When I started writing Jelly, I knew I wanted the poems in the book to be as authentic as possible – they needed to sound like they were written by an 11-year-old girl, with a gift for poetry. I have very little experience of writing poetry myself. I often use it as a warm-up exercise in my writing workshops, and to show you the level I normally work at, here’s a collaborative poem I wrote with a group of Year 6s:
Not exactly Shakespeare, is it? but I like rhythm and rhyme and that’s all you really need for a poem. And if you think you don’t like poetry, then consider this: all your favourite song lyrics are poems. They are, honest!
Anyway, pretending to be an 11-year-old girl writing poetry was WAY easier than being a 42-year-old woman trying to do it. I didn’t have to make the poems sound really clever or profound, and I didn’t have to worry about what grown-ups would think of the poems. I bought a carefully-chosen notebook from a cheap stationery shop, and I wrote it into the story of Jelly. Yes! Below is the REAL mermaid notebook and matching pen:
I handwrote all the poems myself using cursive handwriting because that’s what most children are taught at school these days. It made my handwriting very slow, trying to form the letters so precisely!
There are twenty-one poems in the book Jelly. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed writing them! You might be interested to know that the very first poem in the story, Walrus, wasn’t in the first draft of the manuscript. Instead, there was a poem called Rainbow.
This poem was Jelly’s response at home to being called a walrus (although in the first draft, Will Matsunaga wrote it on a note and threw it at her during a lesson). I wasn’t quite sure about this poem. It felt a bit clunky – you know when you’ve written something that doesn’t quite sound right, as though the words have been assembled in the wrong order.
When my editor Fliss sent her notes on the first draft, she suggested changing the structure of the beginning. In the first version, the announcement of The K Factor came quite late on, but I agreed with Fliss that it needed to come earlier in the story, which is why it was moved to the very first chapter. When I wrote the second draft, the Rainbow poem no longer fitted in, so I wrote a completely new one called Walrus to replace it – and actually, Walrus became one of my favourite poems in the book.
At school, you’ll often be asked to analyse poetry, to work out how the author has used language to create certain effects. I can remember grumbling a LOT about this when I was at school! To me, analysing a poem can remove all the magic from it. BUT I am going to analyse my own poem for you here because it might be helpful, and besides, sometimes there’s a kind of magic in seeing just how many layers there can be in a few words:
My favourite poem in Jelly is The Red Bus because it sums up how often people don’t really listen or look properly. The man in the poem assumes the bus is red because it usually is. He tells Jelly off for saying it’s blue and makes her feel small and silly. Jelly knows inside that the bus is blue because she has noticed it particularly that day, but the man’s words make her doubt herself. When she gets off the bus, she sees it from the outside again, and it is definitely blue! The man was wrong, and she wants him to know he was wrong – but he has already gone, so she can’t tell him. Jelly’s mum doesn’t understand why it’s so important to Jelly. But we’ve all been unjustly told off in our lives – and it really matters. If you get told off time and time again for the wrong things, it can have a very bad effect on your self-esteem. Over the years, you learn not to trust your own feelings and senses.
It’s so important to find out things for yourself and to stand up for what you believe in. The man on the bus was lazy and couldn’t be bothered to look properly. He was unkind to another person who didn’t deserve it. And he’ll probably never know he was wrong. Sometimes life is like that – but we know, and Jelly knows, that she was right. So you must look for yourself to find out what is right and wrong.