Celebrating Australia: A Year in Poetry

My friend, Lorraine Marwood, has just released a new collection of poetry for children with Walker Books Australia.

She’ll be appearing here shortly (within the next couple of weeks) but being also a teacher, Lorraine has set me (and other bloggers on her ‘tour’) a challenge. We are each to write a poem using one of her strategies. Hmm.

So stay tuned while we negotiate her appearance, and I wrestle with a new poem.

Guinea Pig Town

Yesterday, I caught the train to Woodend for the launch of Lorraine Marwood’s new poetry collection, Guinea Pig Town and other animal poems (Walker Books).

 The launch was organised by the Goldfields Library and was held in Bendigo and then Woodend.
The weather was just about perfect. Actually, scratch that. It WAS perfect, a glorious mild still autumn day.

There was a great turn out, with many families.

Lorraine read some of her poems, competing at times with quite loud truck noise.

Anyone who is anyone was there, including cats,


guinea pigs of course

and there was even a ‘wedding’, complete with kiss!

In the train on the way home I read Guinea Pig town, entranced by poems about dogs, cows,cheetahs, narwhals and many many more. After a bit of a poem drought, it was lovely to read some of Lorraine’s work (which I love) and it inspired me to begin three new poems of my own.

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The Next Big Thing – I’ve been tagged

I’ve been tagged to take part in an ongoing blog tour about upcoming books. I was tagged by Lorraine Marwood. You can visit Lorraine’s blog and learn about her new book here
But enough about that, and to the questions:
1. What is the working title of your next book?
Big Red Kangaroo. With stunning illustrations from new illustrator, Graham Byrne. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Big Red Kangaroo is part of a Walker series called Nature Story Books. The series originated at Walker UK (under another series name), but Walker Books Australia is making it their own,  producing titles about iconic Australian animals. 
3. What genre does your book come under?
It’s a bit of a crossover really. The main narrative is fiction, about a day in the life of a male red kangaroo, and on each opening there is also non-fiction. Narrative non-fiction? It’s a picture book for 5 +
4. What actors would you choose to play the parts of the characters in the movie rendition?
 Hmm, I’d have to go inland to audition. I’ll get back to you on that one. 
5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
 A night in the life of Big Red and his family in central Australia. 
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Big Red Kangaroo will be published by Walker Books Australia in August this year. 
7. How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took a while. It was tricky working with the dual texts, constructing a story about a single kangaroo and his family, while keeping in mind the need for species general information.
8. What other books would you compare your book to in this genre?
There are other wonderful books in this series. ‘Bilby Secrets’ by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson is one. ‘Python’ by Chris Cheng and Mark Jackson is another. 
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 I loved the poetic language in the Walker UK titles and was inspired by the dual narrative idea. They are all beautifully illustrated and are just lovely books. Here was a chance to blend poetry and non-fiction. What an opportunity!
10. What else might pique a reader’s interest?
Spend a night with Big Red Kangaroo and his family in their Australian home.
If you would like to post about your next big thing, please contact me and I’ll add the link here.

SCBWI Kilmore

SCBWI Victoria has quarterly meetings and each year one of them is in the country. It’s a bit tricky trying to site it somewhere that’s not too far away for Melbourne members to attend, while being accessible to as many non-urban members as possible. These meetings are also open to non-member local writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, bookshoppers, and any interested others!

This quarterly meeting was in Kilmore. We met in a circular room attached to the library and shire offices. Our first speaker was Lorraine Marwood, talking about the impact of winning the Prime Minister’s Award for her verse novel, Star Jumps.

Second speaker, Kim Rackham, has recently qualified as an early childhood teacher and how her approach to story has been altered by both looking at books in an academic and educative way, and by working so directly with young children. She is new to speaking about her work, although not to writing. She spoke as if she’d been doing it for years!

Corinne King invited all to share in my recent Crystal Kite win. It was a lovely way to celebrate, with cake and sparklers in the midst of book people. The Crystal Kite Award is a peer-voted award, and ‘There Was an Old Sailor’ wouldn’t have won without the votes of SCBWI members. Thank you to them all. Thank you to Corinne for making me cry with her lovely words!

After a luscious afternoon tea, we reassembled to listen to Carole Wilkinson. She talked about her almost accidental introduction to writing fiction and non fiction. We heard about her writing practice (disciplined) and how she moves from idea to story. She also divulged the challenge of research – knowing when to stop researching and to start writing. Her Dragonkeeper books are wonderful and her non fiction fascinating. The afternoon, as always, sped by.

A group of us stayed after the meeting to share dinner then a smaller group travelled to Monegeetta for a writer/illustrator sleepover, and to solve all the problems of the book-related world.


…to all Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlisted people and their books, but ‘specially to Lorraine Marwood (Star Jumps), Jen Storer (Tensy Farlow) and Kate Constable (Cicada Summer).

Very cool.

A Star is born…

This gorgeous verse novel, written by Lorraine Marwood is released today by Walker Books. Ruby lives on a dairy farm and times are tough. But there is always room for hope.

I asked Lorraine a few questions…

Why Star Jumps as a title?

I love titles- this one just came, it encapsulated in one word the hope that the three children felt for their future. And it’s a sort of symbol of jumping above one’s problems. Whereas the title for Ratwhiskers came after many tries, many tries.

This is your second verse novel. How did the experience of writing it compare to writing Ratwhiskers?

Ah, ‘Ratwhiskers’ broke new writing ground for me and it combined years of interest and research into gold mining history. ‘Star Jumps’ was initially a challenge- how to write a second book in the same style without becoming ‘samey’. For me it’s the tone, the first line, the first stanza that sets the whole atmosphere for the book. And I loved how Ruby and a different setting came swiftly to my rescue.

This book evolved from years of dairy farming life. I’ve always lived on a farm, until the last few years. I often came across stereotyped ideas of what farm life was like, I wanted to re-create one season in a dairy farming calendar and have Ruby showing the readers a slice of her life. So her voice was crucial to the writing. If I got Ruby right then the rest flowed, well sometimes it meandered and stalled but the essence was there.

Star Jumps has its origins in your own farm experiences. Was that a difficult thing to do?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to write a farm story. It is based loosely on activities my own children did on the dairy farm, an intimate knowledge of the workings of a dairy farm and my own childhood response to drought.

But because I always wanted to be a farmer and we’d made the decision to sell the farm, this experience was a leave taking, a tear jerker, and nearly every line was written with tears. When I had my May Gibbs residency in Adelaide it was only a few weeks before, that I’d lost my father in-law and he was a dairy farmer too. So it’s to the farming families who work so hard and so closely together, that this book is written.

Do you start at the start and end at the end or do you write bits and then join them together?

This one is easy- I start at the beginning and continue on, bit by bit each day.

I had a recent ‘conversation’ with Dale Harcombe about setting. How do you create your settings? Do you find settings easy or difficult to conjure?

Settings for me are based on visited physical settings or am amalgamations of them. Star Jumps is clearly our farm- the flat vista, the calving pen of marshmallow weed, the echo of noise along the flat main raod in the distance, the frost, the glorious sun rises, the cows chewing their cuds and then choosing the middle of a stormy night to calve. Setting is also sensory for me as a poet, it has to have a foreshadowing of emotion too. But I can see the setting- its open expanse and then the singling to a room or shed or corner.

I have to have walk or visited the setting first- Ratwhiskers was set on the old gold mines of my child hood- I knew the bush, the area. But this is part of the research first to pick the setting like a camp iste for its best features, most conducive to the flow of the story. It’s not hard it just takes time for me.

Was it hard to get into the head of the main character? How did you do that?

Ruby had a voice of her own as the youngest in the family she was allowed to be naive but still light that flare of hope that steadily burns through the whole book. While not directly modelled on one of my daughters she had some traits and actually grew of her own accord, even to claiming some of the things I tried to do as a child when I first saw the effects of drought on out little farm. Ruby is one of my most fully rounded and independent characters. I wish she could speak for me at my upcoming book launch.

What’s next for you?

Writing more poems, another verse novel- I need to research that- I’ve found a topic I’m passionate about and that is the starter point for me- passion. And strangely enough the passion for the topic might overflow into another genre I’ve always wanted to do: historical fiction with a smidgeon of romance and definitely a rip roaring adventure. This might silence those comments, ‘…but have you written a novel???…’ A poem is often a rare and concentrated novel in a few stanzas.

There are more details about Star Jumps here

Home again

We’ve just returned from Queensland from a week’s holiday on the Gold Coast. I decided not to take my lap top and to have a break. I did have a review book to read. ‘Finding Darcy’ by Victorian author Sue Lawson was a great read. I read it straight through (one of the luxuries of holidays) sitting on the balcony of our apartment.

I also needed to work on my words for my friend Lorraine’s new book ‘Ratwhiskers and Me’ which she’d asked me to launch. I had a drafted speech but of course it needed work. Hmm. What to do? I bought a A4 notebook and wrote it all out again long hand then tweaked and practised it. Finding things to say about this wonderful verse novel was not hard, but it’s a while since I’d worked longhand. Good thing to do. The launch was on Sunday in Bendigo and went well. I was hoping to have some pics to post but my camera was full. Perhaps I’ll get to see some of Lorraine’s pics and can post some.

Now, it’s back to work. I’m working on some very short readers based on traditional tales. Great to read the stories from countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, interesting challenge reducing them to language appropriate for 5-7 yo readers.