teachers' resources

Meet the author – Norman Jorgensen

In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine we interview an author or illustrator. The trouble is, we can only fit some of their answers in the magazine. So we print the full interviews on the blog—we wouldn’t want you to miss out!

In issue 13 we talked to Norman Jorgensen, author of many books including The Last Viking, and In Flanders Fields.

"The Last Viking (cover)"In Flanders Fields (cover)

Where do you live?

I live just out of Perth city in an old Federation house built in 1906. It is a bit too cosy; in fact, it is far too small for all the books I have collected over the years. If I buy any more books my wife and I will have to go and live out in the garden shed along with the rakes, spades, half empty paint cans and redback spiders.

What do you love about being a writer?

I love the way stories develop from just the flimsiest shred of a single thought or sentence into full-blown worlds full of exotic places and interesting out-of-control people.

I also love the ego stroking that comes with the job. People seem to think writers are special, especially children’s book creators, and treat us accordingly. I know for a fact, however, that most kids’ book writers are just adults with arrested development issues, and have never really grown up properly. That is certainly true in my case.

A real bonus being a writer is that I get to travel to all sorts of great places for literature festivals and writers’ talks, and get to meet kids who like reading.

What was your favourite book as a child?

There was a load. One I remember and was very keen on was as series by Anthony Buckeridge, called Jennings and Darbyshire, about boys in an English boarding school that was an awful lot like Hogwarts. Unlike Hogwarts, though, Linbury Court Preparatory School was a ripping and topping place with midnight feasts, easily fooled school masters, japes and pranks, and, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, no wizards. The books were also a great deal funnier than Harry and Co. They kept me in stitches of laughter for days at a time and I loved them.

My other great favourite was Biggles by Captain WE Johns, a series of nearly a hundred books about an ace World War I fighter pilot who never seems to get any older and also flies planes in WWII and into the jet age, and has hair-raising  adventures together with his chums, Ginger, Smyth and Algy. They are probably horribly dated by now, but at the time they sure kept me wide awake at night.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

My first book came out years ago. It was a graphic novel illustrated by Allan Langoulant and was called Ashe of the Outback. At the time I had no real idea of what I was doing and used to flood Allan with hundreds of ideas, often on coasters or scraps of paper.  He was very patient with me and managed to pull them into a sequence that made sense and that he could illustrate. Luckily for me, he was such a clever artist and well-known that that a publisher soon contracted it.

My fourth book In Flanders Fields proved to be a much harder task. A picture book about the war in the trenches for small children? Are you joking? A number of publishers couldn’t see past the idea that picture books don’t always have to be about talking rabbits or cute teddy bears, or for little kids, and instantly rejected it. Luckily, the crew at Fremantle Press weren’t so traditionally bound.

Norman Jorgensen in Northumberland. (Photo © Jan Nicholls.)
Norman Jorgensen in Northumberland. (Photo © Jan Nicholls.)

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Like all writers I read a great deal. I like comedies and funny writers, historical novels, spy thrillers and well constructed sentences but, above all, I like a good story that drags you along with it.

I also love travelling, especially with my gee-wiz top-of-the-range camera and taking photographs, especially to Europe. I love the old castles, cathedrals, villages, country pubs, museums, battle grounds and all the stuff that makes history so exciting.

Watching old movies give me a thrill, especially black and white dramas, westerns and silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (go and look them up on You Tube. They are hilarious, even 80 years later. )

I like woodworking and have made several pieces of furniture using old recycled Jarrah. I love the smell of wood shavings and the sense of achievement when you do something as well as you can.

What made you become a writer?

Truthfully? I saw an old film when I about fifteen called Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck, about the famous writer F Scott Fitzgerald. He was a romantic, tortured writer and as a teenager I could see myself being just like that. These days I’m not particularly tortured and, sadly, neither do I look like Gregory Peck or F Scott Fitzgerald.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?

Here you go, from the horse’s mouth, as they say:

Ashe of the Outback was inspired by Biggles (and The Jolly Postman).

In Flanders Fields is from a scene is a movie called All Quiet on the Western Front.

The Call of the Osprey came from all the times I spent with  my grandfather in his marvellous old workshop in Northam.

A Fine Mess is from a poster I have on my office wall of old comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, and also the adventures my brothers and I had growing up in Kalamunda.

Another Fine Mess 002 has James Bond stamped all over it.

Jack’s Island is a collection of stories about my father’s life growing up on Rottnest Island during the 1940s.

The Last Viking I wrote because of my Danish name, and the thought that perhaps one day I should do a Viking story to honour the ancestors. You never know if they are watching. If they are, I hope they like it. It has only just been released.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Yes, ignore all advice!!! Except, practice writing a lot. Just like violin or netball training, the more practice you put in the better you get at it. Oh, and always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas when they occur. They are such fleeting things and are easily forgotten.

Also don’t take rejection too personally. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. 

Are you working on a book at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?

Hmmmm … There are three on the go.   

The Goldminer’s Son is a picture book, based on a true Western Australia story, about a miner trapped underground, his son’s steadfast belief he’ll be saved, and the heroic efforts to rescue his dad from a flooded pit.

Brave Art is about a girl who doesn’t fit in at a school, at home or with her friends. All she wants to do, with a single-minded passion, is paint pictures like the Great Masters and become a famous artist herself.  Luckily, it has a happy ending as she does achieve her ambition.

Sons of the Desert is, hopefully, an authentic and action-packed, rip-roaring, page-tuning, old-fashioned adventure with horses, villains, stagecoach robberies, explosions and enough realism for you taste the dust and feel the heat as the battles rage.

Find out more about Norman Jorgensen and his books on his website and check out The Last Viking blog, too. Norman also answered our Three Quick Questions as part of our third birthday celebrations in October. You can read his answers here.

Interview by Alphabet Soup magazine. © Alphabet Soup magazine & Norman Jorgensen, 2011. (Photo  © Jan Nicholls.)

Summer Issue 2011 – out now!

The summer issue of the magazine has been posted to subscribers, so keep an eye on your letter box. We love the artwork on the cover by Emma Nolan, the winner of this year’s design-a-cover competition. Doesn’t it look fantastic?

Alphabet Soup Issue 13 coverHere’s what you’ll find inside issue 13:

… and more!

Subscribe via our website (you can order single copies from the subscribe page, too). Single copies can also be purchased from our WA stockists—Westbooks (Victoria Park) and Zero to Ten (South Fremantle).

Christmas, info

Summer issue coming soon!

The summer issue of Alphabet Soup is only a few weeks away. We can’t wait to show you the cover by the winner of our design-a-cover competition! As you know, the theme for the summer issue is Medieval. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find inside:

  • Q&A with Norman Jorgensen, author of The Last Viking
  • WA fencer Ben Peden
  • Poems, stories and book recommendations
  • Writing tips from the Book Chook.

… and lots more!

Magazine covers
Subscribers receive four copies per year

Christmas subscriptions: Light to post and perfect for kids who love books and creative writing! Let us know if you’re ordering a subscription as a gift.  You can request that the first copy be posted to you (so you can wrap it to put under the tree) or we can post it to the recipient with your message attached on 20 December 2011. Simply add your message in the ‘message to seller’ box if ordering via our website. Or email our editor with your instructions/message.

Plus, subscribers with an Australian delivery address go into a draw every issue to win a $200 book pack. The book pack for our summer 2011 draw is provided by Scholastic Australia! (Note: books in pack may differ from those pictured.)

Books from Scholastic Australia
Subscribe and go into a draw for a $200 book pack!

Keep reading and writing!

Rebecca (Editor)


Three Quick Questions: Norman Jorgensen #15

All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is Norman Jorgensen, author of The Last Viking and In Flanders Fields (and many other books, too!)

"The Last Viking (cover)"

1. Where do you like to write?

Down in my back garden, beyond where the pirates, kid-eating dinosaurs, scary monsters and teenage vampires all lurk, I have a studio surrounded by huge trees. The walls are painted bright red and on the wall behind my computer I have prints of old square-rigged sailing ships.  I also have a model of a WW I fighter hanging from the ceiling, and piles and piles of books.  It’s a bit of a Boy’s Own paradise, I’m afraid. It is not as tidy as a ten-year old’s bedroom, but at least a million times worse.

2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow–a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards: “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars.

It starts like this and just gets better and better. It is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, first published in 1883, and I re-read it every few years, mostly to remind myself why I want to be a writer. All pirate books and movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean, have been inspired by this one book, and it is the perfect read for a dark and stormy story night while huddled up under the covers with a torch.

Treasure Island (cover)
Norman Jorgensen recommends Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s block?

Then what happened?


What is the worst thing that could happen next?

Find out more about Norman Jorgensen and his books on his website and check out The Last Viking blog.

© October 2011 “Three Quick Questions with Norman Jorgensen” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

(Psst … see you back here tomorrow, when we’ll hear from poet Jackie Hosking! And don’t forget to enter our birthday giveaways … )


Three Quick Questions: James Foley (#5)

All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is James Foley, illustrator of picture book The Last Viking (by Norman Jorgensen).

"The Last Viking (cover)"

1. Where do you like to draw?

My favourite place to draw is in my room, really early in the morning, while it’s still quiet, before the pets wake up … penguins can be very noisy when they’re hungry, and spider monkeys are incredibly grouchy until they’ve had a cup of tea and some toast.

2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?

Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck written by new author Michelle Gillespie, illustrated by the incredibly talented Sonia Martinez. It’s coming out this month (October) and looks amazing. It’s the true story of how Sam Isaacs and Grace Bussell saved the crew and passengers of the Georgette when it was wrecked off the South West coast of WA a long time ago.

Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck, recommended by James Foley as a good read!

3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s or illustrator’s block?

” … and that’s why my mum joined the circus.”

Find out more about James Foley and his books—visit his website and check out the official Last Viking blog.

© October 2011 “Three Quick Questions with James Foley” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

(Psst … see you back here on Monday, when author Tania McCartney answers our Three Quick Questions.)

Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book Review: The Last Viking

The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and illustrated James Foley. Published by Fremantle Press, ISBN 971921888106.
(A review copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.)

"The Last Viking (cover)"Josh’s pop is always talking about ‘exciting stuff like Vikings, and Spitfires and Redcoats, though not usually when Nan’s around.’ Josh is staying with Nan and Pop for the holidays and that’s when he decides to become a Viking, and change his name to Knut. Although he’s not very brave, when trouble arrives, Josh summons up some Viking courage and discovers just how brave he really is.

If you don’t know anything about Vikings yet, you’ll know heaps about them by the time you finish The Last Viking. The illustrations are fun and cartoon-like and if you’re a super sleuth, you’ll notice that on some of the pages there are messages written in code—rune carvings. At the back of the book (on the endpapers) you’ll find the key to crack the code.

Keep an eye out for the ravens in the book, too. In Norse mythology they are Odin’s messengers, and in The Last Viking, they keep the Viking gods updated on Josh/Knut’s progress.

The Last Viking is an exciting adventure about courage, imagination and dealing with bullies.

Time to go a-viking!

PS Check out The Last Viking blog where the author and illustrator talk about creating The Last Viking. The blog also has Viking activities and teacher’s notes.

© June 2011 “Review of The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen & James Foley” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)
illustrator, teachers' resources

Two book launches (WA)

Here are two book launches coming up in June and July!

1. JUNE 2011 BOOK LAUNCH for picture book, The Last Viking

written by Norman Jorgensen, illustrated by James Foley

"The Last Viking (cover)"
When: Friday 24 June 2011, 6:30pm
Where: Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre (Old Freo Prison hospital), cnr Hampton and Knutsford Rd, Fremantle WA
RSVP for numbers to Fremantle Press: (08) 9430 6331 or email admin@fremantlepress.com.au

A bit about The Last Viking (taken from the Fremantle Press site):

Young Josh is very brave.
He’s not afraid of anyone or anything—except maybe the dark. Pirates worry him a bit, of course, and so do boy-eating dinosaurs, and monsters under the bed. He’s also just a little afraid of dragons and vampires. But other than those few things, Josh is as brave as a lion.

Sort of.

When Josh comes face to face with real-life trouble, he begins to find out how brave he really is …

2. JULY 2011 BOOK LAUNCH for Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers

written and illustrated by Briony Stewart

"Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (cover)"

When: Sunday 10 July 2011, 1.30pm–4.30pm
Where: Town of Vincent Library, 99 Loftus St, Perth WA.
Short reading, book sales, signing, sale of original illustrations and prints from the book.

Light refreshments and a chance for kids to win book prizes and colour in a giant dragon!

For more info, email Briony Stewart.

A bit about Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (taken from the UQP site):

Kumiko is used to having a dragon guarding her night and day, but what she doesn’t quite know is why she needs one …

Since discovering the secret of the Shadow Catchers, a group of powerful sorcerers determined to steal magic at any cost, Kumiko knows it’s only a matter of time before her family’s link to dragons puts them all in grave danger. Is there a way to stop the Shadow Catchers once and for all and will Kumiko take the risk?

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers follows Kumiko’s last and most exciting adventure as she travels through a world of shadows and dark magic in order to find freedom for herself and the kingdom of dragons.

Do you know about any upcoming book launches? (Let us know!)