My trip to Australia where I visited with the lovely Sheryl Gwyther. It was quite interesting being on the other side of the interview process. Sheryl had some great questions that really had me scratching my head for just the right answer.
Join me in Australia as Sheryl and I sit down for a chat on writing.
Belonging to the writing world and joining the online writing world via this blog and various writing groups has brought a richness to my writing life and given me friends and writing partners. Writing is a solitary profession. Indeed one could say that the “solitary” aspect of it is vital to the creative process. After all, the room the writer is in is already filled to overflowing with the various characters and muses that occupy our days, there is not any room for anyone else. But, every now and again when we have a caffeine break, it is good to have a water cooler area to go to and natter about the day’s events with colleagues who work in the same work line and understand our particular stresses and joys. I have such a spot in my writing life and it is called Word Warriors. This is a phenomenal Facebook group that was started initially for support and moderation for NaNoWriMo but has since continued and is now a permanent feature of the writing life. It was on this site that I met and befriended first strangers who were writers, then writers that became colleagues, then colleagues that became friends. This is how I met one of my favourite people on this site: the Superlative Sheryl Gwyther. This is a lady who weaves children’s’ stories about dinosaurs and vampires and all things weird and wonderful. She is just across the ditch from me. (In Kiwi / Oz speak: that means she is my neighbour in Australia.) Since we are in the same time zone (she is just a little behind me), there have been numerous times when we have both been at our water-cooler at the same time and find ourselves drawn into chats about everything from our stories we are writing to the characters, that are driving us up the wall and the ones that are breaking our hearts or making us smile, to what is happening in our personal lives. She has become very dear to my heart and I know that many in our “water cooler” group feel the same way. She is warm of heart and generous of spirit. She is a writer by career but a natural story-teller by calling. Now without further ado….
Welcome … Sheryl Gwyther
The Superlative Storyteller – Sheryl Gwyther
Firstly Happy Australian Day. Hope you have been enjoying the holiday. I have said it to you before but I am happy to hear that the floods in Queensland are slowly subsiding. I know I speak on behalf of all my readers when I say, our thoughts have been with you all.
Thank you for joining me today and taking time out to share a little bit about yourself with us.
girl with a quill: Tell me a little about you and who you are?
Sheryl: Thanks for the chance to jump onto your blog, Kim. I’m an Australian author writing for kids – although I have written a couple of micro-fiction stories for adults (and really enjoyed it).
girl with a quill: How long have you been writing?
Sheryl: The writing bug bit me way back in 1999 – but I’d been writing in some form or another forever. Y’know the usual thing girls do – secret diaries with locks on them. I did win a writing prize when I was about 12, all about some roo shooters killing kangaroos. I was, of course, on the side of the poor kangaroos.
girl with a quill: You are a children’s writer or as you term it, “You write for young people”. What made you decide to become a writer in this genre?
Sheryl: I was an early childhood teacher for a few years and used story books to ‘tame the savage beasts’ – no, seriously, I loved how reading and telling stories to the kids had the potential to open their eyes and their minds. Fiction can expose kids to their own world and to the worlds of others.
The majority of quality books for young people are clever, funny, sad, poignant, thoughtful and many other positive things. For me, it seemed a natural step to become a children’s writer.
girl with a quill: How many books have you published?
Sheryl: Three books, and a short story in an anthology. Secrets of Eromanga (Lothian/Hachette Aust), Princess Clown (Blake Publishing) and Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper (Pearson Education). My story, Corn Dolly Dead is in the Short & Scary Anthology (black dog books).
I’ll also have a short story, Scaredy Crow in the April issue of the New Zealand School Journal. I’m absolutely chuffed about that, being a long-time lover of our sister country across ‘The Ditch’.
girl with a quill: Which of these books is your favourite and why?
Secrets of Eromanga
Sheryl: They’re like children – bit hard to pick a favourite as they’re all different and special in their own way. Secrets of Eromanga is a junior fiction novel (for 10-12 year olds) – an adventure set on a fossil dig. I like that one because I worked on a dinosaur fossil dig while researching for it. Such fun!
I dug up a piece of the huge sauropod they call the Elliot Dinosaur (check out the Queensland Museum website). Both Princess Clown and Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper were also fun to write and so totally different.
Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper
girl with a quill: Are you working on a new story right now? Can you tell us anything about it?
Sheryl: Yes, my junior fiction (aka mid-grade) novel, Fangus Fearbottom – just an ordinary vampire. It’s the one I worked on for NaNoWriMo. It’s been tricky to write because: 1. I want it to be different from all the other vampire books for kids. 2. I wanted to set it in Australia. 3. It’s the first in a trilogy. 4. I’m hoping to get boys to read it (probably the biggest hurdle facing children’s writers). Unless you’re Andy Griffiths.
girl with a quill: Being based in Australia, do you base your stories there?
Sheryl: It seems to be that way. Although both the chapters books could be set anywhere, and both of them are sold overseas via the internet. Two other stories I’m writing, Singing the Wires and Mountain are most definitely set in Australia. The landscape here is like no other and definitely suits these two stories.
girl with a quill: Would your stories be different if you were not in Australia and why?
Sheryl: I guess everyone is informed by the places they live. It’s part of who we are – for example, Australian humour is sometimes not appreciated overseas, although probably more easily understood by New Zealanders than anyone else, and visa versa. I mean, we both loved John Clark’s Fred Dagg, didn’t we?
girl with a quill: Being a children’s writer, do you have any famous influences that you look to in this genre? If you do, who is your biggest influence and why?
Sheryl: I read a ton of books by a huge variety of authors – both children’s, young adult and adult – mainly for enjoyment and also to learn. There are many brilliant Australian children’s authors who I adore – and I guess, learn from by osmosis.
girl with a quill: Would you say that it is more difficult or easier to write for young people as opposed to writing for adults?
Sheryl: Many people say it is much harder to write for children – an adult reader will give you the benefit of the doubt, reading a chapter or two to see if they’ll keep reading. A child will give you a paragraph or even the first sentence. They easily pick up moralising in a story and will toss it aside. They know when someone is ‘talking down’ to them. Some of the most wonderful stories that appeal to adults have been written for children – because they are stories of universal truths.
It’s also a well-known fact that Australian editors and publishers of children’s imprints are the toughest in the publishing world and are passionate about creating fabulous fiction with their authors. I bet it’s the same in other countries.
girl with a quill: Did you know what genre you wanted to write in from the beginning of your writing career? Or did you experiment with a few genres?
Sheryl: Yes, I wrote adventures in the beginning – think I was still reliving the adventures I read when I was young. I still like writing adventures, but weave history and humour into them now.
girl with a quill: What would be the 3 pieces of advice you could give to an aspiring author for young people?
Sheryl: Read as many children’s books as you can manage. Write something every day. And never give up your dream of becoming a writer. You probably won’t be wealthy money-wise, but you’ll be all the richer for trying to make a difference to a child’s imagination.
Oh, I’ll add a fourth – read aloud your drafts to yourself, only then will you recognise those bits of clunky writing. Then get rid of them!
girl with a quill: Tell us a little about your writing process…How do you start a story?
Sheryl: I usually think a lot about a story before I actually start planning and writing it. And I’m always happier if I have a sentence in my mind to start off the writing. Usually it changes, but at least a great sentence/paragraph gives you hope for the rest of the story.
girl with a quill: Are you a panster or a plotter?
Sheryl: I like to have an outline so I know the direction the story is going and a possible ending – once the ‘big picture’ idea of the plot is there, I have the freedom to branch out in lateral directions once writing. I find it hard to write first drafts – but I love to rewrite and edit! It invigorates me and many new ideas pop up when rewriting.
girl with a quill: You took part in NaNoWriMo2010. Was this your first NaNoWriMo? What if anything did you learn from your NaNoWriMo experience?
Sheryl: Yes, Kim, it was my first NaNo. I loved having the group to help commit to it – especially the Word Wars and the encouraging dialogue on Facebook. I also learned to not fiddle too much with the first draft – to just write as fast as possible. Fiddling with edits in a first draft is one of my downfalls.
girl with a quill: You often hear of “Muses” in the same context with creative people. Do you have a Muse? If you do, can you tell us about your Muse? Who or What is it?
Sheryl: I don’t have a Muse – but I’m becoming much more aware when my ‘blasted critic’ is sitting on my shoulder. Nowadays, it’s not so difficult to give him the big push.
Sometimes, I think maybe the Australian landscape is my muse – it informed many of the paintings I used to do (until writing took over from art). I still like to get away from the cities into the heart of the outback.
girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Sheryl: Both together. For me, neither functions without the other – makes it doubly tricky writing an outline, but worth it in the end.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Sheryl: I rather like 11-year-old, Fangus Fearbottom – he is curious, funny, and doesn’t always follow the strict rules of the Great Vampire Reformation of 1812. Hopefully, other people will get to read his story in the not-too-far future.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Sheryl: Lyra Silvertongue and her daemon, in ‘His Dark Materials’ series by Philip Pullman. Courageous, brilliant mind, kind-hearted, intriguing, stubborn – a perfect character.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Sheryl: Brilliant British author, David Almond. The gorgeous Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief. Actor, David Tennant (especially if he’s dressed up as Dr Who). Artemisia Gentileschi, female Italian painter who lived in the 17th century – what a woman, what an artist! And Mary Anning, (born 1799) who lived through a life of privation and hardship to become one of the world’s most famous palaeontologists. She found her first dinosaur fossil at 12. She would have to qualify as creative!
girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
Sheryl: Resist submitting manuscripts to publishers before the stories are ready (i.e. the very best they can be). I’m getting better at not doing this now, but have an occasional slip-up.
girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Sheryl: You reached your goals with writing, Sheryl. What happened to the one about learning to play the violin?
girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Sheryl: That children loved reading my stories, and might have even learnt something about themselves from them.
Thank you, Kim, for inviting me onto your blog! Hope I can reciprocate one day.
What a lovely chat. Thank you again Sheryl. Now I think I am going to have to go and join Sheryl on a search for dinosaur fossils and child vampires…Take us on a journey in your world of wonder Sheryl…turning the pages and listening to your stories…
Remember wield your quill with wit and wisdom for….