TKatApelSmoday I’m pleased to welcome a very special writer friend, Kathryn Apel. We’ve been friends for many years since we first shared a podium at the CYA writer’s awards. Today we’re celebrating the release of Kathryn’s new book, Bully on the Bus, published by UQP.

Kathryn has a wonderful sense of rhythm, and is one of the few writers I know who can create perfect rhyme. She is  an outstanding poet so it’s no surprise that her latest book, Bully on the Bus is written in verse.

Kathryn has drawn on personal and family experiences and a natural affinity with children to create the sensitive and empowering Bully on the Bus.

Today she is generously sharing her creative journey for this important book.  Welcome, Kathryn:)

Thank-you so much for inviting me to post on your blog today, Dee. You’re such a support and encouragement to other writers, and I’ve appreciated your friendship and your wisdom many times. xx

images-1Dee’s Q: Why did you choose to write this story in verse?

Some questions feel like they require convoluted answers. This is one of them – but I’ll try and unravel the knots so I don’t tangle you up.

Bully on the Bus started as a (v.short) chapter book in 2007. It went round a couple of crit groups as a chapter book and it started great conversations … touched some sore spots amongst readers … but didn’t sing. It was a book – but Leroy wasn’t telling his story – and the magic was on mute. Part of the problem was my brevity, a result of writing so many picture book manuscripts! I started writing more into it …

Late 2009 I shared the story with my son.

Son: I marked one bit where you’ll have to change it. You’ve got something three times in a row. There are too many things of Ruby saying it – like why can’t Leroy say something?

Ch 3/4/6 It’s being about Ruby – she’s always saying things, but Leroy has to say some things, otherwise he’ll seem like a wuss.

Me: (hoping son will see my reasoning): Why might he not say things?

Son: Because he’s upset and didn’t want to talk. But if he wanted to solve the problem he would have to say something.

Youch! He was right. And I’m so glad I trained him well! 😛 And yes, I really did type a transcript of our editorial conference, because this kid knows stuff.

So began another rigorous rewrite, developing my main character, Leroy and strengthening his young voice, so that it really was his story.

I felt the manuscript was showing great potential when I took it to a Google Wave critique session with Susan Stephenson and Karen Collum a month later.

… And so did they – but never-the-less, I was back to the drawing board all over again. NOT because they thought Leroy needed to have more say. (I’d fixed that! 😛 ) but because they could see potential for the story to grow and change.

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And suddenly that’s how we all saw it; as a novel in verse. Initially I played with writing it as a hybrid – combining prose and poetry throughout. But once I started to pare it back, the rest of the manuscript was clunky and laboring, so it all had to shape-up.

The crazy thing was, I’d been wanting to try a verse novel – had even made a faltering attempt earlier that year on a different idea … But I’d not seen the potential for Bully on the Bus as a novel in verse until that Google Wave moment.

Ready to go to print

Ready to go to print

So, why write – and read – verse novels?

There is beauty in the brevity, not just visually, but in the cadence of the story. Line breaks and alignment really do shape the words that trip off your tongue, and there is weight in each perfectly placed word.

Since most verse novels are written in first person, they are personal and real, establishing a strong emotional connection with readers. I’ve found verse novels particularly engaging for reluctant readers, because the story is not lost in a sea of print. The sparse text-on-page of a verse novel cuts straight to the issue, making the story both accessible and familiar – and very engaging.

Verse novels stir the senses and the heart.


Any kid who has every ridden a school bus will recognise the story of Bully on the Bus.

She’s big.
           She’s smart.
                     She’s mean.

She picks on me and
I don’t know how to make her stop.

images-1Even if kids haven’t been bullied, they will recognise the bully, DJ and her unfortunate 7 year-old victim Leroy who finds every bus ride pure torture.

There are so many things I love about this book.

The language is lyrical and beautiful and this topic is dealt with in a sensitive way that also offers real solutions to bullying that kids will relate to.

Most of all, the bully hurts me with her words

They spew out
of her mouth like
lava from a volcano.
Red-hot, dangerous words,
burning right down, deep inside

Although the story is told from Leroy’s point of view and he is the kid being bullied, Bully on the Bus also gives the reader insight into what’s going on in the life of the bully.

For a little kid like Leroy, a bus ride is scary enough,  but when his lunch is stolen and he is physically and mentally harassed, it becomes torture.

Leroy’s older sister Ruby tries to protect him but the bully is way bigger and stronger than her.

In spite of the difficult nature of the subject matter, author Katherine Apel brings this book to a satisfying conclusion for the reader.

When Leroy seeks help, he discovers a secret weapon that not only protects him but also reveals the bully for who she really is and encourages her to change her ways.

With hidden treasures for kids, parents and teachers alike, Bully on the Bus gives courage to anyone who might feel small.

Written in verse, Bully on the Bus is a beautifully crafted story for kids aged 6+ and I can see this important book making its way into many homes and classrooms.

Bully on the Bus is a verse novel for 6 – 8 year olds that explores the themes of bullying, courage and relationships. It is an easily accessible text for young, independent readers but is also appropriate for older readers.

Teachers notes are available here.




5 thoughts on “POETRY WRITING TIPS 2 – VERSE NOVELS – Kat Apel – BULLY on the BUS

  1. Dee, this is a very beautiful post, and I’m touched by the many wonderful things you’ve said about my writing, and a book that’s very much a heart-story. Thank-you for your time, and your wonderful way with words. And thank-you for letting me share some insights into my writing process, with your lovely blog readers.

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