Today we’re super excited to have Lorraine Marwood visiting Alphabet Soup to talk about writing verse novels. Lorraine is an award winning Australian writer of novels, verse novels and poetry for children.
Lorraine’s latest book, Leave Taking, is about a boy and his family who are leaving their farm forever after the death of Toby’s younger sister.
What bought you to write Leave Taking as a verse novel?
That’s an interesting question. Often I’m asked if I write ‘normal’ stories, meaning all prose. The answer is yes I do — not everything I write is poetry or verse novels, except when the subject matter calls for a stronger emotional framework, then I use poetry. Sometimes it’s my natural voice; sometimes I sketch a character out in prose poetry much like an artist might sketch a character. Because Leave Taking has an emotional tug of saying goodbye to both a beloved place and a beloved family member, my natural instinct was to treat the story in a special prose poetry way.
For me this technique is quick and it also provides different layers for the reader to climb on and it allows us to cry or laugh at the time the reader feels a heartstrings pull.
A verse novel way of writing is like wearing a piece of comfortable clothing; I can confidently build an atmosphere and that is a huge gateway for me to enter the story. I have to feel the right atmosphere to plunge in.
What do you find most challenging about writing verse novels?
This way of writing does have pitfalls. For me it’s probably not to strike out in prose too much when it’s a blend of poetry and prose together. And to keep that consistency of words to a line and to write more rather than less, which I tend to do as a poet. I try to paint a bare sensory picture for the reader to experience and that allows them to come to the story with their own ideas and reactions.
Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to have a go at writing a verse novel?
- Start out with a tale you know well and cut it down and put your own slant on it.
- Try for short sentences and short phrases.
- Try to give lots of senses and details.
Here’s a start of a well-known tale — continue on! Using first person voice is a good choice for a verse novel.
I am waiting, watching.
My mother said, ‘Go and hunt
for bargains in the market.’
There are shouts of stall holders,
banners flapping in the breeze.
‘Pies, fresh bananas, best in town!’
‘Silk, wool, rugs, soft and hardwearing!’
And amongst all the bleats of sheep,
or goats, I hear a musical voice;
‘Lamps, I buy old lamps, I pay good money!’
Now you continue on — try for 7 or 8 words a line.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
I have written a ‘normal’ big book, a fantasy, a genre I love. I have written another verse novel, which is under contract with University of Queensland Press, and always I write poetry and have some school writing workshops coming up.
Thanks for asking me these insightful questions. And happy verse novel writing everyone — have a go!
Interview answers © Lorraine Marwood 2019.
Leave Taking has been shortlisted for the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award (Younger Readers category), AND shortlisted for the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
You can read earlier interviews with Lorraine Marwood here.