The Verse Novel Form: How and Why, with guest blogger Lorraine Marwood

When her second verse novel, Star Jumps, was released, Iasked author Lorraine Marwood to guest blog on a  blog I’d just started, focussing on the verse novel form. That particular blog is now defunct (I came to realise I really didn’t have time to devote to multiple blogs)  but I came across the interview today and thought it was well worth publishing here. Since the interview was published, Lorraine has had more poetry collections published, as well as prose, and has won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Literary Award  for Star Jumps. Anyway, here’s the original post.

I am delighted to welcome children’s author and poet Lorraine Marwood to my blog today. Lorraine’s second verse novel for children, Star Jumps has just been released (you can see my review of it here), so I asked Lorraine to drop in and talk about why she chooses to use the verse novel form This is what she had to say:

Why use this genre as a way of story telling?

Years ago when I finally gave into my life long desire to write, I could only snatch a few morning moments before the cowshed work, before getting the six kids ready for school, or after the evening meal; to write down lines. I trained myself to write quickly- poems- maybe three a day about details that happened, words spoken, emotion expressed through the rural landscape. Poems were attainable, satisfying and I began sending them out into the literary world of journals.

Many were published. But I still wanted to write for children. I began to write poems specifically for children and many of these poems found their way into the journals of School Magazine New South Wales.

After gathering a collection of poems together, Five Islands Press published one volume ( Redback Mansion) and then later a second ( that downhill yelling).

Now, I wanted to evolve a longer piece of writing. I wrote a short prose verse poem about a picnic in a paddock. I loved the intensity of feeling and atmosphere and setting that prose poetry could give. I wanted to write a novel. But how to take the plunge?

Of course I’d read Sharon Creech’s novels and Karen Hesse’s novels and always enjoyed Steven Herrick’s work. How could I find my own voice in the verse novel?

I researched my topic: I researched human accounts of gold finding and the turmoil and untold stories that were humped across the gold fields. Then I found a voice, an entry, an immediate creation of suspense and atmosphere that I wanted. The striking of atmosphere in the first few words of Ratwhiskers and Me’ was the steering of the story trail.

‘Boy, they call me boy.’

Yes! I was on my way to the exploration of theme and plot and voice. I could use what is kinda instinctive in my writing: my poetics.

The verse novel became an atmospheric device in itself. It is very conducive to the playing out of sensory detail, and the propelling of the bare bones of the story. And while it is shorter in words than an ordinary novel, it strips back the verbiage and puts the reader right there emotionally.

Recently two students from Latrobe Uni were researching the editing process and came to ask me a few questions. They highlighted the way I make a narrative of the verse novel rather than individual poems, and for me that was a point to ponder. I make this distinction because I do naturally write so much poetry. I wanted to experiment with form. And my version of the verse novel is one long poem.

Because my writing is always evolving, the subject matter of the verse novel itself dictates the way a book is written.

Star Jumps, my recently released novel allowed a more poetic vista of details like the ghostling breath of the cows on a cold frosty night. I wanted to convey to non- farming children, as much as possible; a real life snapshot of a farm at its most busy period- the calving season. I wanted to show the drought in action and the decisions that are constantly being made in many rural communities.

My words made flesh and blood of Ruby as she took us through her farm life and showed us hope played out. Only the genre of the verse novel allowed me to recreate the emotion of farming without the didactic and sentimental picture so often stereotyped as farming.

Thanks so much for sharing, Lorraine. You can visit Lorraine Marwood online at

Interview With Beverly Paine, Author of The Chimaera Conspiracy

Aussiereviews spoke to new author Beverly Paine about her new novel The Chimaera Conspiracy This is what she had to say.

AUSSIE REVIEWS: How does it feel to see your first novel in print?

BEVERLY PAINE: I am trying not to get over-excited and to take it in my stride, but every one around me, all my friends and family are over the moon. It’s a relief, after all the hard work, to finally hold the novel in my hand, but I haven’t read more than a few pages yet myself. The cover illustration by Perry Mallet is beautiful, just what I imagined. My lifelong ambition was to write science fiction novels and now it’s realised. I like that.

AR: The Chimarea Conspiracy has both an interesting setting and a controversial topic. Where did the idea come from?

BP: My interest in genetic engineering and cloning stems from my adolescent years. I was an avid science fiction writer, but over the last ten years I have followed the scientific developments with interest. The actual idea to set the story underwater came from encouraging my children to enter a short story competition staged by Lego as a promotion of their new Aquazone sets several years ago. As a child one of my favourite television shows was Marineboy, about a boy who could breathe underwater. The Chimaera Conspiracy is a blend of many ideas, nurtured over a lifetime.

AR: Tell us the story of The Chimarea Conspiracy ‘s creation – the process from first idea to publishing. Was it easy?

I began writing in 1995 and worked on the story off and on. Initially I wrote it using a third person and past tense and spent a lot of time working out the back story and the history of the characters. As the story grew I thought I had a trilogy on my hands. I rewrote and polished the first manuscript endlessly, and changed to first person, then finally sent it out to publishers in 1999. It was rejected by one publisher because they didn’t do series, but Jill Morris from Greater Glider Productions read it and offered a contract. Jill suggested a few changes, including a change of tense. Reworking the first chapter in present tense tightened up the story, and brought the main action in the second novel, already written, into the first in a way that surprised and delighted me.

I have learned a great deal about the craft of writing during the process of writing this novel. I think it is the hardest thing I have ever done, the most frustrating and the most exhilarating. I’ve plunged into the depths of depression, doubting myself as a writer, when faced with rewriting major sections; glided on wings of excitement and joy when it all worked well and new ideas or ‘perfect’ sentences appeared on the page; and impatiently waited out writer’s blocks – one went for six months after a major character unexpectedly wrote himself into the story! Greater Glider have worked patiently with me for over two years to produce the best story we could.

AR: As an experienced home school educator, do you have suggestions about how The Chimarea Conspiracy could be used for lessons in literature or other curriculum areas?

BP: I’d like to see young people explore where Katya, Coen and Edan go next – do they keep their heritage a secret and hide from the world, or do they declare their uniqueness and use their extraordinary abilities to help society? What would be the consequences of either action? There is great scope to explore the moral and ethical implications involved with human genetic engineering in the classroom. If my book excites young people to write stories of their own I would be very happy.

AR: Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers of young adult fiction?

Don’t spend too much time worrying about publishing during the writing process. Barbara Kingsolver said close the door and write with no one looking over your shoulder. Resist the temptation to put the work ‘out there’, even for feedback from family and friends, until you’re finished the first draft. Don’t even talk about the main ideas or characters unless you really need to – keep the energy bottled up for the fingers to use when playing on the keyboard or on the page.