly xxxxxxxxxxx

The Locket of Dreams

“An intriguing time travelling tale..”

Books Buzz

The Locket of Dreams

‘She didn’t know why she felt the urge to wear the old necklace. It just seemed to have a magnetic pull on her.’

Shortlisted WAYBRA - West Australian Young Readers Awards 2011
Shortlisted Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2010
Shortlisted for KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards)
YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Award)
COOL Awards 2011
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When Sophie wears the heart-shaped locket, she magically travels back to 1858 to learn the truth about her ancestor.

Charlotte Mackenzie and her sister, Nell, live a wonderful life on a misty Scottish island. Then disaster strikes and it seems the girls will lose everything they love. As the girls outwit greedy relatives, escape murderous bushrangers, and fight storm and fire, Sophie shares in their adventures. But how will her travels in time affect Sophie’s own life?

Locket of Dreams Inspiration


When I was a little girl, my grandmother Nonnie used to tell my sister and me many stories – many of them Scottish tales. My favourite, however, was how her own grandmother had come to Australia in 1858 from Scotland, with her sister. The two Mackenzie girls, Ellen and Jane, were orphans, sent by their uncle away from their home on the west coast of Scotland. Nonnie used to tell us that their father had been a rich Scottish laird with a castle, but that the girls had lost everything when their father had drowned at sea, closely followed by the death of their mother. According to Nonnie the girls’ mother died of a broken heart after her husband’s death.

Nonnie’s mother had told her that the Mackenzie castle should rightfully have belonged to the girls, but that their wicked uncle had sent the sisters to Australia so he could claim their inheritance.

As a child, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for those girls to lose everything they loved and be sent across the seas to a strange and dangerous land. My sister and I dreamt of going back to Scotland to claim ‘our’ Mackenzie castle. It was only later, I learnt that girls in those days had very few legal rights and that landed estates were often passed down only through the male lines.

All we have left of this Mackenzie heritage are the stories that have been passed down through the generations and a small gold locket. This locket has been passed down from mother to daughter, mother to daughter for a hundred-and-fifty years until it was inherited by my mother. I remember holding the locket in my hand and wishing I could see what Ellen Mackenzie must have experienced while she wore the delicate engraved locket.

The Locket of Dreams grew out of my own imaginings of what might have happened to my ancestors, the story of two orphaned Mackenzie sisters.

In my own travels with my family, I went to Scotland to explore the wild, west coast and the rugged Highlands to trace my Mackenzie heritage. We came across several grand estates owned by the Mackenzie clan including Eilean Donan near the Isle of Skye and Rosehaugh on the Black Isle. I researched Scottish dialect, history and folk lore.

There were wonderful tales of selkies, bogles, kelpies, changelings, water horses, ghosts, brownies and the wee faery folk. The tale of Jeannie Macdonald in The Locket of Dreams is named after my other grandmother, Jean Macdonald, who was also of ‘guid Scots bluid’. My parents used to joke that Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macdonald had been arch enemies for hundreds of years, and here we were descended from both.

This story is born out of the romantic, adventurous and inspiring tales that grandmothers, and mothers, tell their children – the best of which can be passed on for generations.

Even now, I like to remind myself of the Mackenzie clan motto ‘Luceo non Uro – I shine not burn’.

In my family it is not only stories but also recipes which are passed on from generation to generation. Like Nonnie and Sophie in The Locket of Dreams, I used to cook with my grandmother and my mother, and now my daughter cooks with me and with her Nanna. My mother makes the most delicious marmalade in the world and my daughter Emily loves to make it with her! Here is my mother’s recipe for marmalade which Sophie and Jess made with Nonnie.

Make sure you have an adult helping you.

Gilly’s Two Fruit Mackenzie Marmalade


2 lemons
4 oranges
4 cups of water
4 cups of white sugar

Cut lemon fruit in half and squeeze juice into a bowl. Set aside the lemon seeds.

Using a sharp knife, carefully peel skin from oranges and remove pith and put aside. Always direct the knife away from you to avoid cutting yourself.

Chop the orange fruit, removing seeds. Place chopped fruit and lemon juice in a saucepan.

Slice the orange peel. My mother always cuts the peel into slightly thicker slices, but some people prefer it to be very finely sliced. Add peel to saucepan of fruit.

Place lemon seeds, pith and lemon rind in a muslin bag or clean stocking (this bag mixture releases pectin which causes the fruit jelly to set. If you don’t cook this with the fruit then you will need to add either pectin or jam sugar to ensure a good consistency). Knot the bag closed.

Add bag of seeds and four cups of water to fruit mixture. Bring to boil. Turn temperature down and simmer for fifty minutes. (At this point Mum often lets the marmalade rest over night, then reheats the next morning and continues. She says it gives it a better flavour)

While fruit is cooking, sterilise the jars. Wash the jars in a hot dishwasher, then place in the oven to heat.

Add four cups of sugar to hot fruit mixture. Bring to boil, then turn down heat. Stir constantly for about half an hour so that the sugar does not burn. Never overboil the mixture after adding the sugar as this will ruin the colour. The colour should be pale orange not brownish.

Carefully remove bag of seeds from saucepan and squeeze out excess pectin between two spoons. Stir through mixture.

Test the consistency. Take a teaspoon of fruit mixture and place on a saucer in the fridge to cool. The cool marmalade should set like a jelly. If it is too runny you may need to add either pectin or half a lemon to help it firm.

When marmalade is still warm, but not hot, pour into sterlised jars and allow to cool completely.


If you like sweeter marmalade add slightly more sugar. If you prefer a tarter mix, add a little more lemon juice. The oranges can also be substituted with other citrus fruit such as mandarins, limes, grapefruit and tangelo to make different flavours. I love a four fruit marmalade with lemon, orange, mandarin and lime.

Enjoy! Homemade marmalade on sourdough toast is my favourite breakfast!