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!

Monday, 17 March 2014


I've been tagged by a wonderful writing friend Kathryn Apel.

Kathryn created a wonderful writing forum called 'Month of poetry' that occurs in January .  Look here to see what happens.  I participated in the first year of poetry writing- inspiration to keep those words flowing- thank you Kat for the energy and selflessness given to get such an initiative off and running.

Kat is all greatly excited by the publication of her first verse novel due out this year with UQP called "Bully on the Bus."  I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Well done Kat, I've always appreciated your enthusiasm and passion for poetry as well as your friendship.  Have a look at Kat's blog to read her 'tagged' entry.

So the answers to the famous 'tagged' questions from me.

1.            What am I working on?

Ah, this is a tricky question. I have to try several projects at once so:  I’m working on a historical novel that has been evolving for (gulp) several years, a junior novel, editing my next poetry collection due out 2015, re writing a verse novel( gulp) again written two years ago and not quite there yet.

2.            How does my work differ from others in my genre?
Well that’s a challenging question.  I think it’s a matter of voice, the culmination of years of writing, reading, and sending work out, refining.  But ultimately I believe its passion for one’s genre and that passion leads to research, reading and hunting for every grain of relevant information on craft that one can find. And lastly writing what really matters to you.

3.            Why do I write what I write?
I HAVE to write, it makes my heart sing, and my whole day clouded if I haven’t written, yet why do I let other projects come into between me and my laptop???

I believe I have been given a gift to use, I believe in spreading the word about literacy; I believe in helping others who struggle with literacy having been in that position as a child; I believe writing alters the world for good; I believe that by writing one discovers who one is and what really matters, culminating in that wonderful creative moment when all threads and ideas mesh and meld into an incredible story or poem.

4.   How does my writing process work?
Ha!  Wish I knew too! 

No, seriously I hand write my poems into a journal, but stories can gallop or take snail pace across the white screen of my laptop.

I write ideas down in my journal, I switch from one story to the other in the progress of a morning’s work- I haven’t yet been able to focus exclusively on one story.  My thoughts meander and come up with plausible ideas for characters to take, but incredibly my fingers tap out a line of surprise action and I deviate.  Then I might come to a stalemate.  That’s the time I switch to an ongoing different story.  My stories start with a character, an emotion, a setting.  I have great difficulty planning, I just can’t sit long enough to do that, it seems so uncreative; yet to write a bigger novel, (which I want to do) I know I need planning.  I have started a journal of clippings and research ideas for my historical novel- always researching for these.  I love history.
Poetry is also extensively researched so that each poem becomes a mini canape of rich taste.
When I become disillusioned I look back over the poems, stories and books that have been published and remember the down times in these and know that I can push through again and again.

So now it comes time to reveal my tagees- wonder if there is such a word?

Another of my writing friends: Janeen Brian.  I've known Janeen for a long time now and invariably she inspires me with her creativity, perseverance and generosity.

Here's a little bite sized introduction to Janeen's work.

I still find it amazing that I’m a writer – but it’s words I love, so words it is!  They’ve created over 85 published books and hundreds of poems and stories in children’s magazines. Many of my books are award-winners (Where does Thursday go?, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, Pilawuk – when I was Young). Others have been translated. My latest titles are Eddie Pipper, Meet Ned Kelly, That boy, Jack & I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. Coming up are: Our Village in the Sky, Where’s Annie, I’m a Hungry Dinosaur and Silly Squid! I’m also the writer for a forthcoming dance performance for babies 4 – 18 months, called Nursery.  

Janeen will provide her tagged answers next week- meanwhile dash over to her blog and read the latest offering.

My second tagged writer is Rebecca Newman.  Rebecca created a wonderful magazine for children 'Alphabet Soup' and of course I wanted to submit poetry.  Rebecca  published two of my poems and interviewed me for an author spot in the magazine.  Rebecca is another passionate poet and lover of children's books.  Her site Alphabet soup blog contains book reviews ( by children) and often children's writing.  A visit is a must.
Thanks for agreeing Rebecca you are a valued and admired writing friend.

Rebecca Newman is a children's writer and is also the editor at Alphabet Soup’s Blog ( She writes picture books and children's poetry, and plays poetry tag with another children's poet over at the Poetry Tag blog. (http://poetrytag.wordpress.comThe School Magazine will be publishing her poetry in 2014. 

Rebecca lives in Perth, Western Australia and when she's not busy writing she loves reading and looking after a tiny kitchen garden — sometimes at the same time. 

Look out for Rebecca's tagged post at next week.

Last but by no means least is a new writing friend Katrina Nannestad, who is a lovely Bendigo author.  We have just linked up and I can't understand why we haven't done this long before!  Not only that we both have new puppies!!!  Above is Kate and Oliver!

Kate writes novels for primary school children.  She writes with cheeky humour.  Here are the covers of some of her recent books.  I enjoyed immensely the 'Girl who brought Mischief'- the sort of title I like!  Here's to many more books Kate.

Kate's tagged post will appear here next week and also on her Facebook page