Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The Goanna Island Mystery
written by Dale Harcombe, illustrated by Dillon Naylor, published by Aussie School Books Pty Ltd 2008

Across the sandbar from the mainland lies Goanna Island. Legend has it that the ghost of a pirate haunts this tiny island. But Leo, new boy to the area, doesn’t really believe in ghosts, that is, until he is challenged by Mark, the local school bully, to visit the place alone. A pale face peering at him from a window of the old house with a tin roof, piques Leo’s curiosity. The bully is forgotten as Leo musters all his cunning and courage to uncover the truth of the mystery of the island - and the even more important truth that the Marks of his world have forever lost their power over him.

Good Morning Dale!
Welcome to this third stopover on your blog tour of ‘The Goanna Island Mystery’
Thank you Mabel, I am delighted to be here.

When I read 'The Goanna Island Mystery' it occurred to me themes play an important role in holding a story together … so today I'd like to focus on the themes that filter through your stories. But let me begin with the more general question: How would you describe a theme and what role do themes play in a story.

Dale: The theme is the underlying idea behind the book.

Tell me about the themes in 'The Goanna Island Mystery'.

Dale: There are several themes in 'The Goanna Island Mystery'. One of them was fear and overcoming fear. One is bullying and the loneliness some kids feel without friends or because of changed family circumstances. Another is dealing with loss.

For you, is the choice of theme/s apparent from the moment you begin to think about the story or do theme emerge from the writing process itself.

Dale: I don't know that I'd thought about the themes when I started to write the story. Sometimes they only become apparent afterwards or as the story unfolds and I see where it takes me.

You have written a number of books. To what extent can you identify recurring themes that run through much of your writing?

Dale: As I think about what I've written, both published and unpublished to this point, I think I tend to see the recurring themes of the child or adult who doesn't fit in - or is a bit different in some way. I find I tend to use creative people like artists and musicians etc a lot in my work , perhaps for that reason. Dealing with loss comes in quite a bit and also dealing with fear is another theme as it is something we all have in various forms whether that fear is of the water, the unknown as in 'The Goanna Island Mystery', of spiders and things that creep and crawl as in 'Red Alert'! or fear of rejection and ridicule.

Mm! I noted Ebenezer who becomes a kind of mentor or substitute parent to Leo (your main character) is an artist. Describe, if you can, an ‘aha’ moment you've experienced as you reread a published book and uncovered a theme OR had a reader/reviewer reveal something you had not previously noticed was there.

Dale: In 'Pick Me', a story I wrote that was published in School Magazine, a fellow writer commented on how clever and appropriate the name of the character was because all his life the boy wanted a dog. But then he had to find exactly the right one. The boy’s name was Hunter. I didn't think about it as wrote it. Only that it felt like the right name. In ‘The Goanna Island Mystery’ Leo was the perfect name for brave boy overcoming his fear. It brings images of Leo the lion. And lions are strong and the kings of the jungle. Of course, knowing me, I probably also had images of the courage of Leo who took the pack mark and helped Sydney Swans win the 2005 Grand final as well.

Is there a question you wished I’d asked but didn’t?

Dale: Can't think of one, Mabel, Thanks for asking the questions you did. It made me think about some things I hadn't thought about before - like theme.

It's been good to have you here, Dale. I hope you will drop in again for a chat. I'll look forward to following you on the rest of your blog tour.

I now invite you to join children's author, Dale Harcombe in her journey and discussions of her book: 'The Goanna Island Mystery' on other blog sites. Don't forget to leave a comment on each site. Bloggers like to know you've visited their site.

Here is Dale's itinerary:
Mon 25 Dee White at
Tue 26 Sally Murphy at
Wed 27 Mabel Kaplan at[That’s right here!]
Thu 28 Claire Saxby at
Fri 29 Sandy Fussell at
Mon 1 June Sally Odgers

You can also catch up with Dale on her own sites:
Write and read with Dale

Thank you all for checking in!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Story tellers All!
A Cautionary Tale: Watch what stories you tell your children.

For those of you working with story in community, I recently came upon an interesting study on how the themes emerging in family stories changed according to which parent was doing the telling and the gender of the child being told. []

Story telling as a family activity provides a window into important themes of group membership such as intimacy, power, and individual responsibility. As an activity, family stories are an opportunity to share family values and lessons in growing up and aids in the construction of meaning and understanding of the social world.

Parents were asked to tell their son or daughter stories about when the parent was growing up. Stories were coded for the strength of affiliation, achievement, and autonomy themes. Fathers told stories with stronger autonomy themes than did mothers, and sons were more likely to hear stories with themes of autonomy than were daughters. An interaction was found between gender type of parent and gender of child for strength of achievement theme. Family stories are one aspect of socialization that includes an interaction between child and parent characteristics.

It is interesting to note that the study also suggested that, through narratives, mothers may socialize emotion differently to boys and girls. In recounting past events, mothers were more likely to tell stories of anger to their sons and stories of sadness to their daughters A general finding suggests females tend to frame experiences along lines of affiliative themes and males tend to frame experiences along lines of achievement. Themes of affiliation and achievement play an important part in the development of personal identity.

This study focused on how the way parent's tell their children family stories may be one avenue for the socialization of achievement and affiliation.


Next Wednesday May 27, as part of her blog tour to promote her newly
released children’s chapter book: The Goanna Island Mystery published
by Aussie School Books, I will be talking with Dale Harcombe right here about the themes that carry the story.

I invite you to join Dale in her journey and discussions of The Goanna Island Mystery on these blogspots:
Mon 25 Dee White at
Tue 26 Sally Murphy at
Wed 27 Mabel Kaplan at [That’s right here!]
Thu 28 Claire Saxby at
Fri 29 Sandy Fussell at

The notion of themes in fiction writing is one I find very interesting. So I question myself, as I will Dale, what do I mean by themes and what role do themes play in a story.
It is easy to underestimate the value of themes - and think of them in the somewhat nebulous way of textbook English as the ‘big ideas’ - and leave them to find their own way in the story. But what if the theme then gets lost in the excitement and action of the plot? A great opportunity is lost! A theme is what underlies and supports the story idea. It is what gives the story the depth that keeps the reader engaged. It is in essence what the characters in the story tell us about the human condition.

What is needed is a strong marriage between character and theme. Rather than a story about courage, the story is about character who demonstrates what being courageous is. It shows the situations in which X finds him/herself behaving in a courageous manner, what motivates him/her. It allows the writer and reader to predict the character's reactions to particular events and how these drive the story.

Imagine a hard working family who become unexpectantly rich when an old aunt dies. A nephew uses his share of the money to help his neighbours; a niece uses her share to gamble for greater riches - and, we have a story driven by the themes of generosity and greed.

The themes keep the story on track and determine what is important to the story and what can be left out. The story becomes less about generosity or greed and more about a character who is generous and a character who is greedy. Thus, the characters, their actions and reactions, and plot will be moved forward by the themes. Behind the excitement of the action and the charisma of the characters, good stories carry a layer which explores what it is to be human.

If next time you sit down with a book, you think about what is at stake for the characters as they face each situation, not only will you have enriched your understanding of the story, but you will have gained insight into the author's view of the human condition

Sorcha Ni Dhomhnaill [] in an article on the Role of Theme in Fiction writes: Theme is usually the particular situation the author wanted to write about that formed the beginning kernel of the story. Nearly every word you read in a story will work in some way to expand the theme, usually without mentioning it explicitly. Some level of ambiguity in the presentation of a theme is preferred because authors do not want fictional situations to read like a philosophical tract or a debate, only to illustrate its consequences on the story and characters.


Friday, May 8, 2009


INTRODUCING Pearl Verses the World:
a verse novel written by Western Australian author, Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter and published by Walker Books May 2009

A moving illustrated verse novel about a girl dealing with isolation at school, and with her grandma’s illness at home.At school, Pearl feels as though she is in a group of one. Her teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme but Pearl’s poems don’t. At home, however, Pearl feels safe and loved, but her grandmother is slowly fading, and so are Mum and Pearl. When her grandmother eventually passes away, Pearl wants life to go back to the way it was and refuses to talk at the funeral. But she finds the courage to deliver a poem for her grandmother that defies her teacher’s idea of poetry – her poem doesn’t rhyme; it comes from the heart.A powerful and moving story about the loss, grief and isolation that children can feel as well as touching on the sensitive issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease from a child’s perspective.

* * * * *
For this stopover on Sally's blog tour I thought it may be fun to use verse format for the interview itself so I emailed Sally and asked:
'How would you feel
an interview
on the verse format actually done
in verse? '
I’m happy to do this,' Sally bravely responded.
I sent her six questions.
Back came Sally with: 'Hi Mabel!
Here are my answers.
Answering in verse was definitely a challenge.
You’ve kept me thinking!'
Goodmorning Sally!
Welcome to TALES I TELL. You've been on quite a journey these past days responding to comments and questions about your just released verse novel: Pearl verses the World.
Now to my questions:

1. A question of layout:
If word followed word,
crowding each line
to fill every space on the page
would the verse novel
cease to be verse?
Line length in verse
does matter.
Lines start and end

where needed
for emphasis
for rhythm
for impact.
But line length
is not the only difference
between verse and prose.
Important too are all the elements of poetry:
and so much more.
2. Narrative
setting out on no great adventure,
no mystery to be solved,
or cause to fight

or poignant tale of unrequited love.
Word pictures and
poetic imagery.
Is there more?
So much more.
A verse novel
must be two things -verse
and novel.
Without a plot
it will simply be verse
and the reader would not want to read
from page to page.
Whilst single poems can be wonderful
a verse novel
must have a story which
develops from beginning to end.
It might be a mystery
a cause
a love story
or something else.

For Pearl, it is a little girl’s
for peace of heart
which drives the tale.
3. Verse Novel:
a first person character study?
that unburdens the heart
and lets X explore
the all about ‘me’-
... feelings
... ... memories
... ... ... dreams?
Whilst it is true
that most verse novels
are written in first person
and present a character’s take on life
the verse novel does more
than a simple character study would.
The reader, too, plays a role,
along with the character
as she
works through
whatever plot is thrown at her.
4. Verses versus Versus!
An underlying ambiguity
these words.
Verse is,
of course,
another word for poetry
or a part of a poem.
Versus means ‘to oppose’.
Pearl is a verse novel
and Pearl herself writes verse
but, at the same time
she feels
that the whole world
is against her.
She has so much to deal with:
and poems that don’t rhyme.
It’s no wonder she feels
it is her versus the world.
The title is a pun
reflecting this –
and the delightful cover image
echoes this struggle.
5. Aware of
the ebb and flow
of Pearl’s observations
and changing moods -
does verse
carry these better than prose?
I am not anti prose –
perhaps if I were
the title would be
Verse Versus Prose.
But for this story, verse was needed.
The form allowed me to snapshot
Pearl’s life
and to explore her emotions
and responses
which were
as important as the plot.
6. Granny said:
A poem comes when it’s needed?
Miss Bruff, that:
Sometimes a poem just is!
How was it for you, Sally?
Did your verse novel explode
from within?
Until Pearl came to me,
late one night,
I had never tried
to write a verse novel.
But Pearl came, and whispered in my ear
as I was preparing for bed.
I wrote the verse down
and tried to forget
but soon more verses came
and I realised I had a story
which had to be written.
Writing in this form did not prove hard
but writing about such emotional events did.
I cried
and cried
as I wrote this book
but, in the end
I smiled.

* * * * *
M: Well, Sally, we're done! This has been a wonderful exchange.
S: Thanks for your time in hosting me.
M: It's been a pleasure to have you here. Enjoy the rest of your tour

Stopovers for Sally's Tour
with her Children's Verse Novel:
Pearl verses the World

01 May, 2009 Guest Blogger at
02 May, 2009 Interview and Review at
03 May, 2009 Associated writing activities at
04 May, 2009 Reader's Snapshot. Interview at
05 May, 2009 Clare Saxby at
07 May, 2009 Alice May at
09 May, 2009 Verse Novel Format at [That's here!]
10 May, 2009 Article at

* * * * *

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


This week I've been working on the 'Writing for Children' workshop I'm due to facilitate over the next two Saturdays. The first session looks at publishing opportunities.
Novice writers can easily miss an opportunity to get work published because:
(1) they are in too big a hurry to send off a manuscript that is simply not ready; and,
(2) they submit material that does not match the genre, age level or style of material the selected publisher usually publishes.

I recently heard a successful writer comment that her manuscript is not ready until she can read it without wanting to change one word. I am sure one can get to the point of change without improvement, but for beginning writers experimenting with change is very useful. Experience tells me that finding a publisher can be harder than writing a good story.
Some road blocks (and detours) to be navigated.
Roadblock One: THE RIGHT PUBLISHER. Who publishes the kind of material you write?
Roadblock Two: NO UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS. I used to think that meant 'Don't go there' until I learned the distinction between cover letters and query letters
Now to some interesting detours:
1. Don't head straight for the BOOK path.
Try to get published in a newsletter, magazine, online. Try some non-fiction articles; write reviews of others work; talk on radio; join a writers group and/or an online critique group. These put your name in the public eye
2. Grow your personal platform.
Do a google search. Do you exist? You can build a platform to make your self visible. It might be a blog or a website. It might be Facebook or Twitter. Even if you don't wish to create your own site, you can use online media by being a guest on someone else's blog or participating in a podcast. I joined a writers group and read some of my work on a local radio station. Imagine my surprise when five days later I found 'me' on a google search with a mention of this event.
AND NOW, in case you are interested here is an outline of the workshop I will be facilitating for the first time over the next two weekends.


"Writing for children
is like writing War and Peace
in haiku."

An adaptation of a quote from Mem Fox

This workshop is for those interested in any aspect of writing for children irrespective of genre. It will touch on fiction and non-fiction and include discussion of such publishing opportunities as daily and periodic newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals, anthologies, online sites - and more!

Session One: The World of Children’s Writing
Participant are asked to bring from their local library or home bookshelf (at least) THREE books/magazines/newspapers/websites covering the area of their writing interest and published between 2003 - 2009
Little Red enters the forest of Magazines, Newspapers, Picture Books, Emergent Readers, Early Chapter Books and First Novels. Armed with layout instructions, Google search tools, submission guidelines and much more, Clever Little Red bypasses the Big Bad Publisher and reaches Granny’s House of Literary Anticipation where she learns there’s more to writing success than she ever dreamed.

Session Two: The First Page
Participants are invited to bring the first page (or 200 words) only of up to three pieces of their own writing for children.
Little Red has done market research into her subject and theme. Now she has only the first page in which to convince the publisher her story is worthy of publication. In this session participants will have opportunity to critique one another’s first page(s) or two hundred words and look at ways to make a publisher or child want to read beyond the first two hundred words.