Tag: Sally Rippin

How do they do it?… author/illustrators – dual lives. ‘Fire’ – the first Element Door

I admire those talented author/illustrators, those high-achievers of children’s books with dual creative minds – like Shaun Tan, Gabrielle Wang, Sally Rippin, Narelle Oliver, Kerry Argent and Pamela Allen (and heaps more). I’m so jealous!

How do they split their time between both activities, especially if they’re writing novels as well as picture books? What comes first, the story idea or the first little mental image that pops into their heads? And the biggest question of all – how do they find time to do both activities, and the housework as well?!

I’m endeavouring to interview a well-known author/illustrator in a future blog so might have some questions answered soon.

I have a special interest in the way illustrator-writers/artists work, as I struggle to find a way to paint while writing full-time. I don’t illustrate my stories, except for the chapter headings, the motifs in Secrets of Eromanga. But I am an artist and printmaker – and have been for the last 18 years and 3 months to be precise.

‘Layers of Time’ – my final illustration from ‘Secrets of Eromanga’ – pen and ink

Eleven years ago, WORDS took over my head and my life, usurping the painterly life and gradually relegating my easel, paints, brushes and print rollers to the downstairs cupboard. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE WRITING more than eating, sometimes. But!

When I was new at this ‘game’ of writing children’s books, it was easy – one day writing, one day painting, one day in the Evil Day Job (that’s all I could handle). But then, with stealth and muscle, writing crept into my psyche like the first flow in a dry creek bed. Hardly noticeable at first, then the flood.

Making art became more difficult – not the skill side, it was the thinking side. Because like writing, painting requires many hours of thought as well as craft skill.

So, here we are in 2011, I have some books, articles and short stories under my publishing belt; many more on the ‘drawing board’, and the easel is still under its sheet so I can’t see the large half-finished canvas I started 6 months ago.

If anyone has any suggestions to get my writing/painting life into order, I’d love to hear from you!

Have to admit even when painting, dastardly WORDS crept into my work. Maybe they’ve always been there and I didn’t recognise the love of my life (sorry, Ross!) 🙂

Here is an example where words figure in my artwork: Fireone of The Element Doors (an installation at The Gap High School Library, Brisbane) – painted in acrylic, oils, mixed media on real doors. Metal door handles are engraved with contour lines – an important motive in my work. All of the Element Doors have words of some sort ’embedded’ into the paint. Fire has newspaper headlines about bushfires in Australia.  See the story of Fire below.

These 4 doors were real doors, used every day by hundreds of students. But a re-modelling of the library last year meant that 3 of the doors are now up on the wall and one, Fire is screwed to another wall all by itself – it was deemed too heavy to put at a higher level because it is an actual fire protection door. I had no idea it was the library’s fire door when I chose it for the Fire painting.

Painting ‘Fire’ in The Gap High School Library before it was put back in place

FIRE – A nation hostage to the gum

Laden with volatile eucalyptus oils and as recognizably Australian as the koala, the gum tree evolved to fit this land like a glove. Its many varieties have adapted to the seasonal flare-ups of bushfires – surviving and sprouting with new growth when the rains arrive. Bushfires are a natural part of the renewal across this land.

 We want to live close to the natural beauty of the Australian bush, but even after many decades of bushfire tragedies, it’s ironic we ignore the gum’s ability to increase the destructive path of fire.

 If we want to live in harmony with, rather than hostage to the gum we need to understand its place in our Australian landscape.

© Sheryl Gwyther 2003

For the next three days, I will post the other three Element Doors with their particular story attached.

All images are copyrighted. If you would like to use them for educational purposes, please acknowledge them and contact me first for permission.
(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2011


Blog touring with the QWC

Without the support of the Queensland Writers Centre and their lovely staff my journey to become a better writer would be so much harder. We have a fantastic writing community here, due in part to the QWC. Long may it flourish in their new home at the State Library – looking forward to the new writers’ lounge too!

I’m very pleased and honoured to be part of the QWC’s Blog Tour 2009.

Where do your words come from?

Good question! I’ve never thought about it before; just accepted they’ll turn up in time. And so they did for my first junior fiction novel, Secrets of Eromanga. And for Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, a funny chapter book due for release next August.

Have to admit though – sometimes it’s like pushing jelly uphill. But when the magic of flowing, unrestrained words rush out and skitter along fingertips to the page; I forget about food and sleep (and all the jobs around the house, as well). That type of writing is nourishment for the hard times when the right words don’t come – it keeps a writer’s confidence alive.

I’ve been a voracious reader since I was five. I reckon reading books is like the scaffolding of writing. By osmosis, stories guide the brain into sensing the power of words and the rhythm of the language.

Writing a first draft isn’t easy for me – could be because I stop to edit along the way; not moving on until it reads right. There’re lots of editing chances later, but no, can’t help myself. It’s like picking at a scab. Maybe I’m a perfectionist (in some things, anyway). J

But when the first draft is done, then, joy of joys – it’s rewriting and editing time with the freedom to branch off in other directions, pull characters apart, tighten up the storyline and heighten tension. All the fun stuff!

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in the mid 50s and 60s in sugar-cane country in far-north Queensland, until my dad was transferred out west into dinosaur fossil territory.

My younger sisters and I ran wild, having the most amazing adventures. We only came home to eat and sleep. (Thank you Parents for not filling our days with activities – except to make sure we went to school.) They’d have fallen over laughing at the thought of ‘after-school activities’? I reckon those years were the genesis of my imagination.

I’ve lived in Brisbane for years now and can’t see us moving anywhere else.

What’s the first sentence of your latest work?

He slips though the shadows in the School of Arts Hall. Only the squeak of leather shoes betrays the man’s presence as he leans against the back wall and folds his arms.

It’s from McAlpine & Macbeth, the junior fiction novel I’m editing in my Australian Society of Authors Mentorship this year. I’m working with author and illustrator, Sally Rippin.

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

It’s a toss-up between Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Fabulous stories with every word just the exact word it should be. They’re part of my TOP SHELF collection.

What are you currently working towards?

Completing McAlpine & Macbeth and sending it off to publishers.

For me, 2009 was swamped by the battle against Parallel Importation of Books. I, with a small group of Aussie children’s authors, set up a blogsite and campaigned against PIs. As well as writing blogs and letters to the newspapers and politicians, it also meant organising a protest by authors here in Brisbane; taking our petition to Parliament House and fronting the media. A matter of learning at the coal face! This battle was won, but not the war – we expect the issue to come up again.

For now, I’m enjoying getting back to writing stories.

The future of the book is…

Interesting; always exciting; hopefully still with the opportunity for books to suit all tastes and choices – whether online and e-published or in traditional style.

I don’t believe we will give up real books altogether. But in the future when paper-making can no longer be environmentally and economically sustainable? Perhaps then.

I’ll still be sitting amongst my book collection smelling the pages for that evocative scent of new book.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.

writing research in a dinosaur fossil preparation lab


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.’