Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns
Do babies look at you and shriek?
Do talking parrots give you cheek?
And when you kneel to say your prayers
Do all the mice jump up on chairs?
Is life for you a diving plank
Above a large piranha tank?
Then what you need, my little ones,
Is Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns.
An utterly spurious account of life behind the walls of Our Lady of Immense Proportions and its ten cloistered inhabitants. Rejoice in the sisters’ supernatural powers and exploits, as told by Sister Madge Mappin.
Sister Madge's Book of Nuns started as a practical joke on a publisher in Adelaide. For reasons too ridiculous to explain, I pretended I was a nun and submitted various nun verses to Jane Covernton, who used to run Omnibus Books. I used a different address and I called myself Sister Madge Mappin. It was much easier to write funny verses when I was pretending to be someone else. Jane was fooled for a while.
While Jane Covernton was trying to work out if Sister Madge was a real person or not, I went on vacation to Italy, where I sent postcards from the Vatican, all signed by Sister Madge. Here I am in Vatican Square in 1984, blowing bubbles with my friend, JM.
When I got back, Jane wrote to ‘Sister Madge’ and asked her for a photograph, for publicity purposes. So my sister Heather and I borrowed some Sound of Music nun outfits from Eltham Little Theatre, got dressed up, then ran around the chapel at Montsalvat taking photos. I’m afraid this is us.
Craig Smith based his cover on this photo – so that’s actually me holding the bible. One of the reasons people like the book is that Craig did such fine illustrations for the text of the Sister Madge book.
When Sister Madge had to appear at a book launch, my little sister Heather kindly played the role.
At the end of the book, I promised the reader I’d do a sequel, but then I got caught up in working for TV, so the sequel never happened. In 2002, editor Julie Watts from Penguin suggested we could perhaps do an updated ‘bumper’ version.
I enjoyed working on it so much that I realised I should do less TV and more books. Julie is the reason that I’m an author again. I’m happy. Not rich, but happy. We added extra nun poems to the updated book. Here’s one of the shorter, sillier ones:
Sister Bertha and the Beard
Sister Bertha had a beard.
The children thought that she was weird
And all of them would stop and stare
For, nuns with beards are rather rare.
Although she plucked it every night,
It grew straight back, a fearsome sight.
And didn’t Sister Bertha hate it
When a walrus tried to date it!
Finally, she asked if God
Could tell her why she looked so odd,
And God responded, ‘Yes, I can.
The fact is, Bertha, you’re a man.
‘It doesn’t take a lot of sense
To tell the ladies from the gents.’
With that, Almighty God retired
And added, ‘By the way, you’re fired.’
I never thought I would say this to Craig Smith, but I felt that one of his pictures for the bumper edition was inappropriate. The poem was about a nun, tennis player Sister Joss, who is punished by mean Mother Marge, and made to sit on a block of ice. In Craig’s first version of the picture, he had Sister Joss in her knickers only, and she seemed to be enjoying the ice far too much. I did request that Craig remove her knickers – and replace them with something more suitable. You’ll notice that the expression on Sister Joss’s face has changed as well.
The bumper edition had a new last page. However, I doubt that we are ever likely to see a movie featuring Sister Madge and her friends.
In the convent nun are sleeping
Hear their merry snores!
All except for one who’s creeping
Through the library doors.
Who’s that nun who sits and studies,
Quizzical and queer?
Yes, it’s me, my little buddies,
Sister Madge is here.
While the rain outside is pelting
Over fields and cities,
Here I sit with candle melting,
Polishing my ditties.
If you’ve read my songs and snatches
And you think they’re groovy,
Wait till you see Sister Madge’s
Book of Nuns the Movie!