Book People: Lorraine Marwood

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Lorraine Marwood is well known to many as an award winning poet and writer. Her novel Star Jumps’ won the 2010 Prime Ministers Award for Children’s Fiction and is a poignant verse novel depicting the joys and heartbreaks of a farming family as they struggle to cope with the devastating effects of long term drought; one which would make a topical read for young people age 8+ right now, with drought once again front of mind for many in Australia.  Like Star Jumps’, Lorraine’s latest novel, ‘Leave Taking’ is an exploration of farming life, vividly brought to life with exquisitely chosen words in verse novel form for readers 9+. The very best verse novels are fine examples of paring back words, until only the very heart of the story and raw emotion remain. My other favourite masters of this form are Kat Apel, Sally Murphy and Steven Herrick (click to read my reviews of their work).

Leave taking noun the act of saying goodbye.

Toby and his mum and dad are leaving their family farm after the death of Toby’s younger sister, Leah. Together, they sort through all their belongings and put things aside to sell or throw out. It’s a big task, and Toby doesn’t want to leave the only place he’s called home.  

As his last day on the farm approaches, Toby has a plan – a plan to say goodbye to all the things and places that mean something special to him and Leah, from the machinery shed to Pa’s old truck to the chook house. With the help of his best friend, Trigger the dog, he learns what it means to take your leave.

‘Leave Taking’ made me teary, and for many of us goodbyes are indeed emotional times, whether the goodbye is for a loved place of residence or adored family member, or in the case of ‘Leave Taking’, both. Ultimately hope and love filled, ‘Leave Taking’ left me with a beautiful sense that while taking leave and saying goodbye is a time of sadness and letting go, it is just as much a time for carefully collecting and cherishing memories which will bring gentle joy forevermore. Exquisite.

*Note: clearly the theme of grief is prevalent in ‘Leave Taking’ and with our own grief, I am conscious of the books my children read. I pondered this one with PudStar (10) but eventually snuck it into her bedside reading pile without a word. While she cannot yet talk about her own grief, I know that carefully chosen words by writers such as Lorraine Marwood form part of her grief journey. She read the book in one sitting, reviewed it in her homework reading journal and asked me to buy it for a friend of hers…sometimes I don’t need her to talk, it’s enough to know she is thinking (and yes, she had read what I’ve written here and not backspaced it!). For those who are concerned the themes may be upsetting, rest assured the words are gentle, age appropriate and ultimately this is an incredibly uplifting book and a perfect read for farm kid and city kids alike.

I am so very honoured Lorraine Marwood has joined us here today. Thank you Lorraine. 

Author Lorraine Marwood

Click on title or cover links to read more about books by Lorraine Marwood or to purchase.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Lorraine Marwood

  1. Tell us about your latest book.

‘Leave Taking’ is a verse novel I had to write.  The story of Toby and his grief had to be told in this verse format – the strength of narrative and the emotion of poetry worked so effectively together. My natural voice is poetry and the pared down way of writing poetry suits stories with an emotional centre. I love the way poetry provides such vivid word pictures and can put readers right in the action as a moment unfolds. The topic of grief is hugely emotional and draining but I believe it allows us to travel with Toby; to hiccup with tears when he does and to see that glimmer of hope and perspective shining like a pinprick of light in the distance.

The opening lines of this novel were written when we first left our dairy farm many years ago. I had no idea where the story was going and left it unvisited until I was recovering from a year-long treatment for cancer. Toby and I shared our grief together and the story grew. 

  1. How did you get started as a writer?

That’s an interesting question. I already knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 8 years old.  I loved reading, I loved getting into a world of my own. In high school I wrote a lot of poetry, typed the poems up and began sending them out to journals.  I was writing for an adult audience not for children then. As a teenager I began to get published. It was just sheer determination to follow my passion – no one showed me the way and I had no formal training in writing other than a flair, a desire. Over the years and many children later, I had written enough individual poems and was considered for a chapbook with Five Islands Press. Finally – I was in the world of wider publication. In the back of my mind I knew I always wanted to write for children and the switch to writing poetry for children came with submissions to ‘School Magazine’. From then on I persisted. I wrote and read and attended conferences, networked, joined writing organisations and went to workshops. And then I got my two other verse novels Star Jumps’ and ‘Ratwhiskers and Me’ published.

 What does a typical day look like for you?

Answering emails, playing ‘Words with Friends’ with a couple of my dear friends (sometimes they beat me soundly); using a writing book for warm-ups; snippets of lines; working on revisions or new material; walking my dog; housework; reading. I love reading the latest in Australian Children’s literature. If I have workshops or school visits coming up, then I am working on them, especially for big talks. I am a bit of a perfectionist here and perhaps do too much preparation. I love to craft in the late afternoon. I have a bevy of grandchildren so I am always working on something for them as gifts like Barbie clothes or felt hand-stitched animals, I love card making too and cooking and gardening- I feel creative time helps me to mull over snags in my writing or with plot (or so I tell myself and my husband).

 Can you describe your workspace for us?

We have just shifted into a smaller house but I have a small office with my faithful old desk and my Macbook Air open on it, surrounded by books, papers, a bookcase in the corner, sliding cupboards full of my notebooks from over the years, articles, stories and poems, and little trays labelled with half-finished manuscripts that I need to go back to, pull apart and rewrite or just finish. A goldfields print on the wall – I love history; gorgeous soaps in a little box that perfume my room; a handmade pottery vase (from one of my children) filled with pens, pencils, highlighters; a printer; a dogbed for my dog to sleep while I work; a window that looks out onto a new garden with succulents and plants from my old garden. I need another bookcase and some more of my precious collectables on a shelf.  I am a collector and not the tidiest of writers, but I have a little haven of treasures that ensures I’ll never run out of material to write about.

5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?

Yes. Writing when you can, keeping a diary or journal and writing down snatches of conversation or a funny thing that happened that day, are great ways to get writing, and also read, read, read.

If you can enter a writing competition do so- it’s great to get feedback and the discipline of actually getting a poem or story finished is an exhilarating feeling.

6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?

I love George MacDonald’s ‘The Princess and Curdie’, this book fired me up to be an author. I still aspire to write with a fantastical element there in my work- I think I have achieved that in my poetry but not my prose yet … I love the wonderful work of Australian authors like Glenda Millard, Claire Saxby, Janeen Brian, Katrina Nannestad (all good friends too) and love Cally Black’s ‘In the Dark Spaces’ as well which I’ve just finished reading. So many wonderful books out there to devour!

  1. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?

An encourager with literacy and a gardener. I’d teach more, work more with ESL adult literacy, keep more animals, walk more, do family history and heal through words.

  1. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

Ah I’m guilty of having silence while I write or work.  I think it has to do with growing a family of six children and working in snatches in between.  Food:  I love cooking vegies fresh from my garden and picking fruit from my trees.  I love cooking for family gatherings too.

  1. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

A lot, It is the sum of me; especially the farm life- raising a big family on a dairy farm is full of seasonal experiences.

A problem I solved in ‘Star Jumps’ actually had its origins in something I did as a child during a drought year. And in‘Leave Taking’  some of the places around the farm actually existed on our farm like Memorial Hill, the well, and the old red truck.

  1. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

To be still for a while, be thankful for the small things in life and keep hope alive every day through a little kindness or consideration for others. A smile goes a long way, it’s a very economical fuel source!

Thanks Lorraine!

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