{Interview} Gabrielle Prendergast on Novels in Verse

 Verse author Gabrielle Prendergast left the most awesome comment in the (not-so-long) history of Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, 

This post
Like lemonade popsicles
I search for them
In freezers
and dingaling ringing ice cream trucks
At the water park on hot summer days
But only ever find them
Dripping sweet white
Icy cold summer
On my fingers

Gabrielle Prendergast

So, naturally, when she inquired about getting involved in our little celebration of novels in verse, we jumped on the chance to chat with her about why she loves the format and, um, Tim Riggins…

Gabrielle is the author of the middle grade novel Hildegarde (Harper Collins Australia), which was also made into a feature film, starring Richard E Grant. Her middle grade sports novel Wicket Season was published by Lorimer Publishers in March 2012. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and daughter.

Why do you write in verse?

The first novel in verse I read was One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones. I read about it somewhere and was intrigued by the idea of a novel in verse for teens. It was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. In other words, I thought it was going to be an epic poem. It’s true that some verse novels for teens are more “epic” in form than others, but most of the ones that I’ve read are a collection of mostly narrative poems that together make up a sort of “meta-narrative.” I became quite fascinated by this form and read dozens of YA verse novels. At the time I was marketing and editing a middle grade fantasy “book for boys” so I suppose I wanted to do something completely different. It’s quite funny that I launched ahead into writing a verse novel because I haven’t written much poetry. But I discovered I love writing in this way.

One of my weaknesses as a writer (left over from being a screenwriter I think) is writing a lot of physical description. I’m okay with action and dialog but I was never comfortable writing long detailed descriptions of settings or characters. One of the great things about poetry is that these aspects of the story are often expressed in very concise ways. For example in Audacious (2013) there’s a scene where my character, who has moved inland from the west coast, experiences her first real snow storm. I describe the whole thing in a Haiku format:


Falling so softly,
like thieves in the frozen night.

  They steal the city.

This format lets me be very expressive without being very wordy. That seems to suit me. I think it suits some readers for the same reason. Not all readers want to read a two page description of a snow covered city. To them the seventeen syllables might be enough. 

It’s also challenging. Some verse novels are all in free verse, which is challenging enough, because your language needs to be very evocative and precise. But I added the challenge of working within other poetic forms such as the Haiku above, various kinds of rhyme and even sonnets. I find the challenge inspiring and also freeing. I discovered many interesting turns of phrase as well as interesting things about my characters writing in this way.

You have two novels in verse coming out in 2013. Tell us about about them—and why verse was the right medium to tell those stories.

Audacious comes out in the Fall of 2013 and Capricious, which is the sequel, is slated for Fall 2014. Audacious was summed up best by Quill & Quire (the Canadian Publisher’s Marketplace) thus,
The YA novel in verse follows 16-year-old Ella, who moves with her family to a new town and blows her plans of fitting in by falling for a Muslim guy, creating controversial artwork, and getting expelled from school.
At the end of Audacious Ella launches herself into another plan even more audacious than the last and that is the basis of Capricious. I don’t want to say more because of spoilers. Both books will be published by Orca Books.

I don’t know why verse was the right medium to tell these stories. The story evolved as I wrote (originally it was going to be semi-autobiographical but it didn’t turn out that way) so perhaps it was the story that suited verse rather than the other way around. I guess what I’m saying is that I didn’t really know what story I wanted to tell, I only knew I wanted to tell it in verse and this is the story that came out.

Why do you think verse novels are so popular in the Middle Grade and Young Adult categories?

I think, paradoxically there is something very accessible about verse novels. It helps that they are short and don’t take long to read. (Audacious is about 28,000 words, as opposed to my current work-in-progress, a sci-fi that is already over 90,000 words!). I think it also helps that ideas are condensed and expressed with really powerful imagery and metaphors (like the snowflake poem above). For some readers that is easier to understand than long pages of description. It’s paradoxical because many of the readers who are enjoying these books might consider themselves weak readers. Many might have difficulty with poetry in the way it usually presented in school. This is one reason why I am not sure that “verse novel” is the right term. The Hornbook refers to them as “verse narratives” which is even worse in my opinion, because they are definitely novels. I don’t have any other ideas on what to call them, but I would like to make sure that my books and other verse novels are getting into the hands of people who enjoy them. I think there should be a verse novel section in bookstores and libraries too.

What are some of your favorite verse novels? We’re always looking for new-to-us novels in verse. (Why, oh why can’t they be labelled in bookstores?! *shakes fist*)

I love Ellen Hopkins and my favorite of hers is Perfect. I also really loved Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up by Ron Koertge. Just today I read May B by Caroline Starr Rose, which I thought was wonderful. I would love to see some genre novels like sci-fi or horror in verse, and may even write one someday. I also love male point of view YA books in general so any verse novel with a male point of view is going to attract me. I just read The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff, which is not exactly a verse novel but has a lot of verse in it. I thought it was great. And Australian verse novelist Steven Herrick has written some great boy POV stuff.

[Editor’s Note: Australian. YA. Verse. Excuse me while I die from all the awesome.]

Who is your favorite Friday Night Lights character and why?

Image via FanPopEep! I’ve never watched Friday Night Lights! But I think Taylor Kitsch is quite the hottie, and he’s from Vancouver like me, so I’m going to say Tim Riggins.

Nice choice, Gabrielle! Thanks so much for chatting with us! (And get on that little FNL problem of yours—you’ll love it! Guaranteed!) Be sure to follow Gabrielle on Twitter and on her blog and we look forward to reading Audacious next year!

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