I loved Belinda Jeffrey’s Brown Skin Blue and had been looking forward eagerly to the release of her new book Big River, Little Fish.

I wasn’t disappointed. Big River, Little Fish is another Belinda Jeffrey’s book that’s hard to put down.

It tells the story of 15-year-old Tom Downs struggling to fit into a world that he doesn’t understand, and that doesn’t understand him. Tom’s Mum died giving birth to him and apparently, he came out backwards; which seems to explain why things don’t make sense. Tom struggles with reading letters, and with reading the people and the world around him.

Apart from his closest friend, Hannah, Tom is more comfortable with the recluses who live by the river than with kids his own age.

Tom wonders what it takes for a person to end up like that: feeling safer alone than with others. Depending only on yourself come hell or high water. Then again, perhaps he does understand.

Caring for people like for Murray Black, Bum-crack and Mrs Cath helps Tom to understand his own place in the world.

Big River, Little Fish is as deep, powerful and unpredictable as the Murray River, which provides the backdrop, the catalyst and the resolution for this amazing story.

It’s a beautifully crafted novel where the setting, Old Mother Murray becomes another character in the story. Big River, Little Fish was inspired by teen holidays Belinda spent at her father’s shack on the Murray, and her affinity with the river is clear.

The story is set in 1956 when the banks of the South Australian Murray River burst its banks in one of the state’s worst-ever natural disasters. The locals know it’s coming and Tom feels that everything he loves could be swept away and lost.

Old Mother Murray is like the ups and downs of life. Sometimes it is full to overflowing and sometimes it’s a muddy hole full of sharp branches and rocks.

Belinda Jeffrey has a way of creating characters that get inside your heart and soul. Her evocative writing allows you to feel the water lapping at your feet, and experience Tom’s tide of emotions as past mixes with present to create a new beginning.

Big River, Little Fish will keep you thinking, long after you have read the last word.

It is published by University of Queensland Press.


Brown Skin Blue, the acclaimed debut YA novel from Belinda Jeffrey was inspired by her brother’s wedding.

About ninety people flew to Darwin for the wedding-many family and friends from SA and QLD – and we spent about a week before the wedding – and then again afterwards – touring the major sights of the Top End. While my family and friends were taking pictures of the usual touristy things, I found myself taking photographs of patches of landscape. I felt my character, Barry emerge. When I went on a Croc Jumping tour, I knew I had the bones of a story and couldn’t wait to get home to write it.

Belinda Jeffrey started writing after High School, at University. She was studying Primary Teaching and started writing picture books to use with her students.

I had a flimsy idea that one day I might take them seriously enough to seek publication.

When Belinda left teaching to have her first child she thought she’d have the time to take her writing seriously.

While I didn’t have as much time as I thought I’d have—babies do not sleep as much as they should—I did discover my desire to write was much stronger than I once thought. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much I loved writing and wanted to become published.

Brown Skin Blue is about a seventeen year old boy, Barry Mundy, who has brown skin. His mother is white, though he doesn’t know who his father is. He has been brought up rough, touring the Top End with his mother in a caravan, and he leaves home to seek out his own life.

He gets a job working on the boats for a Croc Jumping Cruise and the crocodiles become a powerful symbol about abuse he suffered as a child.

Barry tries to track down his father, thinking that if he can find out the answer to this mystery of his own life, he might be able to make sense of who he is.


The main character, Barry Mundy is unusually wise and vulnerable all at once. He lets the reader into the experience of a boy dealing with a difficult past, but wanting to create a different future. There’s lots of information about crocs along the way. Belinda says,

I love Barry’s honesty and vulnerability. He isn’t afraid to face both the dark and naivety of life. He’s delightfully self-aware despite being in experienced with people.


Brown Skin Blue would relate to studies about Australia, Australian Identity and history and Indigenous issues, and teaching notes available for download from the publisher, UQP


Belinda says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing Brown Skin Blue was creating the character of Barry himself.

I loved his voice and, once I got over the initial shock of the issues he came to the story with, I loved exploring his journey.

According to Belinda, the hardest part was writing each of the stories that Barry creates for his possible fathers.

Each story took a long time to get right, to get that balance between voice, character and history. I also had to make each story arc for its characters but relate to the escalation of Barry’s own story. I think I was tweaking the story of Toucan right to the last minute.


For some strange reason, I find the imagery of fish creeping into my stories. I also find issues of discrimination and oppression flavoring much of my writing.

Belinda’s new novel Big River, Little Fish has just been released by UQP and will be the book featured at Kid’s Book Capers this Friday.