Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick

People like you and me, Jonah,
we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Jonah and Manx have been happy living on the wrong side of Coraki Lake – the side which does’t have beach access. They fish and swim in the lake, and spend their Friday nights watching Ella and Rachel and wishing they had the courage to talk to them. But life is changing. Their run down town is being sold off by a greedy real estate agent. Manx’s dad’s servo struggles to keep its doors open, and Jonah’s parents argue non-stop. The things that happen at their Friday night gatherings by the lake will bring change, and not all of it will be good.

Another Night in Mullet Town is a gritty, realistic verse novel told from the perspective of Jonah, a boy with just the one close friend (though he hopes Ella will become his friend, or something more). He and Manx have always been mates, but he worries that Manx is drifting away, consumed with hatred for the wealthy new-comers. He’s also struggling with the effects of his parents’ fighting. For all that’s going wrong, he manages to find things to be happy about, and he is a likable, often humorous narrator.

Herrick’s poetry is, as always, accessible to young readers with each poem only a page or two, enticing readers to read just one more. The use of the verse novel form means that there is emotional depth, character development and a wonderful sense of place, delivered with a satisfying compactness which means it will reach readers of all abilities.

Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253959

Sister Heart, by Sally Morgan

I am lost
lost
lost
in my saltwater tears.

Snatched from home by a policeman, and sent south on a terrifying ship voyage, Annie finds herself trapped in an institution with other stolen children. She longs for her home up North, with her mum, her baby sister, and her extended family. Instead, she has rules, and strange surroundings, a teacher who yells and punishes and even a new name. The only light comes from her new friend, Janey, who treats her like a sister and helps her learn how to survive. But even their friendship can’t ensure they will be happy.

Sister Heart is a brilliant, beautiful verse novel which uses the poetic narrative to explore the issues of the stolen generation in a form which makes them accessible to young readers. Annie speaks directly to the reader with heart breaking honesty. The immediacy and intimacy of this first person voice will draw readers of all ages into the story.

From the author of My Place and many other books for children, Sister Heart is an important, moving book.

Sister Heart, by Sally Morgan
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925163131

Available from good bookstores and online.

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 http://www.lorrainemarwood.com/.

Rediscovering Old Favourites

Throughout my childhood and well into my adult years I loved the thrill of revisiting a favourite book. Like visiting an old friend, the conversation with a favourite book is comfortable, yet frequently surprising. But these past few years – maybe even as long as ten years – rereading has been a rare thing for me. Since I started Aussiereviews, I always have a steady supply of new books (more than I can possibly read, at times), and my various dayjobs, family and writing commitments have swallowed up a lot of time, as such things are wont to do.

This past week, though, I’ve immersed myself in rereading. Having been accepted into the PhD program at ECU, where my focus will be children’s poetry, including verse novels, I decided to start my reading by reconnecting with old favourites. And what a joy that has been.

The first verse novel I ever read was Margaret Wild’s Jinx. In fact it was such a new form for me that I had no idea how to describe it when I reviewed it in 2002. I just knew that I loved it, and almost instantly knew that this was a form I wanted to write in, as well. So, the first two verse novels I reread were Jinx, and Wild’s second verse novel, One Night. I hadn’t read either of these for some years , though I often recommend them to other readers. Interestingly, as I reread I was surprised anew by them. I’d actually forgotten what happens, even who the characters were. What I’d retained was the sense of satisfaction. I don’t remember crying when I read them the first time, but reading One Night this time round had me weeping at the kitchen table, much to the bemusement of my family.

From these two I’ve gone on to revisit other favourites – by Steven Herrick, Sharon Creech and Nikki Grimes. Still to come are more Herrick , Lorraine Marwood, Sherryl Clark and more. While perhaps I’m reading these with different eyes – as a researcher and also as one who has since written verse novels – it’s also proving a lovely trip into my reading past, and is inspiring me to look back at other favourites which perhaps deserve a revisit. At the same time, I’m learning stuff. I love seeing how other authors make use of the form, and have been inspired to try a few new things in my own writing.

What a luxurious way to start my new studies. It feels like an indulgence even while it’s paying such lovely dividends for my research and writing.

Motormouth, by Sherryl Clark

holidays suck
when there’s no one
to hang out with

don’t even ask
where my best mate Dave is –
it’s no place I can go.

Chris has lost his best mate, Dave, and it’s hard to feel good about anything. the only thing that cheers him up is his obsession with cars. When Josh Carter comes to town, and tells everyone his dad is a famous racing car driver, Chris finds renewed interest. But Josh is hiding something, and hanging out with Josh is more problematic than it ever was with Dave. Josh is a motormouth – and when he opens that mouth Chris finds it hard to know what to believe.

Motormouth is an easy to absorb verse novel about friendship, about truth and about healing. Chris is trying to cope with losing his bets mate in a car accident, and Josh has his own problems to deal with. Young readers will find the issues interesting but won’t be overwhelmed, with the verse novel format making them both accessible and digestible. there is much to be discussed here, making the novel great for classroom use, but as a story it is also wonderful or private reading.

Sherryl Clark is an outstanding verse novelist, and Motormouth is a perfect verse novel.

Motormouth

Motormouth, by Sherryl Clark
Puffin, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Star Jumps, by Lorraine Marwood

There is something we don’t understand,
as if the magic has gone out of spring,
as if we were just kids,
grubby in old clothes,
playing in weeds,
with a dog that doesn’t scare strangers
and cows that want to die
instead
of making milk.

For Ruby and her siblings, a shower of rain means the emergence of the marshmallow weed, lush and green and a wonderful place for building tunnels and playing games. But the rain isn’t enough to stave off the drought, which is slowly but surely sapping the life from the family farm. As the marshmallow grows and calves are born, the family struggle to keep the farm going, but soon it becomes obvious that the herd must be reduced to make ends meet.

As the family battle to see a way forward, Ruby’s spirit keeps her searching for a solution. She will make a difference.

Star Jumps is a poignant verse novel about the impact of rural drought, but it is also something more – a story of family togetherness and of bonds which are strengthened by hardship. Whilst the family struggle, they are also able to support each other and to recognise how hardship impacts on each family member. The children look for ways to ease pressure on their parents, and on each other, and the parents, in spite of stress are patient and honest with their children.

Marwood’s verse is perfect for such a tale, with the first person voice of Ruby, the youngest of the family, a choice which enables young readers to experience first hand the impact of drought on rural families.

Exquisite.

 

Star Jumps, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2009

Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!), by Sherryl Clark

every day at the school gates Melissa Banner (Style Queen)
is surrounded by girls
like a fan club

every day she brings
something new to show off –
a hair clip
a magazine
lip gloss

All the girls in Dawn’s class want to be style queens – except Dawn. She suspects she’s really an alien and sometimes she wishes the ship would come back and pick her up. But as her life starts to change, being (or not being) a style queen is the least of her worries.

Sixth Grade Style Queen (not) is an outstanding verse novel for upper primary aged readers which explores peer pressure and friendship, as well as family dynamics and marriage breakdowns. Dawn shares her story through a progression of free verse poems, a form which allows both intimate insight and humour. The reader is transported into the thought-processes of the narrator in a believable way. The text is accessible, and the form allows for brevity which will be attractive to reluctant readers.

Sherryl Clark knows what makes kids tick.

Sixth Grade Style Queen (not!), by Sherryl Clark
Puffin, 2007