Title: Footprints on the Moon
Author: Lorraine Marwood
Publisher: University of Queensland Press – UQP
Publication date: February 2, 2021
Themes: family, sibling relationships, generational conflict, loss, grief, courage, the Vietnam War, protests, space exploration, friendship, bullying and poetry
‘Footprints on the Moon’ is Lorraine Marwood’s latest verse novel. This story is set in 1969, the time of two global events that gripped Australia and the world – the Apollo 11 Mission and man landing on the moon as well as Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
This captivating story is told through the eyes and heart of Sharnie, a Year seven girl, who like the world, is on the precipice of change. She is starting high school, experiencing the challenges of friendship and finding her voice at a time when her life is in flux. The one person that Sharnie confides in is her wise, loving Grandma, a war widow. Her Grandma keeps a beautiful garden and makes delicious sweets (such as peanut brittle, a recipe is included in the book) for Sharnie whenever she visits, but her adored grandma is becoming increasingly forgetful. Not only is Sharnie dealing with her new school environment as well as her grandmas deteriorating health, but she also feels the palpable distance between her older sister Cas and herself and the resulting strain this has on their relationship.
As the story unfolds, Cas becomes involved with a returned Vietnam Veteran and learns first-hand what conscription means for these young men who fought in Vietnam. Cas demonstrates great courage as she protests against conscription, which goes against her father’s wishes and staunch beliefs.
This story sensitively and authentically explores the divisions that existed in Australia at this time, as well as the discrimination the Vietnam Veterans experienced in a way that is accessible to children. This is a story about taking a stand and voicing your opinions even when you are well aware that they might not be understood or supported. It’s about finding your voice and having the courage to leave your own footprint on the world.
The themes of family, sibling relationships, generational conflict, loss, grief, courage, the Vietnam War, protests, space exploration, friendship, bullying and poetry are a gateway to many important conversations. This is a story full of heart and emotion and one that stays with you long after the last page is turned.
Author Interview with Lorraine Marwood
I was captivated by Lorraine Marwood’s book and was keen to learn more about this story. It is an absolute privilege to be able to share information about Lorraine’s craft, inspiration for this title as well as tips and advice for writers here. Thank you so much Lorraine for joining us!
This story is set in 1969 and centres around the Apollo 11 Mission and man landing on the moon as well as Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. What was your motivation to write a story for young adults from this time period?
I always wanted to write in a high school setting, such a departure from my other novels and also write about these two events which I think are very important in Australia’s relatively recent social history. Sharnie is on the cusp of high school and that event in itself was a trigger for huge change in her life and I wanted to explore how Sharnie would cope with such momentous external world events impacting on her personal homelife. Cas embodies the world of protest movement, Sharnie’s parents represent the establishment political view- how these two clash and how Sharnie responds and finds her own way, drives the narrative.
Was there a specific moment, or time, when you decided that you would embrace writing in verse? What appeals to you about writing in verse?
Not a specific time, but a natural progression as a poet writing in both the children’s sphere and literary sphere and loving the style of prose poetry which appealed to me so much. It was indeed a natural progression and growth of my writing voice. And it used both my poetic skills as a poet and my love of narrative. I could ask this style of writing to heavy lift big emotional scenes like Gail and the death of her brother, or Cas and her grief at the end of her first romantic relationship.
I found it interesting to read in your Acknowledgements at the end of the book, that “this story has been undergoing transformations for many years…with many episodes altered, deleted and rewritten”. Are you able to share what the biggest changes were? Were they related to the inclusion or exclusion of characters, character development, changes to the storyline or other elements?
Ah! Yes, the biggest change was making sure Sharnie was centre stage that it was her story all the time and not highjacked by her sister Cas or by Mia, who originally featured much more heavily in the story and that secondary role became Gail’s role. I developed Sharnie’s relationship with her grandmother more and expanded the moon landing scenes. Editorial direction is vital and often the editor can see the manuscript in a more detached way than the author can, so I always respond to editorial direction- it is up to me the author, to change scenes, allow secondary characters to retire, step into the background or take a bigger part in Sharnie’s story.
What did you read, observe and immerse yourself in to write about the landing on the moon and the Vietnam War?
I had always collected articles about the moon landing and had some souvenir booklets from that era, I found in second-hand places. I had an article from an acquaintance who had been in the conscription ballot and went to Vietnam. This was my growing up era, so I knew about the establishment views and the growing protest movement. I researched online, I went to the War museum in Canberra, I talked to Vietnam veterans and went back inside the world of regional Australian 1969 life.
What was your favourite scene to write for this story and why?
I loved the little mini scenes with Lewis and his unconventional, obsessive look at education, perceived as a disadvantaged child due to the home environment, yet the love of his grandmother and Sharnie allowed him to grow in intelligence and perception. He was a perfect foil for the moon landing facts and the juxtaposition of society’s understanding of the Vietnam war with a few mini scenes with Tyson and the hint of chemical warfare.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
Take courage to follow their own ideas, be compassionate to those around them, seize the moment, sometimes it’s only in hindsight that we see the opportunities, to keep the peace as much as possible, to try to understand when there are family differences of opinion, to be kind to yourself when you make mistakes, to love the childhood, teenage years as much as they can and see the groundwork that is being placed for later life.
If you were able to visit any time period which one would you choose and why?
I’d love to go back to the Victorian goldfields, to observe, to pan for gold, to travel with the protection of a family, to see the ingenuity of the early miners and their families of making do with the material around them to forge a home, albeit often a temporary one, and take in as much detail as possible, then come back and use it for atmosphere in my writing!!!
Are you working on a new story at the moment? If so, are you in a position to share any details about this?
At the moment I am writing a straight out ‘normal’ prose narrative- still with an historical setting- the late goldfields in Victoria with a mystery to solve. Hence my desire to go back in time and capture the very real feel of the goldfields.
What tips or advice would you give to any children wanting to write in verse? To just have a go- find a verse novel you really like and pattern its style, to get a feel for the word choice and the rhythm. To opt for strong nouns and verbs as the choice of word structure, to write in details- these are what make the writing sing! To use the five senses to evoke real atmosphere in your writing. To remember that you are not writing prose but a combination of verse and prose, so the lines are shorter, have much variation- see novels like Sally Murphy’s ‘Worse Things’ or ‘Little wave’ by Pip Harry- see how they differ from my verse novels- there is no set format, so the time is ripe for experimentation. Just write. Then you’ll have something to edit and change- remember a verse novel also follows the narrative world building of character, problems, solving those problems, and character development. But above all there is a freedom in writing like this, so enjoy!