Thursday 30 October 2014

Celebrating a poetry picture book with Janeen Brian

I love these guest posts.  there's nothing more magical than enjoying and helping to spread the word about children's poetry and today I have Janeen Brian with her new picture book of poems called:
'Our Village in the Sky', illustrated by Anne Spudvilas, published by Allen and Unwin.

So I posed some questions for Janeen after reading her book.  What ground breaking work- a picture book in poems exploring the everyday world of children in another country.

Were the poems based on real life observation?

They certainly were. I lived with a family for a month in a remote village situated in the region of Spiti. It lies in a valley within the rugged, Indian Himalayan mountains with its scree slopes and astonishingly deep gorges and adjoins Tibet. With language being a barrier, I spent a lot of time observing the local children and their lives.

How important is it to give action and details in your poetry?
 When I first began writing poetry, I was like every other ‘newbie’ where I thought a generalisation or a bland, all-encompassing comment was sufficient or even good. After all, I was just learning to express myself, and attempting to feel comfortable writing poetry, which had never really been a big part of my school or home life.  It took years before I discovered that poems only resonate when readers or listeners can picture an image or relate to a mood or emotion. You can’t picture or relate to a generalisation. And a poem needs to move, either with active events, or words that suggest movement and energy.

Why did you choose this location in the world to write about?

It was part of a writing trip I was on, travelling with an artist friend.

There’s an audio link to the book inside. Is this innovative or intrinsically tied with the nature of poetry?

What a great question! Firstly, it was an innovative suggestion from the wonderful publisher at Allen & Unwin, and I was thrilled about it. By clicking onto the website or accessing the QR code, anyone can listen to the poems being read by two child narrators, a boy and a girl. It’s a great way for children to read along with the narration. Or for children who simply want to look at the pictures or the words, and listen to the poems. I think it could also help reluctant readers, because they can both hear and see the words at the same time.
The second great reason is, of course, that poetry is meant to be read aloud. It’s word music. It’s wonderful to hear words and language coming together in poetry form, in a concentrated, pared-down style that often shortcuts to the emotions. Often a feeling, image, memory or phrase stays with you long after the book is closed and the words are hushed. 

Janeen, you have always written poetry, so how did the idea for this picture book of specific poems come about?

My poetry writing varies from free verse to humorous verse, often done in rhyme. I’ve written, and had hundreds of individual poems in both genres published in anthologies, children’s magazines or they’ve been the basis of picture books. I spent a lot of time in the village, observing, photographing and jotting down notes. At the time I had no firm idea what I would do with such material, but later I decided I wanted to compile a set of poems depicting the play and the responsibilities of village children living in a remote village, which was so different to our Western style of life. Several publishers were keen, but it was only when the illustrator, Anne Spudvilas took some sketches and my poems to Allen & Unwin, that it was accepted. It was a long wait, but well worth it.

What do you hope will be the outcome in terms of readership and ideas/pictures conveyed in your book?

The poems are simple, easy to read and can be read independently of the wonderful, evocative illustrations, but I believe, in this instance, they help support each other. They are deliberately understated but they are honest observations, with my own imagination thrown in. I hope the readers or listeners will enjoy the language and anecdotal imagery that hopefully highlights the lives of children of another culture. Perhaps they might like to try writing poems based on observations themselves.

Thanks Lorraine, for these interesting questions!

And thanks Janeen for providing that inside information about writing a book that we eagerly seek.
If you'd like to purchase a copy for yourself here's the link.
And I wish 'Our Village in the Sky' great success.

Monday 13 October 2014

A Residency

Excitement!  I have been offered the chance to write for a week with the May Gibbs Literature trust
residency to write for a month in Brisbane, 2015.  The unit sounds wonderful and information can be found here.

I have been fortunate to have obtained residencies before in Adelaide and loved the supportive writing friends and those who donate time to look after the 'fellows'.  In fact my verse novel 'Star Jumps' was written in Adelaide and went on to win the children's section of the Prime Minister's award in 2010.

I just appreciate so much the focused time away from commitments at home, distractions and with a writing program of my own to follow.

This time it's to pull apart and re-write a novel that's dear to my heart- no poetry, or verse novel, but a 'normal' novel.

How fortunate we are to have such an organisation in Australia supporting our children's authors.

I will take workshops with the state library of Queensland while I'm there.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

What a busy few months...

I've had my first taste of taking workshops in Queensland and met some wonderful audiences and teachers.

Here is a lovely face from Toowoomba and the wonderful library.
Hello Anne!

 I also took two weeks of poetry workshops at Sydney Boys' grammar and had the delightful experience of my verse novel 'Ratwhiskers and Me' set on the goldfields chosen as a term read for year 5 boys.

Li, the lovely librarian stacking the books ready for distribution to the boys.  Wonder what they thought of the novel?

In between travels and a massive workload of writing strategies for new workshops, I lost my father.
But was so glad I took a plane back to be with my mother and family at dad's bedside.

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago, remembering the hard work my father did on our little poultry farm.  It was read out by one of my son's at Dad's funeral.

A Drink

On an afternoon when
the concrete path
burned our bare feet,
we hobbled along
on shade shoes,
past the limpness
of the gum trees,
past the long sizzle
of the chook pens
where dust corded
the heat into visible

We carried a beaker
of lime cordial
to the bottom fence
or to the sheds
where ever our father worked.

 The promise of thirst slaked and abated
sang in the tinkling music of ice,
in the slithers of cold
that didn't melt.

We presented the drink
to our father, but the blisters
of sweat needed more
than one beaker full
to begin the translation
of hot, to warm, to cool.

Thanks was all the breeze
we craved as we scampered
back the way we came.

(c) Lorraine Marwood

Wednesday 10 September 2014

A new verse novel- not mine but a wonderful writing friend- Kathryn Apel

I think one of the great joys of a blog is being able to share new writing adventures from writing friends.

And today I share Kathryn Apel's creative journey to the publication of her first verse novel, 'Bully on the Bus'.

In Kathryn's own words she shares part of the journey and highlights more links for further insights.

Shaping a Verse Novel

Free verse was not my first love in poetry. When I started writing in earnest, I was writing bush poetry, taking a tongue-in-cheek, laugh-or-you’ll-cry approach to a run of disasters that struck our family. The poems were intended to ‘express-a-stress’, while filling family and friends in on our latest hiccup. When I was encouraged to enter them in bush poetry competitions, I honed the skill of writing precise rhythm and rhyme.

It was my young son who introduced me to free verse. Whenever I sat down to scribe a poem for him, words would drip and gush onto the page, a lovely cadence … with no rhyme! He spoke beautiful bites of poetry that I adored. (I suspect it was inspired by his ‘throw the words on the page so I can get out of here!’ approach.)

I started to play with free verse poetry, trying to capture his stark style that cut to the bones of a poem. The more I played, the more engrossed I became.

And then I read my first verse novel; Sheryl Clark’s Sixth Grade Style Queen NOT! – which I loved. What really inspired me was sharing the story with a class of Year 7 students. Initially I read from the book to introduce the story. When they were engaged, I then shared portions of the text amongst class groups, and had them rehearse, to present it sequentially to the class, and thus progress our ‘whole class read’.

The class as a whole was engaged with the text – but most noticeable was a group of reluctant reader boys, who were like a dog with a bone, wanting to go further and further along and finish that story! The white space and layout of words on the page cut the clutter. They experienced success and were keen to pursue it. What a wonderful gift to give a reluctant reader!

I started to accumulate and read verse novels, (including your Ratswhiskers and Me, Lorraine) and soon knew I had to try and write my own. I’m still finalising my ‘first’ verse novel (7 years later) but meantime I had a lightbulb moment, when I realised that Bully on the Bus wasn’t the chapter book I had written, but rather, the verse novel I’d been wanting to write. (You can read more about that on Dee White’s blog) I set my first attempt aside, and started reworking Bully on the Bus.

At the time I’d been focused on writing picture books. Anyone who’s ever dabbled in picture books knows that every word is measured, and must earn its place. I often write my picture books with line-breaks and lay the words out, as I would envisage them on the page. Looking at Bully on the Bus now, I see that that this play with alignment – with whitespace and silence – has flowed over into my verse novels. As one reader commented after reading Bully on the Bus; ‘the visual layout of the words acted like illustrations for the actions and feelings’ of the book.

I have often thought that a poet is a combination of body-builder, topiary artist, and clumsy clown, and that’s especially true when writing verse novels. Every word is weighted. For each word you commit to paper, a multitude of words have been pruned out. Yet verse novels surprise and delight with their wordplay and poetic twists.

For me, the discipline of writing in rhyme, combined with picture book wordplay, were almost like my apprenticeship for writing a novel in free verse.

With Bully on the Bus launched, I’m now back to polishing my original verse novel, and I have a third on the go. I’m completely in love with the musicality and wordplay; the breathless, haiku-wonder that IS the verse novel.

Kathryn, thanks for the great article and I wish you all the very best with your first verse novel and the exciting writing of new verse novels.
PS I was able to meet Kathryn face to face on a recent trip to Queensland- very special.

Bully on the Bus, published by UQP available here.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Trying out new visual writing prompts

Recently I was lucky enough to win some cards 'That's MY story'  by an Australian designer to encourage children to create stories.

I adapted the idea of the cards to a combined session on introduction to narrative in a rural school, a mix of year 3-year 6 children.

Here are some samples:

The children were enthusiastic and enjoyed the group introduction to narrative.  Love the hook sentence also.
The cards were successful and some great initial writing resulted.

Here are the card details: That's MY story  a simple, fun, storytelling card game that encourages imagination and creativity.  There are red character cards, green setting cards and yellow wild cards (complication or problem cards)
Thanks Mel

Saturday 21 June 2014

Writing strategies to teach writing

Ahh, I have been absent from this blog for far too long.  What has kept me away?

Writing for teaching.  I have a few big residencies coming up and teach across age levels and often need to write new material to scaffold the learning.

So much planning, resourcing, packing, thinking, composing.  But along the way my own view of the writing process and creativity is enlarged also.

My many books on writing, my own practice and pinterest have all help formulate many narrative techniques and cast a closer look at many components like vibrant writing; show not tell; details; conflict to name a few.  Always hard to know how each year level will react but am eager to test all the new strategies out.  And thankfully the many op shops have gems of magazines and books just waiting for me to buy and recycle in my own unique fashion.

We head for Murrayville on the Victorian border.  My husband, our dog and caravan and two big tubs of folders and books all mapped out for each year level- some year levels have two or three goes at narrative over the week.  I just hope my voice and energy hold out.

And hoping for fabulous writing and new eager insights into creativity.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Benefits of tidying files and a book fair

Over Easter I have been tackling a huge mound of papers and files- kept from many years of sending poetry out to literary journals, teaching notes and ideas…

It's been huge and dusty, tiring and sometimes exciting few days.  But one idea came to me as I looked at snippets of poems typed from my farming years.  They had an essence which could be distilled and made anew.  A type of poetry refashioning.

I simply cut out the poem, pasted into my writing book, took what were the key words to me and the idea and re-wrote.  I've done this with several poems now and have an idea of where to submit them.

Other treasure has been an editor's comments on a rejection slip- enough to inspire me to find that manuscript and re-work.

And the books found at my annual trek to the Bendigo book fair as part of the Easter festival… well I didn't have much success in the children's section, but found some great books I can use for my workshops and always a bit of nostalgia.

Who can resist the second in the series of the Magic Eye?  Not me and the wonderful book whose author is remembered in the Eve Pownall category of the CBCA wards.

Treasure indeed.

Monday 24 March 2014

Tagging Katrina Nannestad

Kate comes along this morning to answer the famous tagged questions.  If you haven't read Kate's books before you are in for a fantastic read and a chuckle.

Katrina Nannestad

What am I working on?
I am just beginning book two of a series I am writing called Olive of Groves. Olive is a ten year old girl attending a rather unusual boarding school. The headmistress Mrs Groves is bonkers, the students unruly and school life exciting but sometimes dangerous! I don’t want to reveal too much just now because the first book is not due for release until next year, but I am having loads of fun writing this series.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Although the story of Olive of Groves is wild and rollicking, it is also slightly old-fashioned. I love using quaint words and phrases and the narrator often interrupts the story to address the reader and express an opinion.
I use humour in all of my stories. Even when there are serious issues to be dealt with, the sadder moments are balanced with lighter episodes – not to belittle the issues, but to prevent them from becoming overwhelming for my reader and my characters.

Why do I write what I write?
I write humour because I like to laugh. I love comedy in movies, television shows, books and conversation.
I think laughter is a wonderful thing, especially out-of-control laughter that ends with a snort! Being able to make people laugh with me, or with my characters, is a real joy.
I also enjoy writing about strong female characters – girls who are seemingly normal but who can achieve great things. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up and I like the idea that girls can at least have a go at whatever they like. I don’t believe that we can all be whatever we want to be. I do believe, however, that we can all do something worthwhile with our lives and we can all stand up for what we believe in.

How does my writing process work?
It is always a bit tricky to explain the writing process. It can vary greatly from one story to the next.
I treat writing like a job. I need to be disciplined or I can get distracted. I have a study where I work and I have set times where I make myself sit down and write … even when I don’t feel like it … even if a friend invites me to the movies!
Sometimes it takes me a while to get going on a story. I make lots of notes and usually make a plan. Even so, I often wander down several different pathways before finding my narrator’s voice and the general flow of things.
I need big chunks of time to write a novel – days and weeks without interruption. It’s important to enter completely into the world I am creating, to get to know the characters and become lost in their world. When I’m absorbed in writing a story, I think about it all the time – when I’m walking my dog, when I’m cooking, when I’m meant to be conversing with someone on the telephone (sorry Mum!).
I edit my work continually - sometimes searching for the perfect word or phrase, sometimes after a chapter or two. If part of my storyline doesn’t feel right, I can’t go on until it is sorted. Once a book is finished, I like to put it aside for a few weeks then look at it anew before I send it to my publisher.

Thanks for sharing Kate and here's a link to more information about Kate and her book.   Best of luck with the Olive of Groves books- love the title!