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

WeirDo, by Anh Do

‘Weir, what’s your surname?’ she asks again.
‘Do? Rhymes with GO?’
‘Your name’s … Weir Do? It’s not really, is it?’
‘Yes, actually, it is,’ I reply.
Get ready for it. In exactly three seconds all the kids will start laughing…

Every year, Weir’s school year starts the same way – with questions and jokes about his name. This year it’s even worse because he’s in a new town, at a new school.Fitting in is not going to be easy, especially when you add in a crazy family with some weird habits.

WeirDo is a quick to read, really funny story from comedian Ahn Do. There’s lots of silliness about names, and ‘thingies’ getting slammed in toilet seats, cleverly delivered in a manner sure to keep young readers turning pages and, of course, giggling. There’s also some character development and messages about friendship, acceptance and family, but these are not oevrpowering.

Illustrated on every page in black and white, with red embellishments within the texts for emphasis and humour, this is an excellent offering for lower and middle primary aged readers.


WeirDo, by Anh Do
Scholastic Australia, 2013
ISBN 9781742837581

Available from good bookstores and online.

Eric Vale Off the Rails, by Michael Gerard Bauer

I get to the door of the Principal’s office. It’s open. Principal Porter is behind his desk. Sitting in front of him are my mum, my dad and my little sister Katie. She’s the only one who seems happy to see me.

Eric Vale is in trouble. Really big trouble. As usual, it isn’t really his fault – his mate Chewie is convinced their relief teacher is an alien, and of course Eric has to help him prove it one way or another.

Eric Vale, Off the Rails is the third story featuring the likeable but always-in-trouble Eric Vale and won’t disappoint fans of the first two, or readers new to the series. The book is fast paced, action paced and complemented throughout by comic style illustrations, as well as instalments in Eric’s own stories, written in his journal throughout the book, and influenced by what is happening in his real life.

Perfect for reluctant readers, the series will appeal to early and middle primary aged readers.



Eric Vale, Off the Rails, by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Joe Bauer
Omnibus Books, 2013
ISBN 9781862919945

Available from good bookstores or online.

Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

The winners of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2014 were announced last night. The winners were:


Wonderful to see the big winner being poetry, with the overall prize going to a poetry collection. I had intended to post something here about how wonderful it is to see the poor cousin in the limelight, but poet and columnist John Kinsella has said it so much more eloquently than I could. Read what he has to say over at Crikey.

The Last Thirteen, by James Phelan

‘I click my fingers,’ the deep scratchy voice says, ‘and everyone around us dies.’

Since his best friend died Sam has had regular nightmares. But the day after a particularly vivid one, a chain of frightening events begins when he’s wide awake. A helicopter lands at his school, and men in camouflage storm the place – looking for Sam. With two other teenagers, Sam is being kidnapped, and it his dreams which have him tagged as something special. Just how special he is, Sam learns in the days which follow. He and his ability to true dream are linked to an ancient prophesy. If he’s to believe what he’s told, he could be the key to saving the whole world.

The Last Thirteen is an action packed new series set in a near-future where mysterious opposing forces battle for control of knowledge and power, and the solution may rest with a group of teens who have never met. There are twists and lots happening, along with a chance to get to know the main character, Sam, and some of the supporting cast who we sense may feature more in future instalments of the series.

Well paced and intriguing, this is a series which will appeal to upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.


The Last Thirteen: Book One, by James Phelan

Scholastic, 2013

ISBN 9781742831848

Available from good bookstores and online.

Meet My Book: Almost Dead, by Kaz Delaney

A guest! We have a guest! It’s always wonderful when an author drops by to chat, and today I’m happy to welcome Kaz Delaney, here to talk about Almost Dead, her latest book-baby. Welcome Kaz!


Hi Sally! Thank you for having me here – I’ve been really looking forward to it!

  1. Give us the details – title, publisher, illustrator, release date.

Oooh I love an easy question first…

Title: Almost Dead

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Released: January 2nd, 2014.

So, as you can see, it’s still a newborn! And typically I’m still clucking and oohing and ahhing over it. And stroking it and telling it how beautiful it is…

 2. Why did you write the book?

It was my publisher’s suggestion. She thought Macey’s story would be a great one to tell, because in her words, “Everybody Loves Macey.” (Macey, if your readers don’t know, was the witty, fast-talking side-kick from ‘Dead, Actually’.) I was keen to get onto the next project, but it took a little bit of soul-searching on my part to take that particular step.

3. How long from idea to publication?

Over two and a half years. Maybe more. A long time.  But it couldn’t be helped, and I’ll be forever grateful for sympathetic publishers who could see clearly when I couldn’t.  You see, my beautiful Mum became ill and subsequently passed away during the creation of this book. Initially, I was upset when my agent told me the pub date had been pushed back. Because of what was happening with Mum, I was distressed and hurting and to my befuddled brain it seems like a vote of no confidence.  I’ve always been diligent about deadlines and I was convinced I could still make this one.  But they were right and I was wrong. The structural edits were due back a week after my mum passed away. Of course I wouldn’t have been able to get them done and in fact I couldn’t look at them for three months afterwards.   So, it was much longer than was probably ideal. Allen & Unwin, though, were brilliant and supported me though in not just being so understanding, but by re-releasing Dead, Actually to coincide with the new release: Almost Dead.  Happy dancing!

4. What was the hardest thing about writing it?

Aside from the obvious above, the hardest part was my fear of losing the essence of Macey.  That was my initial concern. You see, Macey is a big personality, she takes no prisoners and says what many of us would (sometimes) like to say but aren’t quite able to.  But, are those the traits of a character the reader can relate to and cheer for? I wasn’t sure. Yet, I knew there was a whole lot more to Macey than met the eye. To make her more sympathetic, I knew we were going to have to dig deep, to rattle her self-assured cage and take away the few visible support systems she allowed herself. And I had to do all that without losing the quintessential essence that was Macey. That uniqueness that made her awesome (in the true sense of the word ). So the tricky bit was to have her evolve and yet remain true to who she really is. Phew. Lots of deletions and rewrites! (But I was delighted with the result, and so far the reviews are agreeing so it’s making it a teeny bit easier to sleep at night. Double phew...)  

5. Coolest thing about your book?

Wow – great question. Hmmnnn… Maybe the gorgeous, warm, semi-tropical setting would be one very cool factor? But probably it’s Macey. She’s very cool and very sharp – in the witty, quick-thinking-on-her-feet sense. She makes me laugh and wish I could be her. I know she’s the lead character, and so she should take the limelight, but this is definitely her book in every sense. Also, the interaction between her and Flick, the unhappy surprise who falls into her life, is such fun.  And not one, but two, cute guys?  Oh but wait! The mystery! The stalker!  Not sure if this is something I’d term ‘cool’, but it is very engaging and sometimes downright scary. I loved creating the mystery – it’s one of my genre first-loves. So, is it the humour or the mystery? Maybe it’s both…

6. Something you learnt through writing the book?

Another great question. I think we learn, or have something reinforced with every book we write. With Almost Dead is was: To not get carried away with plot; to maintain control of the story.  I got so caught up in the drama that I took the story to a place that was completely out of left field. It was shocking (in the sense that no one would ever have seen it coming) and it was big. But it was wrong for this story. It was a complete story on its own, really. It was a novice mistake I shouldn’t have made and cost me a lot of unnecessary wasted time.

7. What did you do celebrate the release?

The release was just eight days after Christmas, and kind of crept up on us. We had family staying and I was knee deep in looking after them and frantic plans for the launch which happened on the 11th, so it was almost a non event! Amazingly we had a big family get together that night (2nd),  but with my attention elsewhere, we forgot to even toast the release until there just the hub and I still up and awake late into the night. The launch however was amazing and I was humbled and grateful to all those who came out to help us celebrate and give this baby a great welcome. There are some photos of that day on my blog The Ditzy Diva if anyone would like to take a peek.  Scroll down to the January 17th entry.

8. And how will you promote the book?

As much and as often as I can until people scream at me to stop or maybe until the death threats start arriving. J Seriously, promoting is such a big, and important, part of being an author these days, and with the dearth of bookshops it’s getting harder and harder for people to find our books, let along buy.  I’m in the midst of an amazing blog tour now with fabulous hosts – thank you very much Ms Sally! J – and fingers crossed that’s helping to spread the word. I have several appearances scheduled for throughout the year and we’re the early stages of planning mini launches in Brisbane and on the South Coast and Sydney.  It’s going to be a big, busy year where I hope to connect with as many readers as I possibly can.

9. What are you working on next?

I’ve just completed a mid grade novel that I hope will turn into a series. Not even my agent has seen it yet – through she’s about to –  so I’m at that very nervous stage.  Is it good? Does it work? Is the pacing right for that age bracket? From there I will go back to the next YA in what I loosely term my Dead Series. After that, I hope to have another two YA’s written by the end of 2014 and perhaps I’ll get to that series for boys that keeps screaming at me. Well, that’s the plan, right? Reality will probably deliver something entirely different, just to remind me I’m not in charge J, but until then, that’s what I’m working towards.

10. Where we can find out more about you and your book?

I’d love people to meander along to my website:

It will list all the places you’re likely to find me this year – so far!

My blog –   –  has been a bit sadly neglected, but I’m trying to rectify that so there’ll usually be the latest happenings and always photos.  I’ve made a concerted effort this year. So come along and visit and keep me honest! J The latest is the exciting news about my book being immortalised in clay which is totally one of the most exciting things to happen in a long time – besides having a new book out, of course. 

And the book itself?  Almost Dead is available at and Bookworld –or through your local bricks and mortar bookshop. If they don’t have it yet, order it! Actually puleese order it! J

Thank you so much Sally! You’ve been a gracious hostess and it’s been loads of fun chatting to you about Almost Dead. xxx


And thank you for coming, Kaz. Enjoy that new baby 🙂

Don't Wake the Troll, by Ben Kitchin & Ben Redlich

They hadn’t gone down far into the dripping gloom when
kerlunk, kerlunk, kerlunk…
“Everybody stop!” whispered Gobo.
“Our shields! Our shields are bumping and kerlunking into our armour!
We must take them off and leave them. We don’t want to wake the troll!”

Deep inside the mountain, a giant troll sleeps with a pile of stolen treasure. The dwarves want their treasure back, but they have to be careful not to wake the troll. This isn’t easy when you’re carrying kerlunking shields and tinging swords, wearing creaky armour and your way is lit by sputtering torches. Will they get the treasure back without waking the troll?

Don’t Wake the Troll is a humorous picture book adventure, perfect for reading aloud to preschool aged children, who will love the sounds, the humour of the plot and the amazing illustrations. The latter manage to have plenty of colour even though the majority of the story takes place in an underground tunnel, and the dwarves and troll are delightfully comic in their expressions.

Lots of fun.


Don’t Wake the Troll, by Ben Kitchin & Ben Redlich
Koala Books, 2013
ISBN 9781742760605

Available from good bookstores or online.

Kate, by Kevin Burgemeestre

Kate wiped tears away with her sleeve. She was shaking so badly, she was having trouble getting up. Red t-shirt bent down and helped her gently over to a nearby bench, straightening her jumper as they went. When she had calmed down a little, she looked across at her rescuer and was astonished to find it was the guy behind the red door. the guy whose dog she’d just stolen!

Kate’s not happy. Still reeling from the loss of her mother, she now has to deal with the departure of her best friend and her favourite teacher, being bullied at school, and a dad who never seems to be around. When she rescues an abused dog she hopes life might get better, but though Wilde is protective and good company, he can’t keep Kate safe all the time. Suddenly her list of troubles seems almost trivial compared with her new one: someone is after her, and seems intent on killing her. On the run with Wilde and her new friend, Mal, Kate must draw on courage she didn’t know she had.

Kate is an action packed young adult story, an outstanding début for the author who is perhaps best known for his work as an illustrator. Kate is feisty in the face of danger, loyal and generous. She’s also a talented artist, with the book scattered with her artworks interpreting events, and testament to Burgemeestre’s artistic talents.

Suitable for teen readers, Kate is a satisfying read.


Kate, by Kevin Burgemeestre
Morris Publishing Australia, 2013
ISBN 9780987543448

You can read about the writing of Kate here.


Available from good bookstores and online.

Game, by Trevor Shearston

The thought was coming more often. That wherever he was, he was at the centre of a cage. He couldn’t have said when the notion first entered his head. Some time in the last months. It was now more than a notion, he he could see the damn bars. They were grey steel, the height of  a man on horseback.

For three years Ben Hall and his gang have lived as bushrangers, riding free, robbing stage coaches, taking what they need, and finding safe harbour with friends. But now their days on the road are numbered. Coaches now have armed escorts, the mail holds cheques rather than cash, and those that shelter them are being targeted by the law. There have been deaths, too. Though Ben himself has not killed, being present when two policemen are killed makes him guilty too. Ben knows it is only time before he is caught, so plans to escape to New Zealand. First, though, he wants to set things right with his son, Harry.

Game is an absorbing tale of Ben Hall’s life, attempting to portray the inner workings of one of Australia’s best known bushrangers. Readers are invited to explore Hall’s complex relationship with his son, who is being raised by Ben’s wife Biddy and her new man, and his decisions on the road, during hold ups and with his colleagues and shelterers. He is portrayed as being at times vulnerable, at others compassionate, even charismatic, yet with an awareness that he can also be ruthless and also criminal.

This is not a book which glorifies the bushranger’s exploits; rather, it explores his human side, flaws and all.



Game, by Trevor Shearston
Allen & Unwin, 2013
ISBN 9781743315217

Available from good bookstores and online. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

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.