Please welcome the lovely Karen Collum. Over to you, Karen.
The Thinking Reader’s Novel
I’ve always been a voracious reader, devouring children’s books of every kind at an alarming rate. Verse novels, however, are a new discovery for me. When I first heard the term ‘verse novel’, I had to ask another author exactly what it meant. I was familiar with rhyming picture books texts, but verse novels? That was something new. And now that I know, I have one thing to say: I’m in love.
The first verse novel I ever read was Jinx by Margaret Wild. Since then, I’ve read Sixth Grade Style Queen – Not! (Sherryl Clark), Do Wrong Ron (Steven Herrick) and Pearl Verses the World (by the lovely Sally Murphy). Each and every one of these books has been a delightful adventure into the world of verse and has inspired me to read in this style more widely and even attempt writing my own.
One of the most appealing aspects of verse novels for me is the brevity of the text. As a picture book author, I place high value on the ‘less is more’ concept. A standard novel has the luxury of taking the reader by the hand and guiding them through the story in many thousands of words. Verse novels however, are limited to a select group of well-chosen words, each of which much serve the dual purpose of enhancing the progress of the story and adding beauty and meaning to the text. The construction of a verse novel may well bear resemblance to that of a picture book, with each and every word fighting for its place in the text. Anything that is not absolutely essential to the text must be abandoned. There is no room for the unnecessary in a verse novel.
Congratulations on the release of Toppling, Sally. I can’t wait to read it and get lost in a verse novel once more.
As part of my celebrations for the release of my verse novel, Toppling, I have invited some of my friends – writers, poets, bloggers, teachers and more – to drop by during March. I will be asking each visitor the same question – what do you like about children’s poetry? – but am expecting some real variety in their answers.
So, without further ado, I’d like to welcome my first visitor for the month. Dee White is a wonderfully talented YA and children’s author. Thank you for dropping by Dee. Over to you:
THERE’S SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT VERSE NOVELS
Congratulations, Sally on your beautiful new novel, Toppling. It is such a moving book. I was reading it in the car park at school pick up and totally embarrassed myself by crying – luckily my car windows are tinted.
Thanks so much for inviting me here today – and what a wonderful topic to discuss – verse novels – a particular favourite of mine.
My first introduction to verse novels was through the work of bestselling YA author, Ellen Hopkins. Her novels, Burned, Impact and Crank, just to name a few, hook you right into the story from the first page.
I was lucky to meet Ellen and hear about her books at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Inspired by her work I moved on to devour the wonderful writing of Australian authors, Sherryl Clark, Lorraine Marwood, Steven Herrick, Catherine Jinks and Margaret Wild.
There’s something about the rawness of verse novels that gets right to the heart of the emotions – it draws the reader straight into the main character’s world.
Verse writers have an amazing talent to tell us so much in so few words. They take the reader on an intimate journey, make you feel that you are there by special invitation – that it’s just you and the main character taking this path.
The power of verse is that it doesn’t have time or space for adverbs and adjectives. The reader has to visualise using his/her own imagination. They come to understand the main character’s world through the way that the main character acts and reacts to what’s happening around them/to them.
My current YA novel, Street Racer uses verse to establish a distinct voice between two characters. I have discovered that verse has more versatility than you think – and it gives your story pace, moving the reader along – not allowing them to become bogged down by excess detail.
A good verse novel is like an exquisitely decorated Christmas tree – balanced and striking with no excess baubles – beautifully simple.
Sally, your new novel, Toppling, is a perfect example of this. Right from the first page John’s character hooked me into his story.
The domino theme is so powerful in symbolising the precarious state of John’s world. The language is so simple yet tells us so much.
Works like Toppling are the very reason I love verse novels and poetry. Congratulations, Sally on your beautiful new book and thanks for inviting me to your place to talk about verse.
Dee White has a review of Toppling at her blog http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/
Thanks so much for your kind words, Dee, and for sharing with us today.
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/.
The first review for my verse novel, Pearl Verses the World is online, here. Among other things the reviewer describes the story as “a wonderfully told story with heart”.
Pearl will be released on May 1 – watch this space for a month of celebrations including a blog tour, guest bloggers, a verse-off and more. In the meantime, Pearl can be ordered online at Fishpond