PODCAST – Kristine Spurling
In Conversation with Kristine Spurling
Dyan: Kristine, you are currently involved in two projects for the Words from Daddy’s Mouth (WFDM) Studio. Can you describe them?
Kristine: Yes. The first project is a picture book for children in the 4-7 years age bracket.
It is entitled ‘Paco, the pacuna’, and is about acceptance of individual differences and belonging. The tale involves a pacuna (an alpaca/vicuña cross) who discovers a stranded baby vicuña and facilitates its rescue.
The second project involved the re-writing of the first four WFDM stories as Classroom Readers.
Dyan: Let’s begin with the Classroom Readers. How did you go about writing them?
Kristine: Having first familiarised myself with the original WFDM stories, I extracted the basic story line. I then re-wrote the stories, using simple sentence structures, and choosing a vocabulary that maximised the repetition of the first 100 of Dr Fry’s ‘Out and About Sight Words’ (Queensland Government version). Of course, each story also included a number of context words. Some of these words, such as ‘dad’, ‘little’, ‘play’ and ‘game’, occur in several stories, while others, such as ‘bike’ and ‘weekend’, are specific to a single story.
Dyan: What educational experiences did you draw upon to write these stories?
Kristine: My teaching experience spans some twenty years. I have taught all year levels from pre-school through to lower secondary, and have taught both mainstream and in the specialist areas of English as a Second Language and Learning Assistance. I have always been particularly interested in language acquisition and development.
Dyan: How do you envision these Readers could be used in the classroom?
Kristine: There is no set way of using these Readers in the classroom. It is anticipated that teachers will adapt their introductory activities to suit the needs of their students. The teaching notes provide various suggestions for ways of introducing the Readers and using the support materials. The Readers are suited to both whole class instruction, and small group learning. While they are primarily intended for early childhood classrooms, the Readers are also suitable for use with older students in Learning Assistance programs.
Dyan: Apart from the teaching notes, what other support materials are available?
Kristine: Each story has an associated Word Search, Crossword, Word Study and Comprehension sheet. For those teachers wanting to monitor their students’ progress, Reading Behaviours Recording sheets will also be available. It is anticipated that audio versions and apps will enhance the learning experience.
Dyan: Now, let’s talk about your picture book, ‘Paco, the pacuna’. What inspired this story?
Kristine: During a visit to Peru in 2013, my husband and I spent a night at an eco-resort on Suasi Island, Lake Titicaca. In the late afternoon, we took a guided walk to the island’s summit to watch the sunset. It wasn’t far, but given the region’s high altitude, it was quite challenging. On the way, our guide stopped to shepherd the island’s alpacas into their corral. But one of the herd, an alpaca/vicuña cross (or pacuna) ran away. The guide explained he was becoming increasing alienated from the alpaca herd. On our return to Australia, the plight of this lonely pacuna was a recurring memory. Gradually, the story of how he might become reconciled to his maternal family of alpacas, and also his paternal family – the island’s wild vicuñas, evolved.
Dyan: Can you explain the underlying themes?
Kristine: The themes include accepting differences, showing care and concern, understanding and respecting different cultures and interpreting body language.
Dyan: Can we now talk about the illustrations?
Kristine: Of course! No picture book is complete without illustrations. The WFDM Studio has been particularly fortunate in engaging the Hungarian artist, Zoltan Nemes who has created some amazing art work. He has produced authentic pictures of the Lake Titicaca region, including its scenery, flora and fauna, and the regional costumes of the local inhabitants. Considerable research has been necessary to ensure the animals are depicted accurately – not just their physical attributes, but also their body language. We have discovered that camelids (alpacas, vicuñas, pacunas, llamas, guanacos …) are very expressive animals, and convey their emotions through a variety of tail, head, ear and neck positions.
The illustrations also feature two other species, not specifically mentioned in the story itself, but used by the artist to mirror the action. Somewhere on each page the reader can find a hummingbird and a small group of viscachas (a delightful, rabbit-like creature with a long tail, endemic to this part of the world).
Dyan: What follow up activities are included?
Kristine: While primarily intended as story for enjoyment, the completed package will include detailed teaching notes plus two Word Searches and a Crossword.
Dyan: Do you anticipate further projects?
Kristine: I understand the next WFDM Studio project is to re-write the first two stories in the second series. These stories will be at a more advanced level, with more complex sentence structures, and will incorporate the first 200 of Dr Fry’s ‘Out and About Sight Words’.
Dyan: Can we now discuss the writing process. Where does your inspiration come from?
Kristine: If I were to wait for inspiration, I would still be waiting. I have to just sit down, and start. It might at the keyboard, but when away from the computer I revert to the trusty technology of pen and paper. Once I make that initial commitment, the words start. But, like many writers, it is that first step that is the most difficult.
Dyan: And now for the logistics. How do you organise your day? Do you have a particular time set aside for writing, and how do you find a balance between your professional and private life?
Kristine: Every spare moment is a moment to write. I don’t have a set time of day, but when life is particularly hectic, I have to make time. For me, that means getting up an hour earlier. This gives me an uninterrupted hour of magic. It is also the time when my ideas are freshest. Perhaps my sub-conscious works while I’m asleep, but I often find that in the early morning I can make connections that I hadn’t seen the day before.
Finding a balance between my personal life and professional life is about setting priorities. I make a list and put the important things first. Then everything else will hopefully fall into place. A list also gives a sense of achievement. At the end of the day, I can see all the things that have been crossed off and think, ‘Wow, I have done all that!”
Dyan: Finally, can you tell us something surprising yourself? Something that perhaps defines who you are?
Kristine: I think perhaps I surprise people by doing the unexpected. I have a tendency to see and do that things that are little unconventional. Perhaps this comes from being left-handed?
Dyan: Can you give us some examples?
Kristine: Well, some years ago, while staying at Waitomo, New Zealand, my husband and I went TumuTumu Toobing, which could be loosely described as underground white water rafting. Then last year, while in Kirkenes, Norway, we drove a quad bike to the Russian border. Both exhilarating, but slightly unusual activities for an otherwise staid couple.