the things that inspire (a story)

Lots of things spark story ideas for writers. Yes, even the odd dream or overheard conversation. I’d like to share a little story with  you. It’s not momentous, life-changing or side-splitting hilarious, it’s just one of those little anecdotes out of the blue.


 You may (but probably don’t) know that I’m finishing the final rewrite of a manuscript, a story for young people, McAlpine & Macbeth. I started it around eight years ago and after many redrafts and changes, I think I might be there (touching wood, to keep away the rejection fairies).

The story is set in the Depression year of 1929, in a regional town in Australia and is the story of 11 year-old, Kate McAlpine’s quest to find her missing parents, both Shakespearean travelling actors. (Not such a strange thing on the dusty roads of the Australian outback.)

Kate fears they may have abandoned her, considering she is living at Matron Maddock’s Home for Abandoned Children, but of course, there are far more hazards in store for Kate and her cockatiel, Macbeth.

You might think this is just another story about an abandoned girl – albeit it one who’s red-headed, a talented singer and a natural on the stage. NO, THIS STORY IS NOTHING LIKE ANNIE (the musical)!

 For a start, McAlpine & Macbeth is Australian and Kate is no Annie-character. And Macbeth’s talent goes far beyond acrobatics, being Kate’s accomplice in defying Matron Maddock’s regime, and quoting Shakespeare. You see, Macbeth, being one of the ancient land spirits, can really talk. Until he and Kate had been left at the Home, his life had been filled with Shakespearean drama, actors, life on the road and Kate. Now, it’s just Kate. Macbeth, being an astute bird with a fine appreciation of drama senses something is wrong in the State of, no not Denmark, but Matron Maddock’s Home.

Her parents should never have left her in this place. Could they not sense the mist of lies coming from the woman’s mouth when she spoke? Did they not see the shifting eyes of her shadow-man? Why did they not recognise Matron and Parris for what they are – humans who prey upon the trust of children, sucking dry their hopes and dreams?

Like the flicker of a dragonfly’s wing, this pair of parasites conceal their true selves behind the mask of good manners; performances to equal any Shakespearean production. O, how they excel in deceit.

Ha! If this be what passes for humankind, methinks those two should return to that primordial soup from where they came. (Macbeth – McAlpine & Macbeth)  © Sheryl Gwyther

I seem to have strayed from the subject!  What sparked the idea for McAlpine & Macbeth?

Romeo and Juliet

This is a true story about family ancestors who lived in the early 1900s. Daniel McAlpine and his beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Lavinia (Lily) were travelling actors in the late 1890s in New South Wales. One night, before a performance in a country town’s town hall, the stern-faced Daniel called out to the audience for a replacement to read a main character’s part for a sick actor. Richard, a young dairy farmer from the Comboyne Plateau immediately jumped up on the stage – he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Lily from the moment she’d entered from Stage Left.

Three years later, they married – and one of their 10 children produced my husband, Ross.

I don’t know if the company were, like Kate’s memory of her missing parents, performing Romeo and Juliet at the time, but I like to think they were.

Like Kate and Macbeth, I have a special connection to Shakespearean drama – in my case it’s the great Aussie Shakespearean actor, Geoffrey Rush. It started when I was 16 and living out the ‘back of beyond’ of north-west Queensland, but that’s a story for another time.


24 thoughts on “the things that inspire (a story)

  1. Hello from Australia, Jayne. I’m glad you like my blog!
    And yes, I’d love to be a guest blogger on your blog sometime. I’ve just been reading it – so interesting to hear about what other writers do across the world. Best wishes on your future work too. 🙂


  2. Sheryl, I am a wrtier living in Florida, USA. I have been perusing various blogs and websites of authors and writers and I must say, yours is magnificent! I am so impressed with the color, depth of work, and guest bloggers. I also share a passion for reading with, and to, children, (I am a pediatric nurse) and as a mother, I believe that the one most important thing a parent can consistently do with their child is read. It builds relationships, strengthens cognition, and most of all- it’s so fun!
    Please visit me at and best wishes with your future work. Also- would you consider being a guest blogger for me some time?


  3. Thanks, Kim. I’m intrigued by the history of travelling actors in Australia – it’s a huge (and in those days, unforgiving and wild) country to travel around in horse-drawn carriages, or old motor cars.


  4. John, when the book is finally published I’ll let you know! The story is more of an historical adventure with a bit of fantasy thrown in (mind you, who’s to say birds can’t talk? I used to believe animals could talk when I was little – wishful thinking!) It’s for the 12-15 age group + adults who are children at heart still.


  5. What a great idea! It must be even more special because of the family connection. Great post Sheryl. 🙂


  6. It’s a wonderful story, Sheryl and wonderfully told. ahhh the wonder that is life. You make me feel like rushing out and getting a copy of the book right now. I love fiction that is fact based and am interested in particular in the lives of early Shakespearian actors on the road. I’m glad I visited


  7. I lived in Australia from 1963-2009, Sheryl, and founded Gold Coast Writers Assn in 1990. So yes, I do consider that the wonderful country, but Destiny has decreed that my last years will be spent near my family. My body may be here, but my head spends most of it’s time in NSW or QLD. You’ve inspired me now – I might rewrite The Barman’s Bet to apply to UK, as there is often flooding here. It’s a simple story – the outback town is in a seven year drought… an old guy drinks at the only pub and forecasts that it will rain by his birthday next month and to treat himself, he will go fishing. The Barman scoffs and bets a tenner that won’t happen. It’ll stand revision, so we’ll see. BTW, I’ve revised my website Pop in and tell me what you think of it. Cheers!


  8. Wow Sheryl, that’s amazing! Love hearing the stories behind the stories 🙂 Now get back to that final draft! (so it can get published and we can all grab a copy…)


  9. You’ve asked for incidents that turn into a story, Sheryl. A TV report on flooding one year when I was living in that wonderful country, showed a reporter broadcasting from a bobbing boat – it was not a happy report. But I burst into laughter when I spotted a man with a floppy hat, happily fishing in the background, from his little aluminium dinghy. And to increase the laughter, he actually caught a fish and cheerfully plopped it into his boat. The reporter saw nothing of this, but later, it earned a spot on one of those “Funniest Home Video” programmes. My story, The Barman’s Bet had already been published in a magazine.

    You’re quite right, every unusual incident provides material for a writer!

    Like your Blog page!


  10. Macbeth, my most humblest of apologies. I meant not to confuse your species, slow that I am to absorb the details of life at this late hour. Why all the world knows a cockatiel is the superior avian creature in the field of dramatic arts. Don’t know what I was thinking.


  11. “Parrots? Forsooth! To be or not to be, that is the question! And that is not to be a parrot! Madam, I am a cockatiel not a parrot!’
    (Sorry, Dimity, Macbeth is not known for his brevity of wit.) 🙂


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