Tag: Secrets of Eromanga

My Writing Process (never a dull moment) Blog Tour

Thank you to talented and all-round lovely person, author, Julie Fison who has invited me to be part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Julie, along with several other well-known children’s authors lives in my suburb in Brisbane, Queensland. Must be something in the water! I write children’s novels, short stories, chapter books, school plays and flash fiction for adults. Okay, so here goes…. my Writing Process

What am I working on?
I usually have several things on the go – like just completing the final edit for new chapter book, The Magic Globe (due out mid-2014), working on my 52,000 word novel, Sweet Adversity, seeing my children’s play, Rosie, hero of Eggstown get published in the Irish kids’ publication, Through the Looking Glass Magazine. I’m also writing an adult flash fiction story a week for my 52-Week Flash Fiction Challenge blog this year. It’s been totally manic, but I love creating these short/short stories around a word theme. This week’s word was ATONE. Tricky, but I’m happy with the result.

52 week flash fiction imageMy main focus in the first half of 2014 is to complete the final polish of Sweet Adversity – an historical adventure set in the Great Depression in Australia. It’s for 10-13 year olds (and adults who like reading kids’ novels, haha. Yeah, that’s all of us, isn’t it?)

In 2013, this manuscript won a SCBWI International RA/ARA Work of Outstanding Promise award – a generous grant that’s helped me travel to Canberra’s National Library to research the affect of the Great Depression on Australian children.

Sweet Adversity means so much to me – its real-time history flavour; its protagonist, Addie McAlpine, a feisty and talented runaway from an orphanage; her pet galah, Macbeth, a bird with a repertoire of Shakespearean quotes; two twisted adults who’ll do anything in their power to get what they want from Addie, and a quest to the death.

I’ve always loved the language and drama of Shakespeare’s plays – from right back when, as a student, and a troop of Shakespearean actors arrived on a train in my tiny, Queensland outback town. They played The Merchant of Venice. One of them (apparently) was a young Geoffrey Rush. Of course, there are other influences surrounding this work-in-progress. Hope you get to read it in the real one day!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I write with a slight literary style (I do love the magic and rhythm of words), but I keep in mind the reader’s enjoyment of the story is what matters in the end. Some say I have a great feel of writing the landscape of my stories – you’ll have to read them to see what that means. I’m also an artist, so landscapes have been significant in my life – sensory observation is second nature now, especially of some places that have left indelible impressions on my mind.

Earthquake country, California.
Earthquake country, California. Oil on board

I also like to make my stories a little different – like in Secrets of Eromanga, a junior fiction contemporary novel set on a fossil dig near Winton, Queensland. Every alternate chapter jumps back 350 million years to document the life story of a courageous, young female ornithopod called Wintonopus latomorum.

As I wrote, I became as attached to that gentle dinosaur as I did to Ellie, my human character. And like the kids who read the book, deeply felt Wintonopus’s ultimate demise.

An adventure set on a western Queensland fossil dig. Suitable for upper-primary readers.
An adventure set on a western Queensland fossil dig. Suitable for upper-primary readers.

How does your writing process work?
It depends on what I’m writing. I get ideas all the time – sometimes they cellar like a good wine until formed into a story. Other times, those impulses grow silver wings and off they go. Still, I do edit and rewrite MANY times. I’ve submitted manuscripts before they’re ready. But I’m learning to be patient nowadays. I like to start with a plot plan/outline (so I know the ending, sort of), then let my imagination free reign to think laterally.

I love the editing process – that’s when my brain really fires up. Sometimes I end up with a plotline that is nothing like I thought it would be. Very exciting!

Ali Berber and the 40 Grains of Salt
My newly published chapter book from the Pearson stable – a fun story involving science and literature.

I also enjoy being part of the wider world of children’s books – with a two-year stint as a Board Director of The Australian Society of Authors, and as an Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in the Australia East/New Zealand region (SCBWI).

Playing a leadership role in our children’s writing world is like adding grease to the squeaky wheel of authorship.

I’ve met people – other authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and librarians – they’ve helped increase my desire to write the best I can, they give me encouragement in those ‘down times’, they help feed my quest for knowledge, and they’re fun to be with – what more could an author ask for?

Coming up soon … an author and an illustrator I know you’ll love to know more about. Names revealed soon!!

Author-in-residence…the icing on a writer’s cake

The day I decided to write full-time was one of those milestones in my life. I’ve never regretted it, even with the lows rating more than the highs. But I have to say amongst the highs is the experience of being an author-in-residence in schools.

With the Years 4/5s – you have to imagine the floor spread with fifty seated little bodies.

My latest little adventure was the three-day residency at the Chinchilla State Primary School. What a fabulous school it was – bright-eyed kids, supportive teachers and enthusiastic library staff. I’d go again in a flash!

Chinchilla has always been a sleepy little country town out on the edge of the outback, but with the recent years’ intense interest in gas production, it is changing fast. They predict it might soon have its first traffic light! 

Chinchilla main street

With over 500 kids it’s one of the schools taking part in the Federal Government’s Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership School program. Their literacy co-ordinator, Cindy Grimes is an essential part of tying things together – she organised my trip and was part of it every step of the way, ensuring the teachers got the kids to read or at least, be familiar with three of my stories, ensuring copies of the books were available in the library and that the whole visit ran like clockwork. Absolutely brilliant! And so much more enjoyable for me.

I used Scaredy Crow for the Preps/1/2s – with song and dance routine to the Dingle-Dangle Scarecrow;  comprehension activity through pictures from the story; dress-up and drawing with the kids. Lots of fun!

From Scaredy Crow. Illustrated by the brilliant NZ illustrator, Fraser Williamson

How on earth Cindy managed to get hold of copies of the story in the New Zealand schools’ Junior Journal? Through the back door! Resourceful woman.

My Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper was the literary theme for the Years 3/4s, and Secrets of Eromanga for the Years 5/6/7s.  It’s amazing how many useful activities and avenues can be gleaned from those two books. 🙂

I’ve had some very positive feedback from everyone concerned. So thank you to the kids from Chinchilla State School, and to the Principal and teachers. Thank you, Helen Bain from Speakers Ink and most of all, thank you, Cindy Grimes. (Cindy even had a little list of other suggestions I could use to increase the value of my presentations for future incursions into schools. How lucky am I?)

Here are some images from my visit.

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‘Secrets of Eromanga’ slips into the digital age

Who’d have thought it? Yes, my first novel has become an ebook and available in Australia and the United Kingdom, and into the U.S. eventually. SECRETS OF EROMANGA ebook

The publisher, Hachette Australia Children’s Books have been choosing and gradually sending their ‘older’ books into a new age of readership. Secrets of Eromanga is still in print in Australia, but it’s great to know that the novel will have a new life in the future as well.

A Eureka moment on the fossil dig.

This junior fiction adventure is a story close to my heart. I had the astonishing and wonderful experience of volunteering on a fossil dig for the biggest dinosaur found in Australia as I was writing the book. So, it became a vital part of my research.

I knew a little bit about Aussie dinosaurs before I wrote the book, and came out at the other end of my hands-on experience with a much greater appreciation and enthusiasm about these amazing creatures who lumbered, sprinted, walked, slid, swam and flew across our land 95 million years ago. 

End of day on the Elliot fossil dig

It’s also the story of a young girl’s courage against adversity, and her enthusiasm for fossil hunting – that amazing, unforgettable experience of peeling back the layers of time and earth to find buried treasure.

Try a little dig experience yourself sometime – out at the Elliot Dinosaur dig in western Queensland. Or visit the new (opening in April) Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a new museum/laboratory on a mesa outside Winton, solely devoted to the region’s dinosaurs. If you go there, look for my name on a plaque as one of the Founding Members.

Aussie Dinosaurs Rule!

Mesa country outside Winton - beautiful, wild landscape


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


Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question all authors face.

So what’s your answer? That they flow into your head from some stream of consciousness, or the ether? Or plucked from a fast-fading dream? Or from a magic box that only you have the key to? Or do you shrug your shoulders because it’s too hard to think of the right words.

You could offer an explanation like my favourite author, Neil Gaiman did…

“In the beginning, I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: ‘From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,’ I’d say, or ‘From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis,’ ‘From a dusty old book full of ideas in my basement…’ until I got sick of being flippant and told the truth. ‘I make them up. Out of my head.

But people didn’t like that answer – as though he was holding some secret knowledge back from them, keeping it all for himself. For acclaimed authors like Gaiman, those who seek the knowledge usually want his magic bullet so they can do what he does.

For me it’s usually people I know or kids I talk to at schools who ask that question. So its easy to ‘spill the beans’ to them. I use some of the stories I’ve written as examples,  so it makes more sense.

What sparks off chains of events and the characters that become my stories?

For Secrets of Eromanga it was the unknown, unnamed Australian dinosaur that left the evidence of its flight for life in the 95 million-year-old rocks of Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede near Winton combined with my passion for fossil hunting.

McAlpine & Macbeth began with the glimpse of a fast-fading dream I had – a girl from the past and the kick-boxing cockatiel she called Macbeth (I kid you not). That dream morphed into the adventures of a 15-year-old on the run during the Depression with her friend and mentor, a Shakespearean-quoting cockatiel, Macbeth.

Two words fell into my head one day … ‘octopus boy’ – I haven’t got a clue where they came from. That idea became an eco-adventure, The Octopus ODDyssey.

Decibelle sparked into life in my imagination during an Adult Literacy class I taught part-time and a student spelled ‘decibel’ as he heard it. An image of a fantastical creature refused to leave my head – I jotted down the notes on a scrap of paper I still have … female, feisty, definitely Australian, very loud voice and an outsider to the rest of her clan of sprite-like creatures. But Decibelle is neither fairy nor sprite – she’s a tintookie, a mythological Australian ‘small being from the sand hills’. Yes, Decibelle’s come a long way since that first spelling error.

Ideas come from anywhere, every minute of the day, daydreaming or focussed; people, images and places. You catch them with your senses, your brain, your imagination, your experience of life. You build on them, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, scaffolding, constructing, questioning, demolishing and re-building until they are tangible and new … a story.

PS  Three of the above stories are on reams of paper at the moment doing the rounds of publishers. But Kate and Macbeth, Decibelle and Finn Jackson and his mates are so real in their author’s head she sometimes forgets this small, insignificant detail.

Neil Gaiman – Where do you get your ideas?

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book – 2009 Newberry Medal winner