Interview by Magdalena Ball
Tell me about Mending Lucille – what inspired you to write the book?
The story was written in about fifteen minutes, but it was many years cooking on the back burner. It is an amalgam of experiences, my own, my family’s, those of friends. You can read more about the collaboration on our blogs:
Talk to me about your path to publication — Lothian is pretty big! How did the publication come about?
V-E-R-Y, V-E-R-Y slowly…….. glacial pace…… I first sent the manuscript to Lothian in 2001. It was finally published in August 2008….long story!
Did you get to work with your illustrator Sarah Davis, or were you presented with a finished copy. If the former, tell me about the process. If the latter – what was that like for you!
I asked for the chance to find my own illustrator when the original illustrator chosen by the publisher decided to withdraw to follow a more painterly path. I looked on the internet, found two sites. Saw someone who interested me for the project on one and saw amazing Sarah on the SCWBI site. I contacted both sites, secretly hoping I would be able to make contact with Sarah as her incredible “Collector” painting had ‘sold’ me. This image showed me Sarah could handle emotive layers brilliantly. She HAD to do Mending Lucille. The first site never got back to me. SCWBI’s Suzanne Gervay did and agreed to put me in touch with Sarah. Suzanne was good as her word and Sarah rang me soon after. The rest is history!
Mending Lucille isn’t your usual sticky sweet kids book — it tackles some serious issues in a sensitive way. What was the trickiest part for you in writing and also in promoting the book?
The writing was from the heart so no problems – it flowed. The promotion was more interesting. The Australian Centre for Grief Education at Monash Medical picked up the book within two weeks of its release and put it on their recommended list. A website that highlighted issues in helping children cope with death also put it on its recommended list in the same fortnight [http://9am.ten.com.au/explaining-death-to-kids.htm]. The interest from therapists, counselors and social workers led ultimately to the nomination for the Family Therapist’ Award. It is hoped to have the book released in the US this year. The response has been almost overwhelming world wide but especially from the USA. Word of mouth has seen the book gain readership and impact in bibliotherapy. The Award win (Crichton) and the nomination (Family Therapists’ Award) helped spread the word, though the book had sold out at the time of nominations and was still unavailable at the time of the win with the CBCA. The paperback finally came out just before Christmas. Sarah and self and Dr Sheahan-Bright have done extensive teacher/counselor notes which can be downloaded FREE from my website: http://jenniferrpoulter.weebly.com/published-work—childrenya.html
You’re pretty multi-talented! Talk to me about some of your other writing work. Is there a place where your different forms of writing connects/intersects?
Writing has been lifelong. My father and maternal Grandfather used to recite Lewis Carroll’s poems and those of Banjo Paterson and Mrs Nemans to me. I love the rhythm and flow and the patterning of the lines – the musicality inherent in the words themselves and the scope for humour & drama.
I wrote plays as a school kid. Neighbourhood friends and I did our own costumes and scenery etc and performed them for our parents and relatives. It was a ton of fun! I plan to dabble again…I’m interested in script writing too.
I progressed to writing poetry (including haiku and narrative verse) and stories, being published poetrywise in numerous anthologies and in journals like Quadrant, Social Alternatives, Antipodes (the Journal of Australian and American Literature), Ripples, Speed Poets, The Mozzie, Gathering Force and others.
During my many readings and workshops with children I was approached by numbers of their teachers despairing at the dearth of new Australian material. In response, I undertook the 6 volume series of poetry anthologies with teacher notes published by KBS. see http://www.kbs.com.au/education/results.asp; guides available from my website – http://jenniferrpoulter.weebly.com/poetry—education–children.html. Over 50 poets are represented from all over Australia.
As a children’s writer, I’ve been told I have “a highly visual style” – I guess it comes from my other passions, art and, aligned with that, photography.
I see my poetry, stories and art as all interconnected. Most of my poetry is unillustrated. Sometimes my own artwork inspires my writing –I saw an Angel… , Winter Branches and the beach series see www.scribd.com/jrpoulter sometimes my writing inspires the artwork – Ferry on the River Styx – http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30160408&id=1258366585.
What about the teaching resources you’ve created. What niche do you think they fill for schools, teachers, parents?
Aside from the six volume series published by KBS, I have collaborated with artists from all over the world to create the Poster Poems and MiniBooks Project. All items are free to download from www.sharing-books.com by entering ‘Poulter’ in the author slot of the advanced search facility on site. There are over 130, including collaborations with illustrators like Sarah Davis, Angel Dominguez, Aaron Pocock, Mattias Adolfsson, Rick Lieder, Ron Chironna, Terry Walsh and calligrapher Peter Taylor, to name just a few [examples and inks to the illustrators sites: http://jenniferrpoulter.weebly.com/project-links.html. Responses from teachers, parents, therapists and others around the world have been enormously encouraging. Teachers from Ukraine to Malaysia, India and beyond use the posters in English classes for translation work, reading and also in art classes with the children and teens, creating their own posters. In the USA and in Australia, the Poem Posters and MiniBooks are used to introduce class topics and as discussion stimuli, as reading material and in English and creative writing classes, eisteddfod work and in Speech and Drama classes . The illustrators and I see our work as our way of helping those in third world countries and schools and families in under resourced areas. It is also a good way to promote our work, draw attention to our skills and to our adaptability.
I have started putting material for older readers and college/high school students up on www.scribd.com/jrpoulter, including numbers of my own Poster Poems such as Library at the Edge of the World and Alang, The Graveyard of Ships http://www.scribd.com/people/documents/15574996-j-r-poulter-aka-j-r-mcrae?page=2.
I am convinced that today’s highly visually oriented children and teens can be switched on to poetry by linking it to the illustrative arts and by highlighting the music locked in language. Rap is rhyming couplets, most advertising jingles (today’s child’s nursery rhymes) are verse forms, song lyrics are often in free verse or classic ballad form. We are surrounded by poetry in our everyday life!
Talk to me about winning the 2009 Crichton Award (and congratulations too!). Has it changed how you perceive yourself as a writer? Given you a mandate to do more children’s books?
The only thing I have ever really wanted to do is write and indulge in the arts. The poetry awards didn’t get me anywhere because I was too busy with family (five children) to capitalise on the wins or go through all the glup of grant applications and too limited with finances to afford to go to the gigs and conferences – even postage was a challenge at times. The Crichton win and Family Therapists’ Award have meant folk are taking me seriously. It also lead to my getting my two wonderful, wonderful agents – Kacey in the US and Margaret out here & UK. I have had shelves full of manuscripts waiting to get out there and writing more all the time. Now I don’t have to worry about ‘not being well enough known’ (the major excuse for rejecting someone who is acknowledged as good), no worries about trying get reasonable copies, lugging the stuff to post offices and digging deep for the postage around the country and beyond. I can concentrate on just writing and art. Life interrupts art but, without life, art lacks inspiration and sincerity.
What projects do you have on the boil – what’s next?
Two more stories are in the pipeline which deal with sensitive childhood issues. Lots of lighter more humorous material, legends etc etc are also in the pipeline. I am developing some illustrated poetry collections and two ‘regular’ poetry collections, one on social issues and one on environmental themes. Maybe I’ll add some artwork – depends on who publishes I guess.
The Poster Poem MiniBook Project is ongoing, with illustrators/artists from around the globe, to benefit the under resourced and third world children, families, schools. It is humbling to work with so many inspired and inspiring artists! See www.sharing-books.com and www.scribd.com/jrpoulter.
I want to do a play – part written on a death watch in a suburban hospital.
Turning a number of my stories into claymation is one current big project (Funding, sponsors! Anyone!) – more about that as it evolves.
Learning script writing is also a priority!
How can fans find out more about your work and get hold of it?
A Swedish friend told me I should get a fan site on Facebook – dunno – seems a bit up yourself doesn’t it!
I do have a presence on Facebook, still learning how to use that and Myspace too. I have a presence on LinkedIn under J.R.McRae and under J.R.Poulter so link up folk! Finally, I do have blogs tho’ sadly lots of ideas and not much time to give to them and I do have websites for poetry and art
and for children’s writing etc
Getting my work –
Children’s books – in Brisbane, the Book Garden and online at http://www.holisticpage.com.au/_Jennifer_Poulter.php
Education series – Poetry Action for Classroom and Stage – (note – Jan Turner-Jones and Marco Gliori co-authored volume 6) www.holisticpage.com.au
Poetry for children – www.sharing-books.com and look under ‘Poulter”
Literary Poetry –
AND in “Divan” but I can’t find a working link at present – any one have one?
Some poetry on Facebook as well.
About the interviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future.