Seeing as this is “A Week in Verse” at Wear the Old Coat….
Wait, what do you mean you didn’t know?
B-but I made a button and everything!
James Dean! POETRY!
Fine, find out more here and then come back quickly.
|The lovely Sara…Also, I would like
to own that necklace.
Well today on Wear the Old Coat, I am incredibly lucky to have the wonderful Sarah Crossan, author of the beautiful THE WEIGHT OF WATER (my review, in case you missed it!) kindly answering a few questions about her book, verse novels in general and… psst, her upcoming dystopian book (in prose, sadly. I feel dystopian poetry is the way forward) which sounds absolutely fantastic.
Anyway, enough from me…
When you first came up with the idea for The WEIGHT OF WATER, did you know from the first instance that it was going to be written in verse?
I don’t remember making any conscious decision to write in verse: I just opened my notebook, began writing, and what I wrote was in verse and from the perspective of a Polish girl. It was a slightly daunting moment, but I went with it, and it worked out pretty well.
While I was reading the novel, I was really struck by how the idea of language was portrayed, especially when Kasienka is put in a lower year because English is her second language. How did this idea of “language as a barrier” lend itself to writing a book where words and how they flow together was vital?
The fact that Kasienka and her mother speak another language actually turns out to be a problem for others more than it’s a problem for them and that is certainly something I wanted to show. As I said, writing this novel in verse didn’t really feel like a conscious decision, but verse did allow me to use language in a slightly disjointed way and therefore convey Kasienka’s interaction with English.
Throughout the book, there is a great sense of mixing of all different types of cultures and this is something that is particularly current in Britain today. Were you apprehensive about writing an issue that is so present?
The problem might be to imagine that people from different countries have emotions that our different from our own. People are people and ultimately we all just want to be seen. Part of Kasienka’s struggle is that when people see her, they see ‘Polish’ before anything else. I didn’t feel nervous writing about this because it’s a fact that in England today there is a lot of wholly irrational resentment towards people from Eastern Europe. When I completed the novel I did ask a Polish friend to read it through to make sure I didn’t make any glaring errors. The main one she noticed was the flavour of the ice-cream – I don’t know what flavour I had originally, but she advised me to change it to blueberry!
Skimming through reviews of THE WEIGHT OF WATER (and, actually, other novels written in verse) I’ve noticed that they all seem to start with a sentence along the lines of “I’m not usually a fan of novels written in verse BUT…”. Do you think there’s a reason why people are reluctant to pick them up?
I live in the US where there is a long, successful tradition of the verse novel, so when I began to write, I didn’t imagine there would be any resistance to it whatsoever. Perhaps people find poetry intimidating and imagine verse novels will work the same way as an isolated poem. But of course the canvas for a novel is so much bigger. When I’ve taught the verse novel, children have loved it; I think it’s a matter of giving it a try.
Your next book BREATHE is written in prose. Was it strange to switch from writing in verse? How does the preliminary work/character developments etc differ for each of them?
When I completed THE WEIGHT OF WATER, I needed a break! The process was quite intense and each poem took a long time to write and edit. I switched to prose so I could work more quickly and I imagined I would find it easier, but prose presents its own series of challenges, not least the plotting and pace. Unlike THE WEIGHT OF WATER, I outlined the story for BREATHE and thought carefully about each character before I began. I write prose in a very linear way – moving from one scene to the next as it would be read. For verse it’s different: I write a poem and an idea for another comes to me so that the novel grows outwards like a flower blooming. Neither method is easy!
And I know this next question isn’t technically about novels in verse, but while I’ve got you here, can you tell us any more about BREATHE? I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of a dystopian book set in England and the premise sounds brilliant!
BREATHE is indeed a dystopia. It’s set in the future at a time when oxygen levels are scarce and people are forced to live in pods. It’s fast paced and very different to THE WEIGHT OF WATER, but I hope readers love the characters because ultimately that’s what I want all my novels to be about.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Ms Crossan for answering my questions!
If you’d like to find more about Sarah and her books, you can find here EVERYWHERE.
Or, well… maybe not everywhere…
And you thought I forgot, didn’t you?
Gratuitous James Dean Picture.