Archive for May 2nd, 2009

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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