Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Author-poet Lorraine Marwood won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction in 2010 for Star Jumps. Her new verse novel Leave Taking (University of Qld Press) is just as good. Both are set on a farm and are for primary-aged readers.

Leave Taking refers to both the title and Toby’s experiences as he and his parents pack up their dairy farm and the belongings of Toby’s younger sister, Leah, who recently died from cancer. Of course, such weighty themes are sobering but grief is recognised and faced through the natural rhythms of Australian rural life, Toby’s steps around the property and loving memories of Leah’s tangible and intangible footprints.

The map of the farm on the front endpaper has changed by the end of the book as Toby revisits and labels special places: the machinery shed where both children scratched their initials in the concrete; the old red truck where Leah wrote pretend bus tickets during their last game there; and Memorial Hill where they buried pets and other animals and birds.

Toby camps at significant places on the property but is always close enough to the farmhouse to help with the cows or have a quick check in with his mother. He is also comforted by the company of his dog Trigger.

Leah was a gentle girl who loved stories and taking photos, shared jobs, delighted in April Fools’ jokes and left so many drawings that some will be taken to the new farm and the rest placed in the heart of the bonfire – which would have made her happy.

The writing is often sensory and poetic, beginning with a contrast between the light of the “faint silver of dawn” and the dark shadows outside Toby’s tent. The author sketches the natural world of magpies and native trees and gumnuts with evocative strokes. She uses figurative language to describe the huge milk vat purring “like a big-stomached cat” and personifies the bonfire as a dragon.

There is a supportive, although laid-back, sense of community and hope of new life with the imminent birth of a new baby as Toby maps his goodbye to his home and much-loved sister.

The cover illustrations and line drawings are by Peter Carnavas, who has just won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. After creating a number of thoughtful picture books, Peter illustrated his first novel, The Elephant, a brilliantly executed study of a family’s grief and path to healing. I will always remember this outstanding novel when I see jacaranda trees in flower.


Today I’m pleased to welcome writer friend and poet extraordinaire, Lorraine Marwood.

Lorraine says that writing has been an organic part of her since she was seven or eight years of age – and it’s something I’m sure many writers can relate to.

Initially, she trained as a teacher and says that these skills have been valuable in helping her present workshops in schools, understand the writing process and know how to help reluctant writers.

Earlier this year, Lorraine was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Literary awards for her verse novel, Star Jumps. The winners are yet to be announced, but Lorraine counts the shortlisting among her greatest writing achievements. Her other greatest achievements are:

Initially getting a story accepted for publication, and bringing tears to a reader’s eyes.

Lorraine is the author of twelve books and her writing has strong poetry elements and themes of farming and family. She says that the thing she loves most about writing is having the creativity to see what happens.

To dream up stories that I would like to read – to celebrate viewpoints in life that might otherwise go uncelebrated; unremembered.

She admits that writing is a “burning desire that is me”. Lorraine  is currently working on a novel which she says is her longest piece to date.

She says that the hardest thing about writing is

Writing but not earning a living- the poverty of being a writer in monetary terms and in the beginning the darkness of not knowing if what you were writing was worthy enough to be published.


  • Read, find out the genre that excites you to read and that will most probably be the genre that you will want to write in.
  • Pull a novel apart see what makes it tick- the novel that you wished you’d written.

A Ute Picnic

I asked Lorraine to tell us about her most recent release, A Ute Picnic. It’s a collection of poems for children and as Lorraine says, “A collection of poems from the one poet is rare these days in publishing- especially Children’s publishing”.

A Ute Picnic is a glimpse at real life scenarios on a working farm in rural Australia- not a topic that is often currently written about – once it was considered ‘old fashioned’ so does that mean a whole segment of food producing Australia is old fashioned? I love the fact that my publisher, Walker promotes poetry, supports poetry and loves the glimpse into an other life style.

I enjoyed seeing the collection unroll like a narrative.  I enjoyed the selection process- many more poems were submitted- but only the best were selected and then refined.  Some poems were written anew from notes and lines written a few years ago in my note books.  Others lay dormant waiting for that last spruce before hitting the limelight.

A Ute Picnic
has been a long and dedicated undertaking for Lorraine.

A collection of poems evolves over a number of years- so this book adds up to a lot of years work.  The challenge to provide poems of even quality, variety and relevance was perhaps the hardest thing.  Also the many edits the book went through, often this was while I was overseas this year- so I laughingly say that the book has been edited in Vienna, Rome , Paris and London!!!

The collection is for 9 year-olds onwards, and is also enjoyed by adults. Lorraine like to think that her poems will strike a chord with readers of all ages – they cover real farm issues providing a sensory narrative through vignettes of farm life.

Teaching Notes are available for A Ute Picnic from the Walker Books website and Lorraine has written a teaching strategy as part of them.


More information about Lorraine and her work is available at her website www.lorrainemarwood.com

This Friday at Kids’ Book Capers, we’re reviewing A Ute Picnic.