Archive for May, 2009

star jumps cover 1239062684026To celebrate the release this week of her beautiful new verse novel, “Star Jumps” (It comes out today in fact), Lorraine Marwood has dropped in to give us some writing tips.

As a former judge of the Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards, can you tell us a bit about what the experience meant to you as a poet?

It meant enjoying the poetry of many age groups, some around a theme, some a class writing activity, some an individual experience recorded in poetry. I could read what was important to children, I could see what skills they were developing and this was across the schools of Australia and from early years to secondary years. The website still contains reports from Claire Saxby and my experience as judges- always good to read.

Do you have any tips for writers wishing to enter their poetry in awards/competitions?

Try and steer clear of clichés, of what everyone else is writing, that individual simile or line will stop the judge and refresh her eyes and poetic soul. In short it will stand out from other poets, because you have used specific details or created a sensory memory, or given emotion in the poem.

Did you write poetry as a child? Was any of it published? Can you give us an example of one of the poems you wrote as a child?

Writing was something I knew I had to do at age 9 or 10. Poetry did not even enter my head! I wrote poetic prose, that was until I was a teenager, then angst poetry slipped in. I was beginning to be published in small literary magazines before I was married.(21) Here’s a poem I tried for children when I was 20… is that still a child???


Spider, spider spinning in the air

reaching, sliding

on an invisible stair.


One leg steady as a ship’s rudder

the other’s grasping , clinging

like teats in a cow’s udder!!!!

Lorraine, what are the elements of a good poem?

It has something to say which is universal and will resonate with the reader. It has to have a fresh perspective, a new angle, the layering of specific details, sensory impact and the sigh factor at the end of the poem…Ah!

Thanks for dropping in Lorraine. To find out more about Lorraine and her work, vist www.lorrainemarwood.com

For a review of Lorraine’s gorgeous new verse novel, “Star Jumps”, go to http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com


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The Goanna Island Mystery cover edited

Dale Harcombe, author of The Goanna Island Mystery has dropped in for a chat about how she wrote the book – and she has some tips on how she writes.

The Goanna Island Mystery is a great read for those who enjoy suspense and interesting characters.

I asked Dale some questions on how she wrote this book.

Welcome Dale.

1.    Have you ever wanted to be a pirate?

No, I can’t say I ever wanted to be a pirate. I did grow up watching movies like Errol Flynn as Captain Blood and similar type movies. My mum was a big Errol Flynn fan.

2.    Is any part of the story based on something that really happened?

I once was taken by a friend to an island in Sydney Harbour that had a house with a room that we could see from outside, but when we got inside the house we couldn’t find the way into the room. Mind you, that was about 40 years ago! But when I started to think about this story I knew that house with the secret room would figure somehow. It had been just waiting for the right time.

3.    Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?

No, my attitude is like that of Leo.I don’t believe in ghosts. At least I don’t think I do.I’ve never had to test it out. I do believe there are evil spirits. Maybe they masquerade as ghosts?

4.    Do you know anyone who collects heads?

No, I know no-one who collects heads but my daughter once made a sculpture of a head.

5.    What elements do you think make a good scary story?

A mystery, a surprise that takes the story in a bit different direction, and tension. Humour is good too  you can do it, I’m not sure I can.

6.    How did you come up with the idea for the story? Do you think it’s important to plot your story first – or to start writing and see where it takes you?

I started with the island and a child that couldn’t swim. Then suddenly the secret room appeared in my mind and most kids always like the idea of pirates and of ghosts. So combining them seemed an interesting idea. It was one of those things that just came together without plotting beforehand.- something I don’t do. I follow the character and the story and see where it takes me.

7.    Did you have the ending worked out before you started writing?

No I never have an ending worked out when I start for the above reason. If I knew the ending I wouldn’t want to bother writing it. I write to see how it will end.

8.    What parts of the plot do you think help build the tension in the story?

 The dare thrown out to Leo of going over to the island, the fact he couldn’t swim to get off the island but had to spend the night, the secret room, the rumours of a pirate ghost, the table covered with heads, the face staring back at him

9.    Is there an island that is special to you?

Only the island we live on. I think Australia is the most amazing country and I’m glad I was born here and would never want to live anywhere else. 

 Thanks for visiting Dale. Hope you’ll call in again.
If you want to find out more about Dale and her book, The Goanna Island Mystery, make sure you drop into the other great blogs she’ll be visiting on her tour.
Monday 25th May – https://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com (that’s here!)
Tuesday 26th May
Wednesday 27th May
Thursday 28th May
Friday 29th May

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The Goanna Island Mystery cover edited

The Goanna Island Mystery

By Dale Harcombe

Published by Aussie School Books Pty Ltd


PB RRP $9.95

Leo Johns can never resist a dare, but when school bully Mark dares him to go to haunted Goanna Island, Leo could be taking on more than he can handle.

Sketch book under his arm, Leo heads for Goanna Island.  He has never believed in ghosts, but the white face at the window, and the secret room full of heads might be just enough to persuade him that ghosts really do exist.

In The Goanna Island Mystery, Dale Harcombe skilfully builds up the suspense using active language, and drawing the reader in until they can feel Leo’s fear.

Simple realistic dialogue helps paint a detailed picture of the characters, and moves the action along. Dillon Naylor’s simple illustrations convey all the emotion and suspense of the story.

The Goanna Island Mystery is another great read from Aussie School Books. It has enough action to keep young readers engaged, and its length and complexity offer an opportunity to help build reader confidence. The book also touches on relevant themes of bullying, belonging and loyalty.

Any kid who enjoys suspense and mystery will find The Goanna Island Mystery hard to put down.

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Sally Murphy’s new verse novel, Pearl Verses the World, made me realise that we all have poetry in our hearts we just need someone like Pearl’s granny to help us find it


In this beautifully told story about a little girl facing big issues, Granny tells Pearl:

A poem comes

when it is needed

and writes itself

in the way it needs to get

its point across.


And Pearl needs poetry to help her get through the hard things that are happening in her life – the illness of her granny, being accused of stealing someone’s boyfriend, and clashing with her teacher over poetry that doesn’t rhyme.


When you read Pearl Verses the World, you feel as if Pearl sat on author Sally Murphy’s knee and spoke to her – asking for her story to be told.  Murphy shows a deep understanding of what it’s like to be a young child, trying to find your place in a changing world.


This effortlessly crafted story will appeal to anybody who knows what it’s like to feel as if everyone else belongs, but you are just ‘a group of one’. The author uses simplicity to convey great depth, and it’s clear that each word has had to earn its place in this story.


Young readers of Pearl Verses the World will connect with Pearl, be engaged by her humour, admire her courage and have hope for her future.


This review is also on http://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com together with a classroom writing activity provided by Sally Murphy.



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Aussie author Sally Murphy is visiting again today, to talk to us about her wonderful new verse novel, “Pearl Verses the World”. Sally is also going to share some tips with us on how she writes.

sally-murphy-recent1. Why did you decide to write Pearl as a verse novel rather than straight narrative?

I had wanted to write a verse novel for some time – it was on my list of vague ‘to-dos’. I loved the form and thought that one day I would sit down, really study the form in detail, look for books or articles on writing the verse novel and then eventually sit down and have a go at one myself.

In reality, this isn’t what happened. Instead, the story came to me in verse from, and so that is how I wrote it. When the verses first started coming, I didn’t realise I was going to sit down and write a verse novel. But as Pearl spoke to me, the novel started to form and so I sat down and wrote it. At times during the writing process I did second guess myself, wondering whether the verse was really good enough, but in the end, when I worked up the courage to submit, it was accepted.

2. Is Pearl based on anyone you know?

No. Pearl isn’t really anyone I know, although I suppose there are things about her which remind me of myself. As a child I often felt like a group of one, always feeling different from my classmates It was only when I grew up that I realised every child feels this way sometimes.

3. How did you get to know Pearl? Did you interview her at the start and do a profile, or did she just evolve as you wrote the story?

Pearl wouldn’t leave me alone. For such a young girl, she was very persistent in making sure I wrote down her story. There was no profiling or planning involved – she just told me what she wanted me to know. This makes me sound a little weird, I know, but it’s just how it was, with this character coming to me, and then me needing to figure out what her story was.

Whenever I felt blocked I would stop writing and wait for her to let me know what was next. And she always came through.

4. Do you have any tips for developing a character that readers can relate to?

You have to believe in your character. Okay, perhaps your characters don’ HAVE To talk to you like Pearl did to me, but you have to feel they are real. One thing that can be useful in getting to know them is to write from their perspective as a free writing exercise. Start with ‘I’ and let them lead the writing. You will find you write things about your characters that you didn’t know you knew.

5. Did you plot the story before you started writing, or did the story just develop as your characters developed?

No, I didn’t plot. I wrote the first part down as it came to me, and then one day I decided it was time to start moulding these connected ‘bits’ into a novel. I did need to do some hard thinking at times about what would happen next. It was especially important that I figured out why Pearl was so sad, and also how she could confront that sorrow.

6. What is the hardest thing about finishing a book?

Knowing when it is finished. First, when you write the last word of a draft, you have to stop yourself from feeling that it is finished Many writers (myself included) finish that first draft and desperately want to send it out. But you can’t.

You need to leave it for a week, a month – or as long as you can bear – and then revise it, and revise again until it is perfect.

7. How did you know that the story of Pearl was finished?

When I could sit and read it without wanting to change a word here, a line here. I did find it hard to find the courage to submit the manuscript – because I had invested a lot into the story emotionally and was very scared of rejection.

8. How important was setting to your story – and how did you interweave it with the plot?

As I wrote the book I wasn’t overly conscious of developing a specific setting. As I revised, I realised this was a good thing – Pearl’s school is a school, the church is a church and so on. This story could be happening anywhere. The exception is perhaps Pearl’s house, which I wanted to portray as being a comfy, but modest home, because that encapsulates Pearl’s family.

With the house we get the feeling of a well-loved garden, and house which has been a loving home to these three characters. This is done not through describing the house, but through hints at things like Granny’s bench in the garden and the kitchen sink which overlooks that garden.

9. How did you get your first book published?

I spent many years writing manuscripts and seeking publication. In the end, my very first book was accepted almost by chance. I am a qualified teacher and I saw an advertisement in the employment pages for teachers to write educational materials. I got the information, wrote a proposal and, soon after, received a contract to write a book of educational activities.

My first fiction title took longer, and by then I had written more manuscripts than I care to mention. My first trade title, Doggy Duo, was written carefully to the series guidelines for the Banana Splits series by Banana Books.

I submitted the carefully edited manuscript to the publisher and it was accepted. I was delighted, of course I now have twenty-eight educational and trade titles in print and more accepted. But I still have many manuscripts which haven’t yet found publishers.

10. Your story deals with some intense heartfelt issues.

How did you convey these in your story? I think through the use of the first person voice. For this story, I don’t think I could have conveyed the same level of emotion without using Pearl’s voice.pearlcover

We are taken inside Pearl’s head, and her whirling thoughts – her confusion, her sorrow, her anger. I think, too, that Heather Potter’s gorgeous illustrations manage to add to this emotion. I am so glad Walker decided this should be an illustrated book, and that Heather was chosen as the illustrator.

Thanks for visiting again Sally, and for sharing some valuable ‘secrets’ on how you write such wonderful books.

To find out more about Sally and her gorgeous new book, don’t forget to visit the other places she’ll be touring:

May 1 Spinning Pearls http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com

May 2 The Writing Life www.bjcullen.blogspot.com

May 3 Tips for Young Writers  www.tips4youngwriters..wordpress.com

May 4 Persnickety Snark http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com

May 5 Let’s Have Words www.letshavewords.blogspot..com

May 6 Just listen Book Reviews http://justlistenbookreviews.blogspot.com/

May 7 Look at That Book http://lookatthatbook.blogspot.com

May 8 Write and Read With Dale http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/

May 9 Tales I Tell http://belka37.blogspot.com/

May 10 Robyn Opie’s Writing Children’s Books http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com


You can visit Sally online at her website hhtp://www.sallymurphy.net,  or her blog http://www.sallymurphy.blogspot.com/ and Pearl Verses the World can be purchased online at:




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