Can You Have Too Many Friends?

Too Many Friends is the beautiful new verse novel from Kathryn Apel, author of the acclaimed Bully on the Bus and On Track.


Having no friends is hard, but having a lot of friends can make life difficult too. By the end of  Kathryn’s book, you’ll have formed your own conclusions about whether you can have Too Many Friends.

And at the end of this post, Kathryn provides some fabulous tips on writing.

Kathryn Apel in Antarctica, the setting for her latest WIP.

Too Many Friends is a gentle book about friends, about making and breaking friends, about true friendship.

It’s for kids who find it difficult to juggle the needs of the people around them … to keep all the people they care about happy. (And that’s something that most adults find difficult too.)

It’s easy to warm to Kathryn Apel’s main character, Tahnee who wants to be friends with everyone, and who wants all her friends to be friends with each other. This causes tension and heartache, but Tahnee won’t budge from her goal.

I love Tahnee’s generous inclusive nature. Lucy is shy and a bit of an outcast, but Tahnee is determined to include her in their friendship group, even if it risks existing friendship.

And when Tahnee has a birthday, EVERYONE must be invited.

‘You can’t have that many friends!’
Mum gasps.

Tahnee has 23 on her list.

‘I don’t want anyone to feel
                                    left out,’ I say.

Soon Mum and Dad are involved in the excitement of the party plans.

Meanwhile, at school, Miss Darling has the children conducting a science experiment.

During Science
we start testing
the effects of force
on toys.

The push and pull of the experiment is symbolic of what’s happening with Tahnee and her friendships.

I love the way author Kathryn Apel adds depth and meaning to her work using these kinds of devices that young readers will easily relate to.

As well as introducing common dilemmas for kids, Too Many Friends introduces a whole range of fabulous classroom activities for teachers both within the book, and inspired by it.

Too Many Friends is lyrical and sensitive. A beautifully crafted story that will warm your heart.

Kathryn Apel uses words and shape, symbolism and rhythm to create this easy to read, but absorbing verse novel for younger readers, published by UQP.

Page 47


Below, Kathryn shares some fabulous tips on how she wrote Too Many Friends.


Kathryn Apel – Five Writing Tips for ‘Too Many Friends’

Listen: Life is made of experiences that can shape your writing. Sometimes a story needs to find you. Listen! I wrote a story-note on my phone after a conversation with a friend about her daughter; ‘a story about a girl with too many friends’.

Play: Throw words around. Juggle them. Try a new word for shape and size. Play with form.

Remember the big picture; whilst a word might be the best choice for that given situation, if that word is also the best choice in numerous other situations … you have a problem! (Related: Smile. Lots. In real life. But not too much in your writing. No matter how many friends your main character has – or how lovely your editor is – you can’t get away with too many ‘smiles’!)

Have a Joke: One poem (jokingly named ‘The BIG Smile-ing Thing’ – See Point 2) was written during final edits and became one of the heart-warming turning points of the book. You’ll probably never guess which poem it is (once it served its purpose, it was renamed) – but I’ll remember the laugh I had with my editor when she saw that title.

Prioritise: Unexpected circumstances meant ‘Too Many Friends’ had to be at typesetters a month earlier than planned. The pressure was on – and I couldn’t work with life and family continually disrupting. First time ever, I took time out and went away. By myself. For a week! (I won’t rhapsodise too much …) The tightly coiled spring inside me unravelled, the words stuttered … and flowed. I wrote – into the night, and halfway to sunrise. I slept late, wrote more then pottered along for a week at my night-owl-pace … and met the deadline. And my family coped.

Bounce Back: One of my favourite poems (and my editor’s) was a shape poem – and it was perfect! … Until it came back from typesetters and we made the awful discovery that we hadn’t considered line-spacing! My pièce de résistance was cut in half and spread over two pages – and completely unrecognisable! I will always love the original Duck, Dad – and share sneaky-peeks at author visits – but the revised version is even better suited to this book!

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone – And ‘On Track’ With Kathryn Apel

Kathryn ApelMy dear writing friend, Kathryn Apel’s second verse novel for children, On Track has just been released by UQP.

On Track is the story of two brothers trying to find their place in the world and within their own family.

Toby struggles at school, has a stumbly, fumbly, bumbly body and thinks that Sports Day is the worst day of the year. No matter how hard he tries, he’s not good at anything … except running away from his ‘big, better brother’.

Shaun is top of his class in every subject and he can’t wait for Sports Day so he can beat the record in discus. But when his ‘joke of a brother’ is around, nobody notices the things Shaun can do.

Kathryn says it was important for her to write this book because kids are all different. She has found from her experiences in the classroom, as a mum, and in her own life, that kids are often misunderstood, that people don’t always ‘get’ that every kid has a backstory, they are the way they are for reasons that are often beyond their control.

Why a verse novel?

Although she says that writing verse novels makes her feel vulnerable, Kathryn says that they allow her to really step into characters, step into their shoes and be them.

The journey to publication

bullycoverI started my ‘verse novel about training’ (as it was called for many years!) 6yrs ago, but it was only 140 words when I put it aside the first time… and then had my epiphany with Bully on the Bus…

In April 2010 On Track grew to 650words… so of course I got a bit intimidated and had to walk away again. By September 2011 it was 5639words. And so you get the picture. (I write slowly…)

The way I write is to mull things over and polish, polish, polish as I go.

The shape of a story in verse lends itself to this, although I know many would say that you should write… and then edit… separately. (I’m curious to try this one day – if I can put my perfectionism aside.)

The finished book is more than 17,000words – with about 5000 of those words written in three months during the editorial process, as a result of restructure, and subsequent character development.

final-on-track-cover-smallWhat was the hardest thing about writing On Track?

The whole plot structure. There were things I knew I needed to put in there, but I didn’t always know where or how best to sequence them. My editor helped with restructure and that’s when the extra 5,000 words came in. It felt like they were big shifts at the time, but they weren’t really. Though they definitely improved the story.

The hardest thing was that point when it was all in pieces – when I knew my manuscript could never go back to the way it was, but I wondered if I would ever be able to pull it all together again!

What was the most rewarding thing about your writing journey with On Track?

When my editor read the final manuscript and was sobbing at the end. Even though she had worked on the manuscript for so long and knew it so well, she was still swept along, and moved by the ending.

When you start to hear the feedback and people have ‘got’ the story and are more into it than you thought they could be, that’s pretty amazing.

Initially a picture book writer, Kathryn says that at first, writing novels was extremely daunting.

She shares her experiences and tips for getting writers out of their comfort zone.


  1. Read a lot in the genre you plan to write. I immersed myself in verse novels. I loved reading them. It was such a rich experience. Reading verse novels really made me want to try writing one.
  2. Have a go. Pick up the pen and put something on paper.
  3. Actually play with the words.  Takes some risks with words and placement. Make them say more than what the word actually represents.
  4. It’s okay to freak out. Panic and walking away is okay. You still have those words to come back to. Sometimes when you pull it out again you surprise yourself with what you have done and you know it for what it is, not what you thought it was when you panicked.
  5. Share things. I tweet a lot when I’m writing. I find it helps a lot to share my word count, and how and when I have pushed through barriers and things are finally falling into place.