Welcome to Day 2 of my readalong. Thanks to everyone who has dropped in on my first post, and left comments here or on social media. As I continue to reflect on Pearl Verses the World, today I thought I might chat a bit about how (and why!) I wrote the book and why I chose to write a verse novel. However, this post comes with a spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the book, and plan to read it, you might want to stop reading now and come back to this post after you have.
I must admit that I didn’t so much choose the verse novel form as it chose me. Long before I met Pearl, I started a review site called Aussiereviews, and started reviewing Australian books. In 2002 I opened a novel from my review pile – and was surprised to see it was written in verse. I had never heard the term verse novel, let alone seen one, but as I started to read that book (Margaret Wild’s Jinx), I fell in love with the form. I knew that I would like to write like that and, as I started to find and read other verse novels, I knew that one day I would try to write one of my own. But I thought that first I would learn HOW to write a verse novel – a book, or a course, or something to guide me through the process. That didn’t happen.
Instead, Pearl Verses the World came like a bolt from the blue, insisting it be written, and be written in verse. One night as I got into into bed, a few lines of poetry came into my head, and I had to get up, find a piece of paper, and write them down. Each time I tried to turn the light off and get some rest, a few more lines came to me, and I had to jump out of bed and write them down. I still own that piece of paper and those early lines.
Finally, my beloved started to get restless with all the late-night poetry making, and I had to give it a rest. That poem, though, didn’t let me rest, and over the coming days I drafted more poems – until I realised that there was a story being told and that the voice, who was Pearl, was not going to leave me be until I wrote her tale.
Pearl’s story was easy to write in many ways. It was almost as if Pearl was channeling through me – she told me her tale, and whenever I felt that I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I stopped writing and waited for it to come to me. And come to me it did; often when I was in the shower, or lying in bed, or doing something totally removed from writing. I gradually worked out why Pearl was sad, and why she felt lonely. She was watching her beloved grandmother fade away, and her grief had forced her apart from her classmates.
Having said that, Pearl’s story was in other ways terribly hard to write. When I wrote the scenes dealing with Granny’s death I experienced grief. A grief so real that I had to stop writing, curl into a ball and howl. Even long into the editing process I still cried. I also had to consider whether the book was too sad for child readers. Did I want children to cry as I had cried? The eventual answer was yes, I did need to share this story with children. They may cry when they read it – but hopefully they will also smile and even, perhaps, laugh out loud. Above all, I hope they will see that although they may experience loss or grief in their lives, life does go on and there is always hope. I also hope they will know it is okay to grieve, in their own way and in their own time. I have blogged before about sad books and why I write them here and here.
The other thing that happened when I wrote was that although I cried, I also smiled, And laughed. And, when I’d finished writing, I realised I was done crying. It was quite a cathartic process – one that I hope is echoed for readers, who, once they finish the book, should also be done crying.
Back to the writing process. I said earlier that I thought I would learn to write verse novels before I tried to write one. Instead, I kind of just winged it. I just wrote the story, in verse, as it came to me. But, looking back, those other verse novels I’d read, and my many years of writing poetry, stood me in good stead. It’s advice I give to anyone who asks me about being a writer: writers need to read. A lot. That reading builds an understanding of how story, and different writing forms, work, in ways that writing courses can’t on their own (of course writing courses, books on writing and so on are amazing too!).
So I wrote a verse novel, not really knowing what I was doing – and it worked. Amazingly, a year later, Pearl Verses the World was published by Walker Books, with amazing illustrations by Heather Potter, and the rest, as they say, is history.
DO you have questions? I’d love to answer them. Comment below. Or post them on my social media – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (#pearlvworld or #readwithsally) , and I’ll answer them there. Thanks again for being part of my Readalong.