Sarah Boland
Pop Fiction Author

To Love Veronica Bee

Veronica Bee thinks her life is changing from bad to worse! She's moving from the country to the city, leaving behind her two horses and her best friend Susie, her parents fight constantly, her older sister Penny acts weirder by the minute and her younger sister Amy is too young to realise that her life has changed. To add to that, the teachers at her new school are nuns! There’s also the 'big secret'. Something's going on between Penny and her parents, and somehow it's interconnected with the sudden move to Kew. So what's the secret, and can Veronica solve it? And what if Veronica allowed herself to love Veronica Bee? Maybe one day, she might realise that her new life is too good to leave . . .

Popular Fiction 2005

Rummage through the archives of the Popular Fiction Project, To Love Veronica Bee, which was undertaken at LaTrobe Secondary College during Term 1 of 2005 and see how students from Year 7 right through to V.C.E. were engaged in a wide range of fabulous projects.

Popular Fiction's Sarah Boland is interviewed at Soul Food. As a part of that interview she has writen a fabulous, fun, short story especially for the Soul Food Community and provides readers with an opportunity to win a Crumpler Bag.

Popular Fiction's Sarah Boland interviews Heather Blakey with the view to tapping the creative force behind Soul Food.

About Sarah Boland

Sarah Boland was born in Melbourne, Australia. She writes for young adults, and in 2001 conceived the Pop Fiction Youth e-Literature event. Sarah tours the event to schools, universities and libraries.

Pop Fiction is more than just reading. It is about young people using multimedia to make art that's related to a selected book. They can use the story's characters, plot, theme, issues, symbols, even important words to create their own Pop Fiction creations. After making their own Pop Fiction they get to star on the Pop Fiction Website.

To Love Veronica Bee is the first novel to be adapted into Pop Fiction. Everything on is made by young people. They have read the book To Love Veronica Bee, developed ideas for their artwork and/or multimedia, created their masterpiece and then posted it onto the website. Some of the artwork and multimedia is dead set wicket, some makes you laugh so hard enough to spray milk out of your nose, some stuff is kinda related to the book and other stuff is really really related to the book - one thing is for sure though, its all gets posted for everyone to experience.

Sarah Boland at Soul Food

H.B. Every object, everything has a story to tell. In ancient caves in the south of France, near Lascaux, boys in 1940 discovered 17,000 year old paintings and artefacts made by our early ancestors and the stories told by those ancestors continue to fire our imagination. Tell us a story about the origin of your passion for words and explain how you dance with words. Is your dance a Tango or a Waltz?

S.B. My passion for words definitely originates from my childhood passion for horses. I was 6 years old when my mother and stepfather married and one of their wedding gifts was a horse called Prince. No doubt you can imagine how excited a 6-year-old girl could be! Prince had the gentlest nature - my two older sisters and I thought it was hysterical that we could hang a piece of bailer's twine over his ear so that he'd stand still all day long believing he was tied to the fence. Prince was such a polite old gentleman. There's a framed photograph hanging on the wall at my grandparent's house of us girls standing beside him. He's white in colour, slightly swayed back and his coat is long and shaggy. My childhood eyes always saw Prince as a beautiful Lipizzaner stallion, just like the professional performing horses of the famous Spanish riding school in Vienna.

Each day after school, Irene (our babysitter) would lunge Prince - around a semi-flat area beside the corrugated iron shed that leant a little to the left - and we'd take turns riding. In a matter of weeks, our awkward bouncing in the saddle gradually evened out to a rising trot. I loved Prince - I'd brush him before school, then after our riding lesson another brush as he ate his hay, then a big hug and a kiss before my dinnertime and at nighttime I'd sneak out of my bedroom and go for bareback ride in my nightie. When my cousin Jo slept over she loved that we went for a moonlit ride.

Each weekend, my stepfather and I drove to the local St Andrews Market and while he looked for tools I'd scour stalls for secondhand horse gear. If I ran out of pocket money, I'd get up earlier and dig up a heap of artichokes from the vegie garden so I could sell them at the market for extra pocket money. I'd buy anything and everything to do with horses: brushes, bridle, a saddle for $10, helmet, boots, porcelain figurines, halter, lead rope and most importantly I'd scour cardboard boxes for secondhand horse books. Paperbacks sold for five or ten cents each and the local hippies were always dropping change from the holes in their pockets so I'd trawl the ground for spare change.

In my childhood bedroom, my bookcase was chock-a-block with horse books: Mary Grant Bruce, The Silver Brumby, Phar Lap, Archer, The Black Stallion, The Red Pony, Black Beauty, large factual hardbacks. Oh yeah, plus there were books that I'd borrow from the school library and admittedly never returned. I'd seriously read each book ten times over and there was this one book, A Very Young Rider by Jill Krementz, which I've honestly read more than two hundred times. I take that book from my bookshelf now and see how tattered the cover is. Can you believe - I've just opened to the title page and written at the top right hand corner is my sister's name. I must have stolen that book as well!

A Very Young Rider is a gorgeous biographic story, with accompanying photographs, about a ten-year-old girl called Vivi Malloy who lives in America and dreams to be a great rider one day. The book captures a year in her life. I loved how gorgeous and perfect her horse was and her spotless two-storey barn-style stable, how her older sister represented the US Equestrian Team and how Vivi aspired to ride for America just like her older sister. The photographs are striking black and whites of Vivi, her family life and her perfect pony adorned with shiny, expensive horse gear. Yes, very different from the framed photograph that hangs on the wall at my grandparent's house. However, when I was younger, I truly believed that if I trained hard enough it was possible that I could ride just as well as Vivi.

As I now turn the page of that book I feel an urge to cry. I think of the 200+ times I've turned that very page. I wonder what Vivi Malloy is doing today? Does she still ride? Did she qualify for the US Equestrian team? Or is she a mum and do her kids now go to pony club?

It's my childhood passion for horses and subsequent library of secondhand (and stolen!) horse books that ignites the fire of my writer's imagination. I'm not surprised that my current protagonist, Veronica Bee, is a horse fanatic. There's a dash of the 'childhood me' in Veronica, a dash of Vivi Malloy plus dashes of so much more. Veronica Bee's story continues from where Vivi's stopped.

My horse books are only an arm's reach away from my computer where I sit and write everyday. I've moved often, however those books travel with me whichever house I live. I'd say my dance with words, books and language is an intimate Waltz.

H.B. Although he has been called an "opportunistic omnivore", man is primarily a hunter. The hunting of big game provided new experiences for Homo Erectus, bringing about an intensification of the learning process for the young and a considerable increase in the area and distances covered by expeditions. Many writers are passionate about the hunt. What is your wish for Pop Fiction? Describe the hunt.

S.B. I don't have a wish for Pop Fiction - a wish seems a bit airy-fairy like cutting a knife into a birthday cake, finding a four-leaf clover, not stepping on the cracks in the pavement etc. But Pop Fiction is on the hunt.

Pop Fiction's hunt is more than tapping into the individual. It's more than getting young people excited about books and reading. It's about strategically placing 'literary traps' to engage (capture) a school's collective young adult readership.

For example, lets look at the Pop Fiction Youth e-Literature Event that occurs at secondary schools. As students read a Pop Fiction book, the main bait (the book) captures the percentage of students who have a positive reading experience and willingly snatch. They typically say "I loved that book, I read it within three days!". However, in Australia 45% of readers aged 10-18 have either a neutral attitude towards books or find them irrelevant, and 21% don't read books because their peers don't (National reading report Young Australians Reading: from keen to reluctant readers, published by the Australian Centre for Youth Literature, 2001). Reluctant readers, typically at the fringe of the classroom, are the primary focus of Pop Fiction's hunt. Multiple traps are strategically placed within the fringe area.

So how does Pop Fiction trap (engage) reluctant readers?

For three weeks, each day in English class, students take turns reading the book aloud. Pop Fiction uses this literature circles approach to herd fringe dwellers towards the strategically placed traps.

After completing Pop Fiction's reading component, students then make artwork and multimedia based on the book's story and/or character, themes, issues and symbols. Students can make artwork in whatever artform they choose. Thus a student must ask their self, "what do I like?" and "what are people my age in to?". Students have said to me, "I like drawing and graffiti so maybe I'll ask the Principal if we can graffiti a wall at school", "I like building things and using tools so maybe I'll make a 3D model", "I love clothes, so maybe I'll design and make a costume like what one of the characters wears" or "I like media studies and last year I really got into animation so maybe I'll make a claymation". As each student decides - on their artform and whether they create Pop Fiction as an individual or team up with their friends - they invest more of their self into their reading experience and thus step closer or even fall into a trap.

Making Pop Fiction has its challenges. First, you have to read the book to participate. Second, students are conscious that their creation will be showcased on the Pop Fiction website for all to see. Thus thirdly, there's an element of risk that "every one will laugh at my idea or think it's stupid". It's this element of risk that I notice reluctant readers have the most fun with. They laugh and rib each other and text analysis becomes a schoolyard conversation rather than confined to the classroom. The teacher is absent, there's no blackboard or whiteboard. During the laughing, ribbing and schoolyard banter reluctant reders step closer to the trap: they defend each other, or defend their idea, or reevaluate their decision-making process and fire questions at those who have questioned them. Their connection and understanding of the text strengthens.

Sure, there are some students who (year after year) manage to slip through the education system. It's like they have a magic bag of tricks at hand to evade learning. But I also believe these students (and their magic bags) are valuable and can be cleverly integrated into Pop Fiction. They are 'book rebels'. They don't have to make artwork. However, it's expected that these students evaluate other students' creations. For example, they can be journalists (via a web blog) and report on or interview other students about their creations. Often, I notice these students make valid comments like "dur, that's not even related to the book!" Bingo, they're trapped! They are engaged with the story and each successive report/interview increases the impact the story has on them. In addition, their reporting forces other students to explain how their artwork relates to the book. It could be said that laughter, ribbing, banter and critique is just as constructive as the reading and production/presentation of artwork. Pop Fiction's flexibility and collaborative approach intensifies the learning process.

Bear in mind, Pop Fiction does not seek perfect artwork. In fact, Pop Fiction welcomes creations that are flawed or are deliberately tongue in cheek. This ensures that when other readers check out the book's website to view artwork, they are in a position to readily dismiss certain creations and applaud others based on how closely they're related to the book. It's good to have difference - flawed art is just as valid as highly polished art. Pop Fiction allows and makes young people question.

I certainly don't expect Pop Fiction's literary traps to capture the entire 'collective young adult readership'. However, I'll admit that it is an amazing expedition to see reluctant readers captured.

H.B. To attack and vanquish a beast much larger than himself and equipped with considerable defences (teeth, claws, hooves, horns or antlers) our ancestors had to invent strategies or draw inspiration from other predators, such as lions, wolves or wild dogs. Tell us about some of your strategies and where you draw inspiration from?

S.B. When I'm in residence at schools I have two rules that I abide by:
1. Do not wear black clothes
2. Don't pretend to be a 'big kid' but try to think like a young adult
Plus here are some of my typical research strategies:
· Watch typical teen movies/DVDs
· Watch MTV and Video Hits
· Read teen mags
· Eavesdrop on trams between 3.30-4.30pm when students are heading home
· Listen to the radio
· Hang out in the schoolyard
· Think back to what it was like when I was at school
· Talk to my younger cousins
· Look at my school diaries that I've saved plus read notes that my friends and I used to write in class….

H.B I love your concept of Copyleft as compared to Copyright and I am sure patrons at Soul Food would be fascinated. Can you explain how To Love Veronica Bee is an example of Copyleft?

To love Veronica Bee is copyright in the traditional sense that all rights are reserved. Which basically means don't photocopy or digitally distribute the book in its entirety or print/distribute multiple copies for profit otherwise you'll get a big butt kick.

To love Veronica Bee is Pop Fiction thus it's copyleft as well! Copyleft permits young readers to adapt the book into artwork and multimedia. They may take any element of the book such as the story and/or text, character(s), image, graphic etc and further adapt that element to make their Pop Fiction. However, if someone creates something rude and inappropriate for public display it's a total waste of their time coz there's no chance it appearing on the book's Pop Fiction website.

There's another term called Creative Commons i.e. two c's in in the center of a circle rather than one. Check out Creative Commons website:

H.B.Take a bottle and explain how you could use this to publish a story.

S.B. For real - I did a 'short story in a bottle' project when I graduated from uni! I conceived the project whilst watching the movie called Message in a Bottle. The movie opens with a glass bottle half-buried in the beach and sealed inside is a love letter. I thought the bottle looked gorgeous and loved the concept of words traveling within a bottle to a new home. My mind ticked over and thus I found it hard to concentrate on the rest of the movie. However, inspired by the movie's opening, I conceived a project whereby I took my graduate folio of short stories and self-published them 'message in a bottle' style.

To kick-start the project's production, I teed up with a guy called Frank to professionally typeset and print each short story onto A5-sized brown, old-fashioned paper. Then drove my car to a bottle factory in Melbourne and selected one style from a thousand styles (I went with a similar style to the Paul Newman's salad dressing bottle but with extra detailing on the bottle's neck and hip). Then drove to a cork factory and chose a cork that had an old-fashioned pockmarked look to it. I know - I should have been out celebrating that I was a graduate, but I got swept away by the project!

Frank and I discussed and co-designed a label for each bottle (well, Frank is the design expert so he suggested and I agreed). Each story's bottle had a similar circular graphic on the label except the title and colour of the inner graphic differed for each story. Mum worded me up on the power of colour - e.g. BP and Shell logos - so Frank and I went with a yellow and orange scheme. Oh gosh, it's all coming back to me now. Can you believe, I then drove my car for an hour to Balnarring beach and collected sand, seaweed and 3 large tee-tree branches swept onto the beach. I'm sure the Balnarring Council would not be impressed! I put my beach booty into the boot of my car and drove back to Melbourne.

The next day, I'm off to the craft shop in search of beach-themed fabric and miniature-sized trinkets related to the theme of each story. Such as Finona is a kid's story about a fish so I bought fingernail-sized starfish, and for Ruby I bought tiny jewels and red glass beads. Back home at the dining table, it's me manning my production line and filling each bottle with a handful of sand, seaweed, a short story rolled into a scroll and the story's accompanying trinkets. Altogether 8 short stories and 800 bottles.

For 3 weekends in a row I booked a stall at the Camberwell Market. I'd arrive at dawn, decorate the wooden table that I'd leased with the beach-themed fabric, sand and the 3 tee-tree branches and altogether sold 700+ bottles (to encourage sales, I offered curious shoppers a 2 for 1 deal).

I've still got a complete set of bottles at home lined up on my bookcase shelf (just above my horse books). I'm sure there's heaps of other ways to take a bottle and publish a story that doesn't involve so much workload or require a tank of petrol. Most other writers would take a bottle, drink it, write a story under the influence and submit it to a lit journal.

HB. You describe yourself as a non typical writer, preferring to write in public spaces in the company of your teenage audience. Imagine you are walking towards a doorway with notepad in hand. You have a companion. Who is the companion and what does the realm of your imagination, beyond this doorway, look like?

Read Sarah's short story, Just before turning the doorknob and enter a fun contest.