Footprints on the Moon by Lorraine Marwood

Lorraine Marwood is an acclaimed verse novelist for children. She won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction with Star Jumps and was joint winner of the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards with Leave Taking.

Lorraine writes with great eloquence about her important new verse novel, Footprints on the Moon (published UQP) for PaperbarkWords. Her words will entice you to read this rich, beautifully formed work.

‘Footprints on the Moon,’ is a departure for me both in subject matter and verse novel format.  An exciting departure, in that the main character Sharnie, begins high school in the year 1969 when Australia is conscripting young men to become soldiers, and some are sent to the Vietnam War.  And in July 1969 man walks on the moon!  Sharnie is losing the close connection with her big sister Cas, her beloved grandmother is failing, and the protest movement is confronting.  Her best friend Mia no longer wants to be friends and suddenly Sharnie is in a very new, different and daunting world.

I wanted to explore the social history of an Australian small town in the world of 1969. The threat of Communism, the space race, TV is beginning to appear in a few people’s lounge rooms and the moon is about to be conquered.  Will it lose its romantic, nursery rhyme image?

Sharnie’s secure world of just six months ago begins to erode.  Her big sister Cas is no longer interested in her, instead begins to be passionate about the protest movement against conscription and the Vietnam War.  Sharnie’s grandmother provides a potted family history of war and loves tending her garden where plants grow and thrive.  She provides a safe haven for both Sharnie and her cousin Lewis.  I enjoyed setting Lewis up as a character, he is a precocious child and wants to know all the facts about the moon and the moon landing and believes there could be aliens out in space also.

I loved researching Apollo 11 and all the hard work to get man on the moon.  It seemed like a new enlightened era was beginning, yet just in Australia’s backyard we were involved in the Vietnam war which was divisive in many ways.  I researched and talked to Vietnam veterans and as I knew the social and political atmosphere of that time, I was able to provide that authentic feel to the narrative.  I visited the Australian war museum in Canberra and collected souvenir booklets of the moon landing. 

The poetry in my verse novel was often associated with the moon. It was a fine balance between the narrative drive and the poetic feel of the prose.  A challenge I loved as I have always been a poet.

Anzac Day was not revered or well attended in 1969, not the popularity of the event as we have today.  So, it was a threshold into another world, a step back that allows us to see more fully our present social conditions and widespread general beliefs.  Sharnie’s world with its inherent family problems, school friendships and school bullying are not too different from the Sharnie of the present-day world.

I love gardening and I loved my own grandmother’s garden and the nurturing of new growth, so of course the character in this story easily became a gardening grandmother. There was symbolism in the green growth, the potting up of cuttings, the remembrance garden, a skill that might be inherited by a younger family member.  Other creative ventures like poster making and collage, figure significantly in the story also.  I wanted my characters to express how they felt through another outlet and posters and the protest movement seemed to come together happily.

This verse novel has been evolving for a number of years.  The format of poems with varying stanzas and titles remained the same format from beginning to completion and is a departure in verse novel structure for me.   Little did I realise the scope and breadth of the topics and incidents that I needed to encompass to write the story.  Complicated! 

As ‘a seat of your pants’ writer rather than a plotter, this meant many rewrites and restructuring.  But I love the serendipity of the evolution of the novel and am always amazed at the seamless flow of the whole story despite the unpicking, rewrites and deletions as each version came into being.  Thank goodness for great editors who understand the verse novel genre.

‘Rules of war have changed,’

sighs Grandma,

‘not that there were

any sensible rules anyway,

but spraying chemicals,

killing and poisoning the soil

no matter if it’s crops

or people in the way,

is another thing.’

We both grow quiet

and hear the blue wrens

making tiny noises in the bushes,

the wind chimes tinkle.

Will the moon get poisoned

By us too?  I wonder.

Lorraine Marwood’s website

Footprints on the Moon at UQP

My review of Leave Taking

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