Author: Sheryl Gwyther ... author

I'm an Australian children's author writing novels, short stories and plays. My new historical adventure for Middle Grade readers is with HarperCollins Publishers Australia. SWEET ADVERSITY is available now.

Grug – a little miracle worker.

If you were at school or were a teacher between 1979 and 1992 you would know GrugGrug

This hairy, brown and yellow striped character inhabited a series of books written by Australian author, Ted Prior. (Soon to be re-published by Simon & Schuster, Australia from June, 2009).

So, why a miracle worker?

Let me tell you first about Grug. Set in the Australian bush (and city), this small fictional character was formed when the top fell off a burrawang tree (altho it’s looks more of a Native Grasstree to me). Grug is like a strange haystack with large eyes and fat legs.

Doesn’t sound like something that’d appeal to kids, does he? But, oh boy, the kids in my Family Group class of 5 to 9-year-olds at Woodridge North State School in the 1980s adored him.

Was it his funny sense of humour? Or the colourful illustrations? Or those tricky situations Grug continually got himself into? It was all of these, and more.

Some of the 25 titles included:

  • Grug and the big red apple
  • Grug and the green paint
  • Grug learns to swim
  • Grug goes to school

It’s hardly worth telling you what these stories are about – the story lines are simple. But the different expressions on Grug’s face are sublime, and the words perfectly chosen.

I bought my own Grug books to use with the kids in Family Red at Woodridge North State School because we never seemed to have enough resources. There were 4 rooms of Years 1,2,3 in the Junior School and I was a novice teacher.  The books were very small so we made Big Books of our own to use with groups – oh yes, we were well and truly into the Whole Language approach to teaching reading. The kids drew and painted their own interpretations of the story and I printed the words.

Then students began to make up their own booklets with Grug as the hero. The older children in the group wrote the words for the younger ones – a true mentorship program. We explored phonics, comprehension, science, art, geography and language through the genius of  Ted Prior and the magic of Grug.

Rodney was seven, under-developed, and failing to learn to read. He told me trying to read was ‘sticky, like syrup’. I knew Rodney could think well, but he was overcome with the abstract world of the alphabet. He gave up.

So, one day I made a Grug puppet out of brown wool with large, plastic eyes that wobbled. I bribed Rodney – he could look after Grug if he had a go at reading Grug’s stories.  Every day, that child headed straight for the row of Grug books, and the larger Grug’s Word Book.

He drew pictures – something he was very good at – and slowly, surely, Rodney also tried to copy Ted Prior’s words and sentences. He began to read in halting sentences, becoming more fluent. He probably knew the stories off by heart, but that didn’t matter.

Within a couple of months, Rodney ‘got it’. It was like the light had switched on over those abstract letters and he knew he could read.

I put this little miracle down to this small, brown, stripey book creature, Grug.

Here’s a Youtube animation made in 2005 of the first story, Grug.


The gloves are off!

Many Australian eyes will be on Barack Obama’s Inauguration to the White House on Tuesday the 20th January.

But Tuesday marks a far more important date for Australian readers and writers.

It’s D-day for submissions to the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the lifting of Copyright Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books into Australia. The last chance for you to voice your concern about this possibility.

Publishing industries shake their collective heads in dismay and disbelief – how can this be the sixth time this battle has been fought? Independent booksellers wonder where it will all lead – they’d only hoped for an overhaul of the 30-day rule on the restrictions.

Authors who fear for their livelihoods cope in different ways – some are out there fighting against it, some can’t face the thought of getting involved in politics (and that is exactly what this is), some feel disempowered by the might of the forces lined up against Australian writing.

The main players supporting the scrapping of Copyright Restrictions appear to be the huge book-selling chains – Dymocks, Woolworths and Myers; Bob Carr (ex-Premier of NSW and director of Dymocks); and individuals who support the free market (from all political persuasions, State and Federal government Treasuries and Competition Commissions).

This issue reared its head for the sixth time at the Premiers’ conference last July. It was never debated; it slipped through and was signed off on by all Premiers. Sydney Morning Herald journalist and author, David Marr writes of how Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia was ‘surprised to find, on closer examination, a dozen or so words on page 14 about another inquiry into the book trade. The initiative came from the Commonwealth Treasure via a new group of state and federal officials…’

New Zealand lifted their Parallel Importation restrictions 10 years ago. Want to know what’s ahead for Australia if restrictions are lifted to allow a ‘free-for-all’?

Go to the New Zealand Society of Authors submission to the Australian Productivity Commission –

This is what Australia faces in the years ahead.

If you haven’t sent your submission to the Productivity Commission, now is your last chance.

The gloves are off in this debate – I suggest further steps:

  1. Talk or write to your local politician about this issue.
  2. Write to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
  3. Write to the Minister of Arts, Peter Garrett.

If the Productivity Commissions decides in favour of lifting Parallel Imports on Books, I (and many others) will be boycotting the books sold by Dymocks, Myers and Woolworths.

As David Marr says, ‘that’s when the political brawls in defence of the nation’s biggest cultural industry will begin.’

Music to write by?

Do you listen to music while you write? A Mozart sonata? John Coltrane’s sax or some classic Miles Davis? A bit of the Cuban touch? Coldplay‘s lastest CD? Or soundtracks from your favourite movies?

It could be that, to work successfully, you need a blur of background sound to keep away the silence. Or is it deliberately chosen music that fits the mood of the piece you’re writing? Or do you prefer silence?

I’ve asked some writers their preferences….

New Zealand author, Brian Falkner has a very definite way of working – he finds a specific piece of music that reflects the kind of emotion in the scene he’s writing. If it’s an important or emotional scene, he sometimes spends as much time trying to find an appropriate piece of music as he does writing the scene. (See Brian’s website on the sidebar)

I find that the right music can not only affect you emotionally while you are writing, but it can also bring imagery to mind that you can use in the scene.’  Usually he uses the music choice once because then it’s become tied to that particular book and scene in his mind.

Here’re some of Brian’s choices, (if you know the music you can imagine the scene he’s writing):
1812 Overture / Barber’s Adagio for Strings  / Quidam (Almost the entire album) – Cirque du Soleil  /  Firebird Suite – Stravinsky  /  Night on Bald Mountain – Mussorgsky  /  Ave Maria – Schubert  /  Oh, Fortuna – Orff /  The Swan – Saint-Saëns

Australian author, Claire Saxby finds music keeps her going if she’s writing something new, and it tunes out ambient noise. She says beat music will keep the words flying. Favourite titles include Augie March’s two albums, The Frames (Irish band), Waifs, Cat Empire, Paul Kelly. Familiar albums allow for subliminally absorbing – so much so, often she doesn’t notice them finish.

Michael Bauer, a fellow Ashgrovian, and the author of the splendid story, The Running Man (and others), confesses to needing silence when he works because he’s easily distracted. ‘I thought I’d give it a go so I put on a cd but I couldn’t write a thing because I kept listening to the music! Maybe I just didn’t pick the right songs?’

Michael does have a point – there is music it’s impossible to write by – I’ve tried it. The latest I’ve tried is a Christmas gift from my sister in Washington – called Rhythms Del Mundo CUBA. A collection of musicians, from Coldplay, Sting, Artic Monkeys, to Quincy Jones and Ibraham Ferrer (from The Buena Vista Social Club) and others, playing their music with a Cuban influence – all with the intent of raising funds and awareness about climate change. Great music! But why is it impossible to write by? How can one key words when one is too busy salsa-ing?

My favourites to write by depend on what I’m working on…  if it’s an action scene or dramatic dialogue, then it’s the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings – especially when the orcish army is storming Helm’s Deep. For background music, I’m back in my Celtic ancestry with any of five Loreena McKennitt CDs. Or Paul Kelly’s Songs from The South.

P.S. My favourite Music quotes:
‘Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.’  ~Charlie Parker
‘Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years.’  ~William F. Buckley, Jr.

So, do you have music favourites to work by? Love to hear your choices.

Here’s a video of Rhythms del Mundo CUBA – enjoy!

840 kittens

Okay, I know I said this blog was just for writing matters BUT I have to get on my soapbox just one more time in 2008.

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa’s calling in on lots of good little boys and girls, but do you think Santa would be so stupid as to leave a cute puppy or kitten under the tree? No way, Jose! That jolly old gentleman has got more brains. Mind you, there are some responsible owners who will do the right thing for their fluffy, furry, hairy little bundle over its life.

In December there’ve been over 840 kittens dumped at Brisbane’s RSPCA centre at Fairfield and they’re still counting. If they can’t find homes, they will be gassed – kaput, arrivederci, farewell and goodbye. In one year the number of cats put down number over 12,500. Add to that number the total dogs and puppies who’ll die as well. Those vets out there at Fairfield must feel like shit sometimes – they’ve trained to save animals not kill them.

The RSPCA is run by donations. Want to help? Donate. Pressure politicians to ensure people spey and neuter their cats and dogs if they’re not prepared to find good homes for the progeny. Encourage people to get their pets from the RSPCA not petshops (sorry, petshop owners, but you are part of the problem). I told you I was getting on my soapbox.  Here’s the site to donate, and you get a cute card with it….

Have a furry good Christmas!

Nothing to do with cats and dogs - just another animal - dermestid beetles eating flesh off python.

Nothing to do with cats and dogs – just another animal – dermestid beetles eating flesh off python.

A pleasant surprise…

Don’t you love it when you you pick the right movie to see? Especially when you think you’re not in the mood for an intelligent drama. Okay, so it was my turn to choose and the other possibility was Twilight, but the thought of Ross going to sleep in a vampire/romance movie and snoring in the kissy-kissy bits put me off.

So, instead I chose Frost/Nixon, the just-released Ron Howard movie about the legendary battle between Richard Nixon, the disgraced president with a legacy to save, and David Frost, a jet-setting British television personality with a name to make – as the blurb says – in the story of the historic encounter that changed both their lives.

The screenwriter/s should earn Oscars and Tonys for their brilliant script as should the actors – it truly is a great movie.

Even if you didn’t live through those turbulent years as the world watched Richard Nixon escape punishment for his involvement in the Watergate affair, nor will it matter if you’ve never heard of David Frost, you’ll enjoy the drama unfolding. Go see it!