Tag: Macbeth

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.


To be or not to be?

Did you make a conscious decision to be a writer? Or did it creep up on you?

Doesn’t really matter either way … there is still the potential to be rendered powerless and disheartened when your manuscripts make a habit of returning with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letter attached. You’ll probably have to depend on your significant other for economic support or do part-time work. But if you climb back in the saddle after a little swearing or mourning to carry on regardless you are a writer, whatever the outcome.

Luckily, there are several things that shine through the times of self-doubt to keep writers going.

For me, it’s the way dozens of writers turn up to support their fellow writers’ book launches … like the other night as Queensland author, Belinda Jeffrey and UQP launched her debut novel, Brown Skin Blue. Next week, we do it all over again at Christine Bongers‘ launch of Dust. Then on July 4, I’ll be helping Dee White celebrate the birthing of Letters to Leonardo in Melbourne.

I’d hate not having the comradeship, support and friendship I get on several internet Australian children’s writing chat groups. Even being in separate cities makes no difference – it’s a great excuse to visit interstate.

There are fabulous opportunities open to writers in this country – like the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship awards; the Australia Council with its systems of grants, fellowships and residencies; Arts Queensland grants, the various Varuna House awards, fellowships and residencies, and the support of CAL.

Then there’s the Australian Society of Authors – an organisation every Australian author should belong to – and one that offers the annual ASA Mentorship Program.

I’m proud to be chosen as one of 20 successful applicants for their 2009 mentorship awards.

This is a fantastic opportunity for any writer – you get to work for 30 hours (over 1 year if you want to take that long) with an experienced author and mentor. Mine will be Sally Rippin, children’s author/ illustrator and creative writing teacher from RMIT in Melbourne. I know from experience how valuable and significant this opportunity is – I received an ASA mentorship in 2002 and worked with Sue Gough on my first children’s novel.

This time the focus will be on my adventure/historical/fantastical (as usual can’t pin my stories to one genre) novel, McAlpine & Macbeth.

I raise my metaphorical glass to toast the Australian Society of Authors for their support of us, the developing writers of Australia; and also to the insightful, wise and perceptive judges of this year’s Mentorships – grinning widely.

I’ll keep a blog on the ins and outs of this mentorship via my other blog, dénouement when we start in mid-July. You may find it interesting. In the words of Macbeth, my cockatiel character with a penchant to quote Shakespeare, ‘ And thereby hangs a tale.’