Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Love Verse Novels

I am a big fan of the verse novel. Until Stephen Herrick's Cold Skin (2008) landed in my reviewer pile, I had never read one. I thought they were full of poetry. And while I like poetry, I never seem to have the time it requires from me.

But a review is a job (although a really fun one!) - and the cover was particularly striking - so I started reading. An hour and a half later I had finished. The verse novel might be poetry but in its most readable form. Rather than being daunting, it is very accessible. In fact, a verse novel is a book of with many very short chapters to be read with little bites or a long buffet style feast.

Immediately after reading Cold Skin, I sought out Herrick's backlist. Lonesome Howl remains a favourite - great cover, great story, haunting words. And then I sought out even Herrick himself. I was a true convert.

I moved along to read as many verse novels as possible. My favourites so far - excluding the two already mentioned - Irini Savviddes Against the Tide, Sally Murphy's Pearl Verses the World and Steven Herrick's Do Wrong Ron. On my deskto read next is Lorraine Marwood's latest, Starjumps. I'm already entranced by the cover. And on my to read list asap is Sherryl Clark's Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not), CBCA 2008 Honour Book for Young Readers.

So far I haven't made it outside Australia - so many verse novels to catch up with before I head overseas. I'll keep you posted and in the interim - my interview with Steven Herrick. And just in case anyone wants to ask, am I going to write one? *sigh* I would love to have a go but so many other ideas are calling I don't think I have enough time left in life.

The Verse Master - reprinted from The Reading Stack (March 2008)
The author of over ten verse novels, short listed many times for the CBCA Book of the Year, Steven Herrick is undoubtedly Australia’s master of the verse novel. I asked him whether he found young readers reluctant to try a format readily associated with poetry. He explained that while some were hesitant, once they read the first few pages, they were generally hooked. “Many teenage boys, in particular, have told me they really enjoyed the economy of words – they were into the story before they knew it.”

Steven’s comment describes my own experience perfectly. I picked up Cold Skin, attracted by the striking and sinister cover. I’d never read a verse novel before. I was intrigued, so I read a few pages immediately. Soon, I was totally engrossed. Verse novels are high impact. The reader automatically develops a close personal relationship with the narrators. The stream of dialogue makes the verse novel very confronting. At the same time it is like being in a conversation. Very accessible. And so is Steven himself. You can hear him on YouTube and he is a regular performer touring from North Queensland to Tasmania to Croatia, Spain and the Netherlands. “I think my job is two-fold – to write poetry and perform it.”

Steven writes verse novels for a wide audience. I recently read Do Wrong Ron, the story of a boy who can do nothing right until he meets Charlie the guinea pig and lonely Isabelle. Together they plan something special for Isabelle’s nana. This is a wonderful story of friendship and working together. Lonesome Howl is a novel for young adult readers, the story of two children on isolated farms learning to overcome prejudice as they search for the mythical wolf. It is a story of family – its strengths and weaknesses.

I asked Steven about his preferred target audience. Not only did he not have one, it was irrelevant to him. “What I’m trying to do is write a coherent story with interesting characters. The fact that those characters might be ten years old, or eighteen, or eighty doesn’t change my priority… which is to get inside their head and enjoy spending time with them.” Steven’s novels do more than that. They place us all inside his characters’ heads.

In the murder mystery Cold Skin there are nine narrators – young and old, victim and suspect, family and strangers, enemies and friends. But no matter what category each might fall into, we know them equally well. As we read each page, we are hearing them speak directly to us. “I wanted to write about how one incident can have such a profound effect on the whole ommunity,” Steven said. What better way to do it than to allow us to directly look through so many eyes.

1 comment:

wellreadrabbit said...

Time or not, Sandy, your passion for verse novels and their form means I wouldn't be surprised if one day a story comes to you that would best be told in verse. I'm a recent convert myself (as a reader, not writer!) but haven't read Stephen Herrick. He's now on my reading list - thanks!

PS. You'll LOVE Sixth Grade Style Queen...

Katherine

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