Tag: Sheryl Gwyther

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!!

‘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


Peter from Copenhagen … a short story

The Brisbane River

When you’re flying over south-east Queensland and below you are the unmistakable, sinuous curves of the Brisbane River, you know you’re home. The river is why our city is here. Its waters carved the landscape out of ancient rock and laid down fertile flood plains.

It’s a highway and an obstacle to passage. Even in modern times, there are Brisbanites who rarely venture across the river to suburbs on the other side.

A source of food and water, transport, communication and recreation over millennia; life-giving, life-taking. The Brisbane River has many stories. This is one of them…. 

Before South Bank, before Expo 88, and after the ramshackle rows of warehouses were razed to the ground, a wide expanse of grass-covered the banks of the Brisbane River’s south reach, opposite the city – waiting for ministerial decisions on its future.

Along Stanley Street, the bordellos and bars had gone by the early eighties and small business ruled the roost – like the Brett’s Timber and Hardware office where I worked ….

One lunch hour, I escape the drudgery of keying data into a computer and take my sandwiches down to the river’s edge. Stunted trees offer little shade, but anywhere is good to escape an air-conditioned office.

A man stumbles along the grassy embankment towards me. He clutches an open bottle by its neck, the contents hidden in the paper bag; his hair is close-cropped and grey; his clothes crumpled and his face is blank.

There’s no escape route and I’m alone in the park. In the end I don’t run away – that’d be a cowardly thing to do. He’s only a harmless, old derelict.

He stands for a moment and focuses on me. I nod a greeting and look away, hoping to discourage him from coming closer.

The man weaves down to the riverbank and gazes across the water for several moments before dropping the bottle. He unbuttons his shirt, unzips his trousers, staggers and hops as a pants’ leg gets tangled in his shoe. He topples like a felled tree.

After a moment or two, the man sits up and shakes his head. He removes his shoes and socks, then tugs the trousers from around his ankles and pushes himself to his feet.

What is it with humans? The brain registers imminent disaster, the heart speeds up, but the body is frozen. As the man heads for the river’s edge, I say nothing. Not even a warning.

Nobody swims in the Brisbane River – not even by choice, not in that reach of its serpentine length. Wide, tidal, silent, a habitat for bull sharks – its strong flow evident by eddies swirling along the surface.

The man climbs down the barrier of large, jagged rocks and lower himself into the water. It’s cold, but he keeps going and pushes away from the edge. In seconds the river catches him. He tries to turn back, but it’s too late. The current pulls him out into deeper water. Only his head is visible as it bobs along in the current, like a tennis ball thrown in a flooded creek.

I run along the bank, trying to keep him in sight, but the river is faster than me.

Then he’s gone.

Later, a laid-back cop from the Gabba police station records a witness statement – I’m a perfect witness; every detail etched in my memory. I ask questions. With a grin he says, ‘Lots of derros go swimming in the river and don’t live to regret it’. I persist with my questions.

Who was the man? Why did he do it? The cop relents, or maybe he wants to get rid of a young female witness before she turns into a blubbering mess.

They retrieve his clothes from the grass. In his trouser pocket, they find fifty-five cents and a passport.

‘He’s a Peter something-or-other, can’t pronounce his name,  from Copenhagen,’ says the cop.

Peter from Copenhagen also owned a Commonwealth Bank passbook with the total of $12.54.

That’s all they know about him. That’s all they need to know.

Back at work, I get into trouble for taking a three-hour lunch break.

I say nothing. It doesn’t seem right to blame it on Peter from Copenhagen.

© Sheryl Gwyther 2011

(First published in Ripples & Reflections – an anthology about the Brisbane River ISBN 9781921555046)

The Kangaroo Point Cliffs reach of the Brisbane River - image courtesy of Radio FM88


Blogging from the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature

Just gearing up for another exciting role in the world of children’s literature.

For the past month, I’ve been setting up the inaugural blog site for the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature in September, so as well as being the Writer-in-Residence for the 10 days of the Festival, I’m also the chief blogger.

Tatty Rat

My co-hosts are 10-year-old Paige Turner and Tatty Rat, who, I’m sure will have a ball and so will I!

We also have two Australian guest illustrators, Lucia Masciullo and Lynn Priestley.

Paige Turner

What more could a children’s author and passionate supporter of the children’s books publishing world want? A  fabulous festival with over 40 Australian authors and illustrators, giving an amazing array of workshops and author talks for children and adults (on the weekend’s Adult Program).

Workshops are held at various schools in the region, at the Ipswich Art Gallery and most in and the grounds of the historical house, Woodlands at Marburg.

Festival organiser, Jenny Stubbs is thrilled to announce that the Festival has been awarded an Australia Council funding grant as well as an Arts Queensland grant – how lucky are we in Australia to have such fabulous support from two levels of Government. Long may it last!

Hope to see you there at the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature from the 3rd – 14th September.


‘Water’ … the third Element Door

Water was the first door I painted in this series. It all came about because there was a door going nowhere in The Gap High School Library, and the Teacher-Librarian, Janelle McMahon asked me if I would paint it blue (because she liked blue…lol) 🙂

I’ll do better than that, I said, I’ll paint a picture on it and it will include blue! Little did I know where that casual remark would lead.

One formal proposal to the Principal later, the one door had turned into four and the images were to be the Elements. No better topic to express my love of landscape! The school gave me a good lump sum of money for the art supplies and I agreed to do it free of charge – I kept the left-over oil paints, brushes etc.

Water paved the way for the rest of the pictures. I had no idea how the paint would stick to the surface – the doors all had a textured good-quality vinyl surface in a limestone colour. But I need not have worried – it worked perfectly.

I used acrylics to ‘map’ out my design first, glued down the mixed media of the printed poetry on rice-paper, then slowly built up glazes in oil paint. The individual images in the picture I added as I went, building up their surface with oils.

‘Water’ – ‘Down by the Bay’ – Sheryl Gwyther 2003

Water focuses on my other job at the time, a part-time teacher at Brisbane’s Nudgee Beach Education Environmental School. It’s on Moreton Bay and is mangrove coastline with estuary beaches – a really important part of the Bay’s eco-system.

Jelly fish in deep water

The Bay (as Brisbanites call it) is constantly under threat from over-fishing. We had a shipping accident last year that tipped containers of chemicals to the ocean floor and swamped tons of oil across beaches. Now the sea-grasses where dugongs feed are threatened after the recent floods in Brisbane.

Moreton Bay in danger of being loved to death, and so are the estuarine mudflats of Nudgee Beach. I haven’t been back there for a while but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s denuded of its micro-life.

Water is a multi-dimension landscape painting – mapping out a bird’s-eye view of Nudgee Creek as it flows into Moreton Bay. The macro image of a Soldier Crab represents life on the mudflats, and the water-poetry inserts are there because the painting is in a Library.

The chosen poetry extracts are some of the most evocative words written about water by poets from several continents and times. I chose my favourites, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot, Five Bells and Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor and others.

Human symbols for water include in the painting are Aboriginal water-hole circles, the ancient Egyptian wavy hieroglyph for river, the zodiac water signs of Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer, and the Brisbane tidal patterns. See if you can find them all.

Some of the larger images include baby turtles (not from Nudgee Beach); my favourite creature of the Bay – the Soldier Crab; flowers from the Red Mangrove and shells.

Soldier crabs armies look like pieces of sky moving across the mudflats.

This is a painting about conservation of a fragile environment – and I don’t care if it’s not subtle. The estuary mangroves are the nurseries for Moreton Bay’s fish and mud crabs. Below, in and above them live countless creatures. The most destructive creatures at Nudgee Beach walk on two legs.

If you’re ever near The Gap High, call in and ask Janelle or Karen to give you the guided tour. 🙂

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

Making art with kids at Nudgee Beach