Tag: Dee White

Being on the other side of the author interview

As you know, gentle readers, I interview people on my blog, usually authors and usually people I care about, and whose books I love. This time, I thought I’d swap places on the couch. I also got to share some things nobody knows about me in the Bio at the beginning.

Forgive me being ‘centre stage’ ! Promise I won’t do it too often. 🙂 This post is reprinted from the October Creative Kids Tales blog where its owner and administrator, Georgie Donaghey interviewed me for her October post. Georgie has been a great supporter of children’s books and their creators during her blog’s first year. So Happy Birthday, CKT! Take it away, Georgie….

Q. Sheryl, where’s your favourite place to write?

I love my workroom with its view over my garden, but nowadays I find I can write anywhere – usually with my laptop stable-table (thank you, IKEA), and my trusty ASUS Zen computer. Often I head out to our back deck, the best place for winter sunshine or summer breezes. I can write away from home too. Once I start re-reading what I wrote the day before, I’m in another place and the story takes off again. Who’d want to trade this life?

Tidied up especially. Yep, that is tidy.

Q. What inspires you?

I think it’s mostly books and language that inspire me – all the wonderful narratives I’ve read since I was four; all the unforgettable characters who’ve kept me company for so many years; all the places I’ve been in my imagination because of fabulous authors.

I’m also inspired by people who fight against the odds to make this world a better place – the scientists, the artists, writers and political activists.

Q. Do you decide what’s going to happen in your story or do your characters tell you?

Good question, Georgie! For me, it’s collaboration – a combination of instinct about story-telling (maybe that’s the right-brain at the wheel) and an organised, thoughtful consideration about plots, characters, dialogue and all the rest. I can jump between right and left side brain without too much clanking of gears. Sometimes, the transition is so smooth, I’m purring along in a lovely, crimson red Maserati, with the hood down.

Enough of the car analogies, though! I do love it when an idea comes from out of the blue and I follow it at full throttle. Darn! I promised no more cars.

Q. How many rejections did you receive before you were accepted?

For my first book, Secrets of Eromanga, probably around eight rejections. The letters did get longer and more positive every time though, and I did improve the story after each rejection.

The question is why did I send off the story before it was fully baked? Impatient? Willing to take risks? Yep, that’s me. Nowadays, I curb my impatience, and I have to say my writing has definitely improved over the past six years. My short stories and my school plays are finding their place in the world without rejections – does that mean something? Mmmm, must think about that one more.

Q. How did you celebrate your first book being published?

I think we went out to our favourite Thai restaurant and drank a whole bottle of superb Margaret River Dry White. It did all seem a bit surreal though – seeing as it took 18 months from acceptance to holding the book.

Before the publication, I’d had the amazing experience of being awarded an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship. Now that really was an occasion to celebrate. It boosted my confidence no end – to feel that I must be heading on the right path if strangers who are experienced writers and editors believed in my story writing ability.

Q. Do you road test your ideas before you start your story?

I probably do a bit of road testing (are we back on cars again?). But it’s more in my head than in front of a person. I trust my conscious and sub-conscious, absolutely.

I do a lot of thinking before I start writing. I do a lot of thinking about everything. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in my head sometimes. Even when I’m cooking dinner or hosing the garden, the old brain is at work. I don’t do it consciously all the time, but I know that eventually the words will come. And that’s just the first draft – my favourite part is the rewriting, the re-working and editing, that’s when the magic can sometimes happen. And all is well with the world (of a word-crazy author, at least).

I have a couple of trusted writing friends that I share my stories in progress with and get valuable feed-back from them. Thanks, girls!

Last week, I was out in the bush, at the Chinchilla State School doing a writer-in-residence gig. I ‘road-tested’ the first chapter of my current work with the Years 5/6/7s. FANGUS FEARBOTTOM (book 1 of a trilogy) is still in the polishing stage, but you can tell when kids are interested and caught up in a story. And I reckon this novel could be a winner when (notice I say when, not if?) a publisher picks it up.

Q. What’s next from Sheryl Gwyther?

I have another school play appearing soon in The School Magazine (love writing plays!) It’s called SCAREDY CROW.

I’ll keep writing my novels – like FANGUS FEARBOTTOM, MACBETH & ME and SINGING THE WIRES – did I mention I have three works-in-progress? Yeah, that’s me, a glutton for punishment. But I love all three and they’re heading down to the finishing line.

I would like to do more art work, painting and printmaking… my other loves. But words keep getting in the way. Maybe this year sometime?

This year, I was elected on to the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) so that takes up some of my time too – it’s an honour to represent authors (in particular, children’s authors).

I’ve also taken on the Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Queensland (SCBWI), and it’s a great experience. It’s great connecting up with other people who are passionate about children’s writing, like your good self, Georgie! All part of what keeps me going.

I also love visiting the wonderful and special writers I’ve met over the past few years, like Dee White, Angela Sunde, Tania McCartney, Karen Brooks and Lynn Priestley – they’ve become like sisters, and I love them dearly.

Thank you again, Georgie, for the opportunity of being on your fabulous blog.

Does music soothe your writing beast/muse?

Do you listen to music while you work? A Mozart sonata? John Coltrane’s sax or some classic Miles Davis? A bit of the Cuban touch? Coldplay’s latest 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? Does it relate to your work in progress? Or do you prefer silence?

I’ve asked a few of my writerly friends about  their preferences….

If Australian author, Gabrielle Wang wants to write a particularly emotional scene she might listen to Bach. But apart from those moments she don’t like music on while she writes as she get too carried away by it and can’t focus on the story inside her head.

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.

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

Adagio for Strings (watch it, I guarantee this will send a shiver up your spine – one of the most powerful, poignant compositions ever made).

Australian author, Dee White has a different way to write.

I don’t listen to music. I enjoy writing in the quiet or immersing myself in the sounds of nature outside my door. At the moment, I’m enjoying writing on the deck with the sounds of the river rushing past:)

Claire Saxby, another Aussie children’s author, 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 Gerard 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 that is impossible to write by – I’ve tried it. Like Rhythms Del Mundo CUBA. It’s is a collection of musicians, from Coldplay, Sting, Arctic 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 sit at the computer churning out another story when one is too busy salsa-ing?

Nathan Bransford, U.S. author and blogger doesn’t listen to music much, but his blog has some interesting comments on the topic.

My favourite music to write by depend on what story 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 Orcs are 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.

Do you have music favourites to work by? I’d love to hear your choices.

Here’s some music to get you in the groove!  Coldplay‘s Clocks on the album, Rhythms Del Mondo with a very Cuban beat. Even better than the original version.

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.


Blog touring with ‘Princess Clown’

To celebrate the launch of my new chapter book, Princess Clown, I’ll be touring the internet. 

Today, you can catch my tips about WRITING CHAPTER BOOKS on fellow Aussie author and good friend, Dee White’s blog. It’s on her regular TUESDAY WRITING TIPS.

If you would like to follow the blog tour, (and if you have never followed one before, here is your chance) check out the list below of all the great Aussie children’s authors’ blogs I will visit.

06 July Tuesday  Dee White – ‘Tips on writing chapter books’  http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

07 July Wednesday – Interview. Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine) http://soupblog.wordpress.com

08 July Thursday – A guest blog.  Robyn Opie www.robynopie.blogspot.com

09 July Friday – A guest blog. Catriona Hoy http://catrionahoy.blogspot.com

10 July Saturday – Interactive, especially for kids. Kat Apel katswhiskers.wordpress.com

11 July Sunday – how to prepare for the ‘real’ book launch.  Sheryl Gwyther 4 kids http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com

12 July Monday – Guest blog. Sandy Fussell http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/

13 July Tuesday – Interview. Sally Murphy www.sallymurphy.blogspot.com

14 July Wednesday – Interview. Claire Saxby www.letshavewords.blogspot.com

15 July Thursday – ‘Workshopping with young children’.  Mabel Kaplan http://belka37.blogspot.com


Many thanks to all the above authors for their time and blog space – both Princess Belle and I are grateful!


Of a sunburnt country and convoys of dead sailors…

Recently, I was a guest blogger on Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog to celebrate the launch of her new verse novel, Toppling. She is an acclaimed Australian children’s author and reviewer of Children’s and Young Adult novels.

Sally asked, ‘What do you like best about poetry…’


“What I like best of all is how the poet is able to capture so much in a few words – of how images are distilled and poured into those words. That is clever writing!

I haven’t read as many poetry or verse novels for younger children as I have books, but I aim to change that soon especially with Sally’s Toppling and her hugely popular, Pearl Verses the World.

Thankfully, my eyes were opened to the joys of verse novels for older children when I read Steven Herrick’s verse novel, Cold Skin. It was one of those books you cannot put down until it’s finished – and one in which the story and the characters stay in your mind for a very long time. I consumed Herrick’s Lonesome Howl and By the River in the same week – stories that wrung me out emotionally, but left a feeling of peace in my heart, and so glad I read them.

When I was at school, we studied Australian poetry and learned to say many poems off by heart. The ones that stayed with me created such strong images in my mind. I’m not surprised they have been perennial favourites for many Australians even in modern times.

Like Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. Her words could never mean any other country except Australia. I like the way her poem describes all the adversity, the harshness and beauty of this country but it makes no difference, she loves it unreservedly.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains …

Kenneth Slessor’s Beach Burial, written during WW2 is so evocative, so sad and beautiful. (It’s worth reading the whole piece.)

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness; …

It makes me happy to see how children’s poetry books and verse novels are once more popular with publishers. It means that librarians and teachers encourage children to read poetry and to perform it. And that children will discover worlds they may remember forever, with emotions that will touch their hearts.

A loved poem is a friend you can take anywhere.