Autumn and baking and more poems

Since we returned from the summer holidays, I have taught myself how to make fromage blanc (with the help of the internet, and a kit), and one of my lovely sisters-in-law taught me how to make sourdough bread.

Here’s my first attempt at fromage blanc:

Fromage blanc, made by me. Weird, huh?

Fromage blanc. Weird, huh?

And here’s my latest batch of sourdough:

Sourdough bread, made by me.

As you can see, my sister-in-law is a very good teacher.

I’ve also been busy poem-making, and you can see two of my recent poems over at Poetry Tag:

  1. Beneath the Backyard Lemon Tree and
  2. Cottesloe Beach Skipping Rhyme (with bonus instructions for skipping in a group). BYO skipping rope. And a large bottle of water if you’re in Perth and suffering through this heatwave.

Speaking of heatwaves, looking out of my window I can see my sad garden. Other than my brave rosebushes, there’s not much in it because we were away over the summer break. So, here’s a photo of some of my roses because I didn’t get around taking a shot of the cos lettuces … or the weeds.

Roses from my garden.

Roses from my garden. They smell like turkish delight.

~ Rebecca

A monkey skipping rhyme

Over the school holidays we visited friends in Europe. The landscape was so different, and I took lots and lots of photos (it turns out I have a thing for bare tree branches arching over streetlights in the gloom. Especially if it also involves water nearby and/or cobblestones).

More on that later.

Today I have a skipping rhyme for you in celebration of Year of the Monkey. (Happy Chinese New Year!)

You can share it with anyone and print it off — as long as you leave my name attached to it … and do find a rope and skip to it. Well, OK — maybe not today because it’s eleventy-hundred degrees in Perth and we are all wilting. (If you are in another Australian state, feel free to skip to it.)

I really loved skipping rhymes as a child, and I loved the skipping part too, especially in a big crowd with two people turning the rope.


Over in the jungle
it’s the monkeys’ time for lunch.
They like to eat bananas,
they eat them by the bunch.

Father likes the yellow ones,
Mother likes the brown,
and Baby likes the green ones
munching upside down!

Stay cool. Skip on!

~ Rebecca

Spring fever

Happy spring! You can tell it’s spring because this is flowering in my garden.

Hardenbergia flowering.

Term 3 is always the busiest term of the year at our house. The calendar pages stuck to our fridge (actually just A4 sheets I’ve printed out) get so full of writing that they can’t take the weight of all that activity and they drop onto the floor … and slide underneath the fridge. Calendar pages that hide underneath the fridge really don’t help much with the Term 3 Busy-ness.

(Also, on a side note: our fridge door is silver-coloured but is not magnetic. Who makes non-magnetic fridge doors, I ask you? Where am I supposed to stick up my magnetic words for fridge-door poetry-writing? And artwork by our artists-in-residence? What am I supposed to do with all the fridge magnets that inevitably accumulate in a house?!)

In poem-y news, I have new poems up at Poetry Tag: the first one is called ‘The Birth of an Idea’ (Sally gave me the words birth, and together) and the most recent poem is ‘For Sally (on her birthday)’ (my words were take, feline, and cloud). Now I’ve tagged Sally, and it’s her turn to write …

As Term 3 draws to a close  (we still have a week to go here in WA) I am back to writing as much as I can. This week I’ve been writing first drafts of poems, and working on the final drafts of my folktale-style picture book.

Garden update: No carrots, and the green stuff wasn’t a success. There are nasturtiums flowering though, as well as ranunculi, and one poppy plant. You might find that single poppy plant amusing if you follow me on Twitter:

Tweet about sowing lots and lots of poppy seeds

Oh, April Rebecca. So optimistic.

Wait! I did get some passionfruit off the vine. Three in fact. Proof:

Passionfruit photo.

8 sleeps till the school holidays. I’ve got some more writing to do.

Poems in Print

The year is skipping along nicely. Here it is April and I still haven’t posted up a photo of my poem from the March issue of The School Magazine (specifically ‘Countdown’). You can see me, very excited, on the day my copy arrived in the mail:

Biscuit bother (poem by me, illustrations by Kimberly Andrews)

The illustrations are by the wonderful Kimberly Andrews.

What else has been happening?

  • Over at the Poetry Tag site I’ve posted a new poem called ‘Waiting’. (Sally gave me the word prompts GO, FREAKY and TREE.) The resulting poem is inspired by a childhood memory.
  • I’ve been interviewed! At the Australian Children’s Poetry site, Teena Raffa-Mulligan and I talked about What Makes a Good Poem, and some other poem-y stuff.
  • I’ll have three poems published in a forthcoming anthology edited by Sally Odgers. (The anthology is called Prints Rhyming: Singing the Year.) More on that soon …

As well as cheering about exciting poetry-in-print news, I’ve been out in my little garden planting seeds for spring flowers, lettuce, carrots and rainbow chard. (No-one in the house likes rainbow chard much but I say IT’S GOOD FOR YOU so if it grows it will be going into our winter cooking.) I’ve never been able to grow carrots successfully but I’m giving it another go because I had a packet of seeds and they were about to expire. What I’m extra clever at is growing Spooky Carrots — wonky carrots with legs and arms and strange twisty shapes. Spooky Carrots still taste like the everyday sort but they are much harder to peel and to wash all the dirt off.

Spooky Carrot photo

Here’s a spooky carrot I prepared earlier …


Research for poetry writers

Lorraine reading from one of her poetry collections, Guinea Pig Town

Lorraine reading from one of her poetry collections, Guinea Pig Town.

Today I welcome Lorraine Marwood as a guest-poster. Lorraine is the author of novels, verse novels and poetry collections. She’s here today as part of a blog tour to celebrate the launch of the latest poetry collection — Celebrating Australia: A year in poetry, and while she’s here she agreed to share some wisdom about research and poetry writers. Over to you, Lorraine!

Celebrating Australia -- the cover (front and back!)

Research for poetry writers

I’m wondering if it is universally known that poets research to gather words, concepts, ideas, and information all for the reader’s gratification? (As well as the researcher gaining much knowledge!)

I believe that a poem is as vital a form of communication as non-fiction or fiction, and dives beneath the layers of fact to provide the emotional element that in history or recounting is often lost.

In this collection, even poems with subject matter I knew a lot about had a research component. For example the Christmas poem — ‘Christmas Competition,’ was based on the house and street decorations we have in my hometown, but I’d also collected newspaper cuttings about it. This made it convenient to write a Christmas poem ‘out of season’ and visually remember the amount of time and amount of manufactured ‘festive spirit’ that went into house owner’s decorations. Often one component of my research is newspaper clippings, unusual and also topical.

Research in this instance meant that I was looking for a different angle to present a poem on a tried and true subject.

Books and internet became the basis of research for such celebrations as Chinese New Year, Ramadan, World Oceans day, Walk safely to school day, Bastille day — to name a few. Facts, colours, customs became the entry point for the poem. I had to immerse myself in the celebration across many web pages before I had a strong enough hold upon the facts to go off on my own tangent. After all, I am trying to write in a new way about established yearly events.

My editors made suggestions of what to include if it seemed that the poem still didn’t have enough depth and I re-worked or incorporated these suggestions.

For me getting facts right was very important in these poems.  After all, many readers and hopefully many school classes will use these as springboards for exploration of their own celebration.

The vernacular of spoken words was researched for such iconic poems as ‘Talk like a pirate day’ and the Aussie slang poem for Australia Day. Again I used many sources to make a word bank of sayings and then for me finding the all important entry point. Then the poem would form its own structure and poetic devices.

Even subjects that I thought I knew a bit about like ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ were easier to write after research and pinpointing a common theme. Images and photos of celebration all added to the depth of research and equipped me with enough ideas to write.

Here are the opening lines of the St. Patrick’s Day poem

St. Patrick’s Day
By all things green
and shamrock-shaped
by all things leprechaun
and pot-of-gold-shaped

© Lorraine Marwood

Of course research was even more important when topics like birthdays, grief and Christmas had more than one poem to represent them.

I really enjoy this aspect of my writing time, it’s like poetic map-making or planning and kick-starts my poems in unusual and exciting ways.

And now that you’ve learned something about the research that goes into Lorraine’s poetry, I have a poem of my own to share. Lorraine has challenged the host at each of the blog tour stops to write their own poem based on the patterning of her season-themed poems in Celebrating Australia. (At the first stop of this blog tour, Jackie shares instructions for using Lorraine’s autumn poem as a template for your own poem.)

Here’s my poem!


Winter is a constant rhythm
a plink-tink thrum-drum patterning.
One day a pianissimo tinkling
of rain on roof top,
by week’s end a crescendo
of drubbing, clattering, hammering, battering.

Winter is stained glass, blurred,
a forgotten paintbrush in a waterglass.
One day the muted yellow glow
of street light halos,
by week’s end a bright fireside gleam
of lighted windows along our road.

© Rebecca Newman

For more poem-y goodness, be sure to check out the other stops on Lorraine’s blog tour.

Blog tour dates and links:

2 March Jackie Hosking:  Topic: What makes a good poem ( according to LM) + giveaway.

3 March Kathryn Apel:  Topic: Bringing a poetry collection together.

4 March Rebecca Newman: Topic: Research for poetry writers. [You’re here!]

5 March Claire Saxby:  Topic: Inside this collection.

6 March Janeen Brian:  Topic: How you create for the creators: how you create ideas to excite children and adults to write poems of their own.

9 March Alphabet Soup:  Topic: Writing a class poem — the results! + giveaway.

More writing, more drawing, and a lullaby for a rat

The Juniper Tree by

A scene from The Juniper Tree. Collage. By me!

It’s hot, hot, hot in Perth this week. That means more tomatoes picked from my garden (yay!) and more washing flapping on the line (also yay! because it dries super fast in this hot weather, and if there’s no washing flapping on the line then that means it’s still in the laundry and that can’t be good).

Other than picking tomatoes and pegging out washing, I’ve also been writing heaps of new poems (here’s one of them — a Rat Lullaby), and creating artwork. I’m taking part in the 52-week illustration challenge — that illustration at the top of this post is my collage for the first week’s theme, fairy tale. I used magazine pages torn into tiny pieces. So it also counts as spring-cleaning, sort of …

And now it’s time for a photo of a lemon cucumber and some little tomatoes from my garden. Lemon cucumbers taste like regular cucumbers, but they are shaped like a lemon with a yellowish blush to the skin. And the skin is edible! So we eat them like apples. (You have to brush off the tiny prickles first though, so you don’t get prickles on your tongue.)

lemon cucumber and cherry tomatoes


A poem about a bullock

You can read my newest poem at the Poetry Tag site — the poem is called ‘Bullock’.

Sally gave me the following words:





What a combo!

Writing a picture book – Tania McCartney

Today Tania McCartney is celebrating the launch of her newest picture book — Tottie and Dot — with a Blog Blast. She’s visiting a whole truckload of blogs all day today. Heaps of them. (A special welcome if you’ve blog-hopped from somewhere else to read this post!) 

Firstly, a bit about the book. Here’s what the publisher says:

Tottie and Dot live side by side. They drink marshmallow tea in the morning. Side-by-side. They water blooms in the afternoon garden. Side-by-side. They make speckled eggs for tea. Side-by-side. All is calm and peaceful until, one day, things change between Tottie and Dot.

Tottie and Dot cover

How long did it take you to write Tottie and Dot — from solid idea to having the final draft ready to submit to a publisher for consideration?

Timings are so hard to delineate! I write very fast, so the actual original writing time spent on this picture book would have been less than a day. I wrote the first draft back in 2010, and pottered with it on and off (I usually have many picture book manuscripts going at once). That same year, I submitted the text to a couple of publishers with no result, then again in 2011. In 2012, I submitted a revised version to the CYA awards and although it didn’t place, it scored highly and I received some very encouraging words from the judges, so I felt inspired to rework it one more time. It was accepted by EK Books in April 2013, almost immediately upon submission.

So, EK Books accepted it in April 2013. How long did it take the book to be published? (From acceptance to publication.)

From April 2013, I began liaising with my illustrator (and friend) Tina Snerling on the design and layout and imagery for the book. Tina had already worked with me on An Aussie Year so we had a really great working relationship, and were very familiar with how each other worked. Tina began drafting what Tottie and Dot would look like, and in July 2013, she sent through a first glimpse of Tottie and Dot.

tottie and dot july 2013


It was instant love. I adored them on sight. I loved the fuchsia pink but I did ask Tina to make the blue a little more aqua, and the result was wonderful.

From there, we set up a google spreadsheet (August 2013) and began working on the page layout and matching imagery with text. This continued through to around late January 2014, so I guess it was roughly six months all-up from acceptance to finished files. Next came the printing period, and as the distributor is Scholastic, we needed a long lead time before publication — hence the gap between our January end-of-production date and the book’s September release. This kind of timeframe is pretty standard — oftentimes even longer.

How do you like to write the very first draft for a picture book like Tottie and Dot? Are you a pencil-and-paper fan, computer … ?

I find it really, really hard to write longhand now. I’ve been pretty much typing since I was 11 and type up to 100wpm (but I don’t touch type!), so using a keyboard is really the only way for me. It’s especially helpful because I write quickly, my brain works quickly, and I need the speed to get the words down in time. Sometimes I pen part of some texts in a notebook, but it’s very rare. I like to work at home, in complete silence, but if I’m researching or drawing or revising, I do love to write in cafes (always on a laptop).

OK! Tottie and Dot is out in the wilds — what are you working on now? 

Tina and I are midway through our next EK book—it’s called Peas in a Pod and is a picture book for slightly younger readers. It’s fun and kooky, and Tina’s draft illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. A glimpse:

Peas in a pod preview

It’s going to be very colourful and retro in style. I’m also working with a new illustrator — Jess Racklyeft — who I met on my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. She creates soft, whimsical illustrations that are perfect for my tender picture book Smile Cry — a topsy-turvy picture book for 2 — 7 year olds, where half the story starts at one end of the book, and the other half from the other end! Both books will be out 2015/2016. I’m chipping away at several more picture books and I’m also writing some junior fiction — Ava Bloom, and older junior fiction — Ella McZoo. I’m absolutely loving this genre.

Do you have a piece of advice for writers trying to get that first (finished-and-submission-ready) picture book manuscript submitted and accepted?

I have more than one piece! Let your work ‘breathe’, allowing it to sit for at least a month before redraftings. These revisits will help hone and make it much better, but don’t fall into the trap of overworking. Remember, a publisher will always value a great story idea well over perfect, grammatically immaculate text. Write what you know and love, and whatever you do, write something different. Don’t do what’s been done before. Be sure your narrative is clear and tight, and has a firm story arc, with a solid beginning, middle and most especially — a great ending. Your work should be a story not an account. It needs plot points, twists, conflict and resolution. Add humour, charm and strong, active characters that kids can relate to. When submitting, carefully research your publisher and align it with your work. And lastly, don’t give up. I know it’s a cliché, but just don’t give up. Publishing is a game of perennial patience.

Tania and Tina (Tottie and Dot’s illustrator) are stopping by lots and lots of blogs today. Click on the flyer below to be taken to the Grand List of All Blog Stops:

tottie and dot blog blast flyer

In my garden – September 2014

I love pottering around in our (rather small) kitchen garden and I like to plant seeds rather than seedlings. I’ve got some seed packets of vegetables — heirloom varieties — but last year lots of the seeds I planted directly in the soil didn’t germinate. So this year (three weeks ago, in fact) I decided to try planting them in seed-raising trays and then planting them out. Here are some before shots:

seed tray

In this tray I sowed seeds of lettuce, sunflowers, beetroot, tomatoes, tansy, and capsicum. (There were actually two trays like this, but they looked exactly alike, so … well … you know.)


In this tray I sowed cucumbers.

My kids eat a lot — A LOT — of cucumbers. So, in the second tray I planted three varieties of cucumber: burpless, mini lebanese, and lemon. These are in cups I can plant straight into the soil and the cups will break down naturally as the seedlings grow. (Cucumbers don’t like to be disturbed too much, so this makes transplanting them easier. <– I almost sound like I know what I’m doing, don’t I? Ha!)

Two weeks later — ta-daa!

seed raising tray 2 weeks

Magic! (The giants are sunflowers.)

Only 4 out of 12 sunflowers germinated, but then they took off pretty quickly. The second biggest are lettuces. I sense a few salads in our future …

cucumbers after

Very happy cucumbers. Look at them grow!

I planted the cucumbers and the sunflowers into the ground today. Spring is here!

Do you grow your own veggies or fruit?

Writing in Winter

The winter months have been busy ones. The most exciting Busy Thing was that I set off to the east coast of Australia for the SCBWI* conference in Sydney. I caught up with so many authors and illustrators I don’t get to see very often (because they live on the east coast of Australia). Mostly I forgot to take photos because I was too busy conferencing, oops. But here I am catching up with the lovely Katrina Germein when I did manage to organise a photo:

With Katrina Germein

With Katrina Germein (I’m the shiny one. Hmm.)

When I got back to Perth I was feeling inspired and started work on my long-neglected idea for a middle grade novel. (You should feel free to applaud). It doesn’t have a title yet. I’m still thinking.

Then I was feeling brave and I signed myself up to a writing course through the Australian Writers’ Centre (specifically: this one) as a sort of Personal Development because mostly I write picture books and poetry and tackling a story as long as a novel is a bit scary sometimes. (It turns out I’m a very succinct writer.)

And when I haven’t been writing I’ve been preparing my tiny garden for spring. More on that in another post soon. (Because I do get excited about my tiny garden and Growing Stuff.)

I can’t underestimate the importance of Distraction and Procrastination in the writing process. So, this morning I found myself looking longingly at this site featuring 10 Stunning Writing Studios. I can’t decide which one I covet most — possibly number 2. (I’m thinking of creating my own 10 Inordinately Unimpressive Writing Studios list. At least I’d have a faint hope of making the cut for that list … )

Lastly — What I should be doing: taking up Sally Murphy’s latest Poetry Tag challenge. She’s thrown me some new words. I’d better get to that this week …

* SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. If you write — or illustrate — for children you should check them out. Really.