Celebrating Australia – with Lorraine Marwood

Lorraine Marwood is one of Australia’s great poets. It is always a privilege to read her works, and enlightening to hear her insights. With the release of Lorraine’s new book, ‘Celebrating Australia – a year in poetry’, I asked Lorraine what brings a collection of poems together – looking at the challenge of variety in poems, balanced with editorial expectations. This is Lorraine’s fourth poetry collection for children, so I think she’s well qualified to answer that question. :)


Welcome, Lorraine! How wonderful to have you visit on my blog again. And what a varied collection this is. Such joyful celebration, but also solemnity and sweet sentiment. (I love your vibrant cover!)

Thanks Kat, always a challenge to pull a collection together and this one ‘Celebrations’ excited me. Of course I knew the backbone poems I would include would be the seasons, Easter, Christmas, New Year, Australia day. In fact the first poem I wrote was ‘Autumn’. This provided the progression and idea of ‘chapters’ in a poetry collection.

But my editor Mary and also Sarah Foster suggested celebrations that I might not know much about but were important to the concept of celebration in our multi cultural Australia: Chinese New Year, Bastille Day, Hanukah, Ramadan to name a few.

One of the challenging aspects was of course, maintaining a variety of formats and expressions, layout and language for my poems.

Some poems naturally suggested their own layout like ‘Talk like a pirate day.’ This was a rollicking fun piece of writing.

‘I’m reaching for my peg leg
I’m calling for my parrot
I’m pulling on my long boots’
© Lorraine Marwood

The immediacy of first person helped as well as researching words, ideas to do with pirates. Of course the sayings, quite cliché, made great rhythm for the structure of the poem.

The idea of ‘Celebration, a year in poetry,’ provided its own progression. But woven in with the fun, exuberant expressions are more sombre celebrations, that needed contemplation, reverence, Meditation. ‘Anzac day’, grief and memory poems fall into that category.

So the poems here were more lyrical and the choice of words more symbolic. I chose a rose to represent grief and memory and the strange thing was that as I edited my poems I was experiencing first hand grief, as my father finally extinguished his hold on life.

‘This rose grows both thorns and flowers
draws tears, spreads perfume..

And yes there is even a rhyming poem to fulfill all expectations across the poetic range.

Some poems were hard to make a beginning- once I have tone and point of view, I can more easily master the poetic aspects of the subject matter. Several poems were completely scrapped and written in a ‘more child friendly’ way- this was a directive from my editors. So Valentine’s day, Father’s day, Grandparents’ day all harked back to my own experiences or the vast experiences of my own children.

This is when all those scrapbooks of child- drawn cards and sentiments and sayings came into their own- Father’s day was written entirely from the prompt of one of my son’s cards to his dad.

Several poems like ‘Labour Day’, and ‘Walk to school day,’ were so hard to write- they didn’t have that chink of human entry, but I got there eventually.

One suggestion charged by my editors was to write a child- centered Nativity poem. So the Christmas poem I had, was tossed and I wrote a new child- centered experience. The boy chosen to take the part of the donkey, blew me away- what resulted was fun yet highly significant too. Sometimes being told to write a completely new poem has its own treasure- laden reward.

There is a balance between long poems and short poems, list poems, and gag poems, where I set the reader up for a surprise at the end and there are the seasons’ poems which follow the same format.

The last poem written was ‘Lullaby’- and I knew it was a fitting end to the collection. There are generic poems as well, what I mean by that is that they fit the shape of the many ways we tend to celebrate in Australia; like barbeque, decorations and birthdays.

Of course we had to have left field celebrations like ‘International dot day,’ which provide unexpected new ideas to explore.


Lorraine threw down the gauntlet with this blog tour, and has invited a number of her poet friends to complete a Seasonal Celebration Challenge. (I’m a little daunted by what I read on Jackie Hoskings Blog yesterday. Gorgeous, Jackie!)

As Lorraine explains, the challenge is this…

Here is the poem ‘Autumn’ and the challenge is to write your own version either of autumn or substitute a celebration like a birthday, Christmas , a memory, a special day in the calendar that means something to you. Below is my seasonal poem on autumn and for the remaining seasons in the book I followed the same patterning, of words, line breaks etc.

Read through this poem.

Autumn is loud crushing sounds
a foot scuffing rap-tapping shuffle.
One day a light dusting
of pathway obstruction
by week’s end a whole mound
of slip, slide, crunch, crackle.

Autumn is loud splashing colours
a yellow, rust, tangerine explosion.
One day a brightness in twos, threes
of pathway palette,
by week’s end a whole Monet mosaic
of buffs, shades, tints and silhouettes.

© Lorraine Marwood

Now chose your topic, remember the suggestions above.

• Brainstorm- if it’s autumn you choose: think colours, events, weather, your reaction to autumn.

Write all those words down- look up words to do with autumn, think of different words for yellow or brown- I love the word tangerine and have used it here. Poetry is unusual words that sound great and provide word pictures. Even look to photos, calendars, magazines; online for visual representations of your subject matter, you are trying to surprise and entertain your reader with a new perspective of a tried and true celebration.

• Now write the first line of my poem in your notebook. Pattern the words- for example:

Autumn is
Birthdays are
Celebration is
Christmas is
Holidays are

• Now add the sounds of your subject- three words only. And that’s the first line done.

• Second line actually goes into detail of the sounds of autumn (or whatever subject matter you’ve chosen), details are so important to the vibrancy of your poem.
a foot scuffing rap-tapping shuffle

• Again the same patterning.
Begin with ‘a’ then five words to make the musicality of the sound impact on the reader.

• Third line, so begin this line with ‘one day’, then add your four words
One day a light leafy dusting

• Fourth line ‘of pathway obstruction’. Here whatever you chose to flow on from the third line and it’s a line identifying place- where the sound is happening, will be used in the second stanza with just the last word changing. So it’s three words using ‘of’ as your beginning word.

• Fifth Line ‘by week’s end a whole mound’ this is a time frame line showing the change in autumn as it progresses with ‘by week’s end’ again repeated in the second stanza with the last three words different.

• Sixth line ‘of slip, slide, crunch, crackle’. So we are honing into the premise of the first line of ‘loud crashing sounds’ and providing a final explosion of sound (don’t repeat any sound words you’ve used before though)

• Now to the final stanza- same patterning but this time the focus is on colour.
How did you go?
Was it hard to write? Are you surprised by the results?

I chose to do a Queensland-take on Autumn – because we don’t tend to experience autumn as such. We have an extended summer… and overnight it’s suddenly winter. Although it just a quickly switches back to summer… then winter…  and that’s what I was hoping to capture.

BUT… I found it difficult to work with those extreme contrasts, whilst keeping it sensory… and following the rules. (Though it is possible my head is also very busy at the moment…) So, I’m not really happy with my attempt, and thought about writing anotherie on a completely different subject – but I decided I’d be honest, and put my Autumn poem out there, flaws and all.

A Queensland Autumn

Autumn is ummmm … undecided;
a clinking of coat hangers shuffled.
One day huffing and hissing
of sunshine’s sizzle,
by week’s end a leafy pom-pom pizzazz
of swish, sway, rah-rah rustling.

Autumn is heat-haze blown away.
a shuffling of summer winter outlooks.
One day a brilliance; searing sharp contrast
of sun-baked vibrance,
by week’s end a festive carnival crowd
of mismatched, multi-hued, musty winter woolies.

© Kathryn Apel

As to my writing process… This is a screenshot of my document, with ‘must have’ bits underlined, and number of additional words required in brackets – and Lorraine’s showpiece off to the side, because otherwise I was always flicking across to be sure I was doing it right!

-Users-KatApel-Desktop-Screenshots 2015-03-02 at 6.11.20 pmAnd finally, a pic, with the lovely Lorraine, when we finally met in person, as she was travelling around Queensland, just as this collection was almost finalised, last year. 

Wonderful to meet Lorraine Marwood at last!

Wonderful to meet Lorraine Marwood at last!

Thank-you for sharing your tips with us, Lorraine – and for your poetry challenge, which I’m sure others would love to try at home – or at school. And if you do try this at home/school, we’d love to see what it prompts, so feel free to share in the comments below.

Kat, it is always special to have a fellow poet and friend host a blog tour. Thank you!


2nd March Jackie Hosking: Topic: What makes a good poem ( according to LM)

3rd March Kathryn Apel: Topic: Bringing a poetry collection together

4th March Rebecca Newman: Topic: Researching for poetry writing

5th March Claire Saxby: Topic: Inside this collection

6th March Janeen Brian: Topic: How you create for the creators: how you create ideas to excite children and adults to write poems of their own.

9th March Alphabet Soup: Topic: Writing a class poem – the results!

One Minute Till Bedtime

Last year I was quite chuffed to be approached by U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, Kenn Nesbitt, inviting me to submit poetry for consideration in an upcoming poetry anthology, One Minute Till Bedtime. That felt pretty momentous. -Users-KatApel-Desktop-Screenshots 2015-02-17 at 10.45.45 am

I was thrilled when Kenn then got in touch to say that two of my poems, ‘My Dad’ and ‘School Bus’ were selected for inclusion. I hadn’t expected that!

One Minute Till Bedtime will be published spring (in the USofA) 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It will be my first foray in to the American publishing market…

That’s pretty exciting. :)


Introducing a Character… Toby

-Users-KatApel-Desktop-Screenshots 2015-02-06 at 5.36.25 pm

Wise and wonderful Wendy Orr, tagged me for a blog post about one of my characters. She followed it up with that evil laugh – but when I skipped across and checked out her blog post on Nim, I was quite excited to be asked. What a great way to get a bit of perspective on your character! (Be sure to read Wendy’s post for lots of fascinating insights into Nim.)

But here I am. I’m ‘It’.  Continue reading

We’re On Track

Phew! What a hugely busy couple of months. Since signing the contract with UQP for my next verse novel we have been busybusyBUSY to get it out at its best for a May 27 release date. I don’t think I’ve ever written so many words under such immense pressure before.

When I subbed ‘On Track’ to UQP, it was a 12,000wrd verse novel. I knew it would need some development, but I also knew that UQP would offer feedback to highlight gaps and  maximise this story. I knew it would grow… and it did. I had no idea it would grow so much! I don’t think anyone else did, either. But once we started on the process, it just kept growing… and growing… and growing! This week it went off to typesetters, at 17,300wrds. That blows me away – because actually, that’s just a lot of words, fullstop for someone who used to get speed wobbles at 600wrds – and whose previous best was 7000wrds.

So, what have I learnt during this process? Most of it’s about me, as a writer.

1)  I don’t write well under pressure. I polish and perfect as I go, writing few, perfectly placed words. I cut much more than I write in a day… and I need a lot of head space, and a lot of time to get up and walk away. Much of my creativity happens when I’m not writing. When I’m under pressure, I can’t walk away, because words have to be written.

2) I like a clean page. A clear computer screen. An uncluttered Word document. I LOVE tracked changes and comments, in so far as they give precise feedback… but I loathe working on a document that has coloured highlights and lines criss-crossing the page. Somehow I can no longer see/read a poem in its entirety when the page is marked by colours – the poem becomes broken into chunks and it doesn’t flow visually. To me, a poem is so much more than the words – its their placement on the page, and their interaction with the other words within the poem. And coloured highlights/lines seem to break my concentration.

3)  If I write/edit too intensely, my eyes are going to suffer. After one particularly torrid time, I had burning blurry eyes for a week and could not see to read a book. Which is why this post about keeping healthy as a writer, from TJ Withers-Ryan, leapt out at me. After having to resort to a magnifying sheet just to read (for pleasure) and spinning out on hubby’s glasses (too magnified for me) I swallowed my pride and invested in my own set of reading glasses. Once the pressure of edits lifted, so too did the eyestrain. But I’m now mindful of looking away from the screen, blinking more often, and have even employed a second screen, so that I can 1) increase the magnification on my screen, and spread the documents over two pages, but also 2) vary the depth I’m focused on – sometimes at my laptop screen and sometimes a little further to the big screen.

(To be honest, there was a time there when I took over the kitchen table and had TWO additional screens hooked up to my laptop, to get my head around editorial feedback, tracked changes and my working document. But that’s a brain thing, not an eye-strain thing…)

You are by now thinking that I am a little bit ‘precious’ as a writer… and I’m beginning to think you could be right! Not that I’m precious about *what* I write – because I love feedback and advice that helps make me a better writer… but about *how* I write. Who knew? I knew I needed quiet. But the rest?…? News to me, actually. (I’ve always liked the quiet. Over the sweltering summer months when I had to get edits done, I was very distracted by the jet-engine that was responsible for moving stifling hot air around in my writing space. I don’t know what was worse… the fan… or the heat! (I certainly spent a lot of time flicking between the two!))

4) I write spare/sparse. Which means that setting and character appearance isn’t always developed in early drafts. As my editor kindly pointed out and persisted with until I’d fixed.

Though I’d consciously developed setting in ‘On Track’ (because this was an area I’d had to work on during the edits for ‘Bully on the Bus’) this was done well in new and unfamiliar environments in the book, but the initial setting was not so well established – though we fixed this during the editorial process.

And it was just three weeks ago that my lovely editor asked me, ‘Do Toby and Shaun look alike? You’ve never actually said.’ Errr… Good point. I’m not so focused on the physical appearances – but we fixed that… subtly.

5)  I haven’t quite nailed my usage of the semi-colon, the ellipsis, the colon and the en dash. (Though I’m not a great lover of the colon – and love the others to excess.) But thankfully, I have an editor and she’s nailed me on all of them. I’m hoping to study up on these and hopefully get it better next time round, if I haven’t completely confuddled my brain during the process. (Sometimes my brain is like that. I determine to learn something and never get it wrong again, and as a consequence, thereafter get it wrong every time…)

6) Sometimes there is more than one way to tell a story – that whilst I have the bones, I may have put the leg bone where the arm bone belongs, and vice-versa. And while it may almost tie my head in knots, the satisfaction in knowing 1) I did it, and 2) the story is so much better as a result… that is a wonderful feeling! (The feelings until that moment are somewhat freaky. Especially when you know you can’t go back… and you just can’t quite see the end of the way forward.)

Edits Tweet

7)  And I learnt that I do indeed love verse novels! They are immensely satisfying for me as a writer. I love the visual beauty as the words find their perfect place on the page. And I love the song of a story unfolding and the cadence of words carefully weighted. I’m moved to tears many times in the writing of them, because somehow, verse novels touch that vulnerable part of me – that part that makes me seesaw between will I or won’t I show you what I’ve written…

Sooo… I learnt heaps during the edits of ‘On Track’. Perhaps the biggest thing being that, even though I don’t LIKE to write under pressure, in fact, I can, and did. And with the right questions and comments (the right lovely editor!) I can take a story that’s been in my heart for 9 years, and develop it, add flesh and colour, so that it’s real for others, also. Of course, the editorial process also confirms that I still have much to learn about writing verse novels. Which, I guess means… I should write some more! And that may not be a hardship at all.

I’m delighted to share the sporty cover design that was also finalised during the busy month of January. So effective in its simplicity! Jo Hunt designed my beautiful ‘Bully on the Bus’ cover, and she’s done another great job here.

On Track

Still much to do before release day, but we’re on track! I couldn’t have done my part in the edits without the oh-so-lovely and equally-knowledgeable editor. Thank-you! x

Post It Note Poetry – 1 & 2

January is traditionally my Month of Poetry. But this year my January was focused on edits (that’s a post that’s coming soon…) so that while I was reading, editing and writing poetry – I didn’t enjoy the creative play with new forms that has typified my January for the past 6 years.

But with edits away, I was flicking through my tweet stream on 1st February and noticed #PostItNotePoetry appearing pretty regularly. I was ready to play! The guidelines are here, thanks to Adam Byatt (@revhappiness);  https://afullnessinbrevity.wordpress.com. I’m a rule-breaker from the start – because I’m writing my poems on Stickies and tweeting screenshots. Because that is me!

Day One:

-Users-KatApel-Desktop-Screenshots 2015-02-01 at 8.12.16 pm

Day Two:

A found poem, inspired by my tweeps. (The title comes from Abi Elphinstone’s tweet.)

-Users-KatApel-Desktop-Screenshots 2015-02-02 at 7.31.34 pm