Monday, December 13, 2010

Rhythm, rhythm, everybody’s got a bit of rhythm!

Rhythm, rhythm, everybody's got a bit of rhythm!

What is it about a beat or a pulse that makes our fingers click, our head nod and our toes tap? And more to the point why do some people happily clap and dance as children and then suddenly stop, the rhythm in his/her body seeming to have evaporated? Is it that in our Western in order to be allowed to dance or sing or move creatively.

As an author or illustrator, were you aware of rhythm in your childhood? Did you clap and dance spontaneously and did your body movements flow on easily to language with the simple, enjoyable rhythms of nursery rhymes and beyond?

I believe that our inner bodies are like the sea, full of fluidity and movements, ebbing and flowing. We are made up of approximately 70% of water, so I feel that we are born to move rhythmically and that that movement may later affect our patterns of reading and writing.

While I haven’t conducted tests to prove this, I know that back in the days when I was teaching and used improvised movement in drama with my class, the energy that was released by the children’s movements often translated into a release of their free writing. And even further, the style of music played or enjoyed, often affected the style of their writing if we wrote immediately afterwards. Strong drumbeats produced strong, thudding pieces with short, tense sentences, whereas slower, more tranquil music seemed to produce more lyrical writing.

In a supermarket once, I saw a little boy happily tapping on a cardboard box, his eyes shining and his body moving to his own created patterns. Up came his father and ordered him to stop. ‘It’s not a drum!’ he added crushingly. And the understated message to his young son . . .? You guessed it.

But here’s a different scenario.

Recently I returned home from a two-week holiday in Buenos Aires and while there, chanced to see a night street parade, only a block away from where we were staying.

Hundreds of drummers in different groups, all dressed in bright colourful outfits drummed and sweated their way along the cobblestones, led by men waving flags as large as sails and women wearing attire ranging from African cloth swathing to feathered bikinis; all dancing hard and happily for block after block.

Standing there, watching, camera poised, I could feel my blood begin to pulse until I could no longer keep still. I began to dance along with everybody else! As each drumming group passed by, bystanders followed, dancing and moving in a free, joyful, uninhibited way; children, adults and old folks alike.

It was obvious that the people were blissfully responding to the beat and rhythm that had been part of their cultural life for as long as they could remember, whether it be in music or dancing.

Let’s take that thought back to childhood. Hopefully, babies and toddlers grow up in an environment where there are songs and stories, but now, there are also lovely storytime/playtime/rhymetime sessions held at public libraries. At these sessions, toddlers independently clap and move to the rhythm of spoken nursery rhymes or action rhymes, while adults gently encourage the babies with their movements - singing or speaking as they do so.

Surely this provides an early awareness of the connection of movement and the spoken word and, moreover, might also set the basis for our children’s future love and enjoyment of poetry and the rhythm of literature.

And, if that is so, then let’s make certain we continue to embrace those rhythms at every opportunity- freely and joyfully!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fast-track to the emotions

I've recently enjoyed Deb Abdela's latest book, Grimsdon: a fantasy, set within a theme of climate control. Deb's work is rich in imagination and imagery as is the other book I constantly dip into - Lorraine Marwood's latest poetry anthology entitled A Ute Picnic. It is spare and powerful writing which has the ability to fast-track to the emotions.

A couple of weeks ago I spent time at a High School, speaking to Year 8 and 9 students. I read them one of my poems, called Flood and asked if any student could relate to the sense of powerlessness that a flood wreaked. One girl raised her hand and began to speak simply and clearly about how she felt when her parents said they were not only leaving their home, but their country, to migrate to Australia. Suddenly she began to cry. After a few moments, she regained control, told us she was happy here and didn't yearn to go back to her old home, but the memory of her as a young child and the sense of powerlessness had been triggered by the words in the poem.

The following day, I found myself in a similar situation - choking back a sob in front of a class of 40 Year 9's.
I was about to read a poem entitled Only Then, and was describing the background. It was at an Anzac dawn service many years ago. One man, bent with age and wearing medals which hung on clothes now seemingly too big for him, stood alone. He seemed almost too feeble to be there on that chill morning. But then came the first note of the bugle. The Last Post. From where I stood I saw the effort needed for his fingers to curl into fists, his arms to straighten and for him to stand as tall as possible - in the memory of those fallen.

It was at that point in the telling, that the memory of that man and his simple but respectful actions overwhelmed me and for a moment or two I struggled to go on. But the room was utterly silent. The atmosphere had changed too, as I read the poem, and after it. I felt I had truly shared something special.

Perhaps I had.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

sheep food . . . and more!

question: What food do you have at a launch which involves sheep?
answer: Laaamb-ingtons, of course!

Check out some pictures of the recent Victorian launch/celebration of my book Shirl and the Wollomby Show, illustrated stunningly by Kat Chadwick. The event was held at Readings, Carlton to coincide with the Royal Melbourne Show and was launched by Ann James, illustrator and co-director of Books Illustrated.

two naughty lambs!

Janeen, Ann and Kat presenting.

two little listeners!

the grand Knit-Off!

the Shirl cut-outs in the shop window

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The red, hot questions . . .Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Hello and a big, red hot welcome to my dear writing friend and colleague, Sheryl Gwyther, whose Pearson chapter book,Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, has just been released. It's a great story with plenty of problems, humour and determination woven throughout and perfect for the chapter reading age group!

I wanted to ask Sheryl more about the book and her writing in general.

Can you tell us what was the initial trigger for this story, and what are three other related ideas you used to help create or develop it?

That’s an easy question, Janeen. I love the look of chillies – their varied shapes and colours and gorgeous glossy skins, and I like growing them. Only problem is, I’m allergic to eating them!

When I decided to write a story about someone who was crazy about growing and eating chillies, young Charlie jumped into my head and the story took off.

What was your method in working on this book? Was it mainly plot or character driven?

I did have a strong vision about what Charlie was like, but I also had to come up with a plot that would keep the reader wanting to know how Charlie would solve her dilemma. Would she and her Habanero win with all the obstacles put in her way? Then it was a matter of imagining lots of situations where chillies could cause problems.

Were there any surprises that happened along the writing journey?

You bet your guacamole boots there was, Janeen! When I first began to plan this story, I didn’t realise how much fun it would be actually writing it. Charlie was such a strong character in my head, sometimes it was like I was thinking through her head, not mine. Very surprising!! I also got a very big surprise when a possum ate a chilli from the FIERY Habanero plant in my garden. I didn’t know possums ate chillies! Maybe that possum got such a shock it never ate a chilli again.

I learned a number of things while reading the story; for example, milk cools the mouth after eating hot, spicy food. Did you find you needed to do a lot of research?

I love researching for all my stories – partly because I enjoy researching and mostly because it’s good to know the ‘ins and outs’ of the subject matter – whether it’s about dinosaur fossils out in western Queensland (in my novel, Secrets of Eromanga), or learning to juggle when I wrote Princess Clown (I failed at the fourth ball toss), or some amazing things I found out about chillies while writing Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

Did you know that birds can eat the hottest chillies possible with no ill effects? Why? Because their internal system can cope with the chilli’s capsaicin (burn-factor chemical), the chilli seed passes through their gullet quickly and is dispersed further from the mother plant ... more chance of survival for the new chilli plants!

Of course, the reason why the chilli is so hot for everything else is to stop it being eaten and destroyed – the seed does not survive in the intestines of all other animals (including humans). Clever chillies! Clearly, my possum thinks he’s a bird.

I love the element of music in the story. Do you find music is an element that appears in your stories, or are there more predominant ‘Sheryl passions’ like art, geology or palaeontology?

Clever you, Janeen, to pick up another one of my passions! Yes, the element of music is present in many of the stories I write, even if I don’t mention it in the story. Music has rhythm, just like words and sentences.

Music also has colour and I like to bring ‘colour’ to stories – that’s the element that keeps a plot and characters interesting to the reader. I play music on my stereo while I write – from classical, to jazz, to Cuban, to rock and Celtic music. Some people need silence to write, I like music!

Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper is published by Pearson in their new series, Chapters. Tell us what it was like writing for the Educational Market.

I started writing chapter books for the Education Market late last year – it was a pleasant surprise. I’ve had two published for this market so far. No-one in those two publishing houses told me I had to use word-lists, nobody stopped me using longer, more complicated words that would challenge a child (like soufflĂ© and circlet).

The books themselves are professionally produced, and I’m really happy with the end product. And best thing of all, I am delighted to be the author of chapter books – the first ‘real’ books that young readers tackle by themselves.

Princess Clown was the first book I wrote for the education market. Blake published it a month ago and I was thrilled with how it turned out. Sian Naylor’s illustrations are brilliant (and very clever!) and I love their extension activities in the back of the book.

Pearson did a fantastic job with Charlie and the RHCP too. The book’s illustrator, Richard Hoit has captured Charlie’s enthusiastic face and all the pictures are just right for the story. He even got the shape and colour right for the Habanero chilli on the front cover.

Both Charlie and the RHCP and Princess Clown are available from the publishers on the internet. Some schools already have copies and Charlie could also be in some bookshops by now.

I’m having a book launch in October for Charlie and the RHCP in Brisbane – everyone is welcome! It’s at Black Cat Books in Paddington, Brisbane on 22nd October, 2010, at 6pm. Phone: 07 3367 8777

What are you writing now?

I have several stories 'on the boil'. Three are longer novels and one is a shorter length to suit the 9-10 age group. I'm enjoying writing this story - Fangus Fearbottom is a young vampire who would rather eat bananas than drink blood, so he's having heaps of funny adventures.

I'm hoping to develop it into a series as I have lots of ideas that could cause conflict for poor Fangus (I wonder how he will solve his banana-dilemma?)

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk on your blog, Janeen. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! If any of your readers would like to know more about writing chapter books, I’ve written a blog on the subject.

Here is the link for it on the Kids Book Review site.


Princess Clown

Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Secrets of Eromanga

For more information on my writing and art work:

Thanks Sheryl, for such great answers and best wishes for your terrific book. By the way, I am also a lover of the shape and shine of chillies!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

the yellow breezes . . .of poetry

Many school visits of late and treks around the suburbs and hills reminds me that our native wattle is such a great emblem. What varieties and what blazes of colour.

During my school sessions, I often began using an iddy-biddy poem of mine about wattle. Because it related to the current season, I thought it might help kids become more aware of their environment.

Also it was a fun, interactive way to begin.

The whole poem is:

Yellow breezes

bring the sneezes

all from fluffy, wattle, treeses.

I wrote all but the last three words on the board and left the kids curious, while I talked about yellow breezes. Can we see breezes? Can we see the wind? If not, what can we see? And why a colour breeze? At that point some worked out that wattle trees were somehow involved. I then spoke about choosing the right words for the job. How to tighten the line of a poem by connecting only two main words to create a word picture.

We then moved on to bring the sneezes; the meaning of which they worked out fairly easily. Then rhyme was mentioned.

The last part was interesting. We tapped or clapped the rhythm of the whole poem and I emphasised that we’d need words that were consistent with that pattern. What words could we use? What would be appropriate to the context of the poem? If they gave me a one syllable word, for example, fun, I wrote it up, and read the last line using that word, so the children could hear the difference in beat, before asking for another suggestion. I urged them also to consider the meaning of the poem.

Finally they completed the first two words, fluffy and wattle, but became stuck on the last word. I talked about playing with words and how you can make up words as long as the meaning is not too obscure. When someone offered treeses, there was a mixture of reactions. Some children latched on quickly, others not so fast. But lots of, ‘Ahh! I get it’ or ‘I was going to say that!’

I write both rhyming and non-rhyming poetry, but through this little poem I was able to talk about quite a number of aspects of writing; keeping it tight and simple, using spare, important adjectives, and breaking a rule or two - just for fun!

Monday, August 16, 2010

the tandem camel blog

Link to Dee White's blog to read about the research of my two camel books, Hoosh! Camels in Australia and Columbia Sneezes!
Thanks Dee, for hosting me.

Don't forget to check out my camel blog; . . .then and afterwards

. . .then and afterwards

Every book has its own story. The one the author intended to be read. But what are also fascinating are the countless mini-stories that occur as you, the author, create that one book.

Creating books lend itself to all sorts of serendipitous happenings, in all forms. Have you ever discovered a piece of information that seems to have been sitting around simply waiting for you to unearth it? Has there been an odd comment uttered innocently in an everyday conversation that somehow gave you a whole new slant on your book? Or have you discovered an object that evoked an idea - or was perfect in some other way? Claire Saxby once found a soft toy, blue whale in the gutter. She’d searched seriously in shops and other venues for just such a thing to use in an activity for her picture book, There Was an Old Sailor, but had had no success. What are the chances of that happening?

These mini-stories are endlessly fascinating to us as writers and readers. They’re like barnacles that adhere, one by one, to the main jetty pole, adding to its shape and texture.

But equally intriguing is what happens to our books afterwards? I don’t necessarily mean at the launch or during those rigorous inroads of self-promotion. I mean the ones you don’t expect, the the surprises that add another layer or two to your fully completed written book.

Perhaps you never expected your book to turn up written in Braille? Or that your story would become a film. Or that a letter arrives from a stranger, explaining that your book was the first one their child had read from beginning to end.

My camel books, the award-winning, information book Hoosh! Camels in Australia (ABC Books, 2005) and the picture book Columbia Sneezes! (Omnibus/Scholastic, 2008, illustrated by Gabe Cunnett) now have several such legacies. As such, they have consciously or subconsciously enriched the book for me.

They’ve also demonstrated that while each book itself is tangible and complete, they still pulse with possibilities.

Let me share a couple of afterwards stories with you.

During the research of Hoosh!, I was extremely grateful to the knowledge of Peter Seidel, Executive Officer of the Central Australian Camel Industry Association. He answered zillions of my layman type questions by phone or email, met me in Adelaide for an interview and provided me with industry information and photos. After the book’s publication, Peter proudly offered Hoosh! as a business gift, to many of his clients in US, Japan and Saudi Arabia, buyers of fine, disease-free Australian camels for the prestigious camel racing circuit.

Hoosh! also found a place in a display case in the South Australian Museum travelling exhibition called Australia’s Muslim Cameleers; Pioneers of the Inland, 1860s – 19303. The exhibition has travelled to many capital and regional cities in Australia since 2007 and is still on the move!

A copy of Hoosh! was placed in a little travelling bag, organised by the Quorn School Community Library, to celebrate ‘Reading @round the Region in 2006. The bag also contained other camel bits and pieces such as the picture book, Little Humpty, photos from Pichi Richi Camel Tours and a pattern to knit a little camel, like Clive! This ‘camel bag’ was sent to outback and remote schools and libraries in the far north of SA for children and parents to use in their reading time.

In 2006, Hoosh! brought home an Honour Award in the Eve Pownall section for Information Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

Later young children devised a song with a string of verses, each including a fact discovered while reading Hoosh!

To the tune of ‘Go, Alice, Go!’ the first verse is:

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Hoosh, the camel, has one hump.

Go, dromedary, go,

Boom! Boom! Boom!

(lots of fun, especially if you swing your rear from side to side like a camel in the last line!)

And from Hoosh! evolved the picture book, Columbia Sneezes! It grew from a story devised by my grandson and I about a little soft toy camel I’d bought while doing fieldwork at The Voyages Camel Cup in Alice Springs.

Columbia spawned an amazing camel construction made entirely of balloons at the CLIC (Children’s Literature in the Centre) Festival in 2008! And a permanent sculpture is to be made of Columbia and set in a Storyboard Walk in a park in South Australia.

None of these eventualities could’ve been foreseen. But what joy it is to see your work remain malleable and to appear in various ways and venues previously unimagined.

There’s another bonus too. I’ve looked over those happy legacies again. And do you know, they could spark off a few self-promotional ideas for other books!

What are some of your special during and afterwards stories?

Monday, August 2, 2010

a picnic of poetry

Today we welcome poet and children’s author, Lorraine Marwood. Lorraine’s recent poetry highlights have been the publication of the verse novels Ratwhiskers and Me, and Star Jumps. Star Jumps is certainly leaping high! It’s a Notable in the 2010 CBCA Awards, shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Awards and more recently, shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. But today we celebrate Lorraine’s latest publication from Walker Books; an anthology called A Ute Picnic – and other Australian Poems.

Whose idea was it to create this anthology, yours or the publishers? Both, this collection has taken awhile, a few years actually. My publisher is a great fan of poetry and that's the spark to ignite a book like this.

I love the title – taken from one of the poems. Does it have any special significance for you?

Yes 'A Ute Picnic' was one of my first prose/poetry ventures. It was first published in School Magazine and was the forerunner for the style of my latest verse novels 'Ratwhiskers and Me' and 'Star jumps.' It also explored a real occurrence on a farm- during hay harvest when a ute picnic would have to be taken to my husband several kilometres away- no corner stores way out in the country.

We experience many senses when we read your poems. How many senses are in play when you are first collecting ideas?

Now that's an interesting question! I love to find an atmosphere, a perspective that is uniquely mine and the senses provide a way into this especially sound- I also add a sixth sense- emotion- or personal involvement with the topic of the poem- this ensures there's some emotional content for the reader also.

In a recent interview about verse novels with Sally Murphy, you spoke of ‘propelling the bare bones of the story.’ Your poems are rich bare bones. Tell us how you pare down.

I also wanted to be an artist (as well as an author) when I was younger... so making an art work with words is very important. Keeping to the essentials of poetry like strong details, strong nouns and verbs helps paint that spare richness, then it becomes part of my style, my poetic voice. My family often tells me that I say some strange things- its the way my brain works!

In Star Jumps you wanted children to experience the reality of farm life, as opposed to the romantic version. Were you thinking in those terms with this collection as well? Tell us how the collection evolved.

A lot of these poems come from fragments of my writing journal written over a decade and more- I really wish I'd started my journalling a long time before that- but life was hectic on a dairy farm with six kids and I suppressed my writing for so long. Yes I wanted the real touches of life on a farm to come through, the real grit, the real epiphanies, the real thread of umbilical chord tied from farming family to the seasons of dairy farm. One really observes weather, insect life, plant life, changes in a detailed way when one's livelihood and lifestyle are intertwined with the land.

Some poems were just sitting there in my note books, waiting to be plucked- they needed dusting down, shining up to make them convey their own message- others were written from a few words which immediately re-evoked the situation for me- for example- the poem called 'A Joke' was a real incident that happened- well all the poems in this collection are real life incidents.

What is your favourite place for writing poems from your notes or ideas? Now it’s at the kitchen table- wherever inspiration happens- after writing whenever I could with a big family- I can nearly write anywhere. Well nearly.

I must add that the dedication for this book goes to my great writing friends Janeen and Claire- both poets and both great encouragers along the twists and turns of the writing landscape.

Thanks Janeen for such perceptive questions and the opportunity to come and visit your blog.

Thanks Lorraine. We wish you well with this next wonderful, poetry offering. I am a great fan of your work!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

begun but not finished

Hello and welcome to my first blog post. Hope you enjoy it and visit often.

At a recent children's literary event in Adelaide, a boy told me about his ten stories. At least he'd begun ten stories. None were completed. What could he do? Does this scenario sound familiar? How many of us begin with a white fire idea only to have it fizzle out or us lose interest? What to do indeed. It was obvious the boy had set a pattern for himself. He'd grabbed something and taken it to a point and no further. My advice - because he asked for it- was to finish at least one piece. It didn't matter whether it was good, bad or ugly. It was the completion that was vital. Without giving a piece a shape he wouldn't be able to review it, rewrite it, or decide not to continue with it. I told him about bum glue; how we sometimes have to sit tight and work through the hard parts of writing. If we get up from the seat or give up all the time, we're going to be left feeling unsatisfied. That's not to say, we can't have lots of ideas in notebooks or waiting in line on computers. That's different.
I hope the boy now only has nine story beginnings.
What do you think?