Tag: the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust

Finding your story … easier said than done

Some people are much more comfortable writing first drafts, rushing along like a fully-laden diesel train, without  stopping until the end to check the load. Me, I’m like that little old red, steam engine that could … you know the one, I think I can, I think I can…. ad nuaseum … chugging along, steadily, checking for damage to the undercarriage along the way.

my deskYes, I can’t help but edit as I go. It’s not the final edit – oh no, that’s a long way off. I’ve been so fortunate though – 4 weeks of being able to charge into the first draft for my new novel with no restrictions on my writing time (except I’ve only got one more week left here at the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust‘s apartment in Norwood, Adelaide). This freedom is exactly what an author needs! 

My story, VIVALDI’S ANGEL is taking shape … ever so slowly. I’m up to chapter 12 now. By the end of my fellowship residency next Friday, I hope to be close to the end of a first draft.girlIf I’m not it won’t matter – I do have an ending in mind, and a bit of a road map on how to get there. It’s just that my character, Caterina is showing signs of definitely leading the way, and too bad about any map I have already! Which, for a writer is a good thing.VivaldiI have a rough plan of the story. I have lots of scenes I can write before joining them together. I write a rough, hand written copy in my story journal first … then add it to the computer (great for limbering the plotting part of the brain). All sorts of lateral thinking comes during this process.

I have Caterina’s imagined face and Antonio Vivaldi’s known one (did you know he had red hair beneath that wig?) on my drawing board. Plus several images of paintings of Venice and the Venetians back in the 1700s. And of course, I listen to Vivaldi’s music.

I long to finish this first draft! It’s difficult! I’m sure I’ve said this before. I LOVE the editing and rewrite stages. And all those little doubts linger like they do in many writers’ minds … is this story good enough? Will a publisher love it like I do? Will they GET my writing style. Yes, my style is different, but if I wrote like Andy Griffith, Kate Forsyth or Michael Gerard Bauer, it wouldn’t be a Sheryl Gwyther story would it? Viva la difference. Sorry about using your name in vain there, Michael!! I love reading your stories!

The only thing I can control at this stage is my own perseverance. Here’s my mantra …

I WILL finish this story.

I WILL stay confident it’s the bones of a great story!

I WILL try to write without stopping to edit constantly what I’ve written

Ha, fat chance! You’re such a control freak, Gwyther!That’s the muse on my shoulder talking, not me. I don’t think I’m a control freak at all. My desk isn’t tidy, is it? I just have a tidy brain, that’s all.

Dark chocolate frogs help
Dark chocolate frogs help

I’m in heaven … the writerly kind

I’ve settled well in my Fellowship Creative Time Residency in the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust‘s gorgeous apartment in Norwood. It’s cosy, roomy and well set up for their chosen Fellows.

Inside the May Gibbs CLT apartment, Adelaide.
Inside the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust apartment, Adelaide.

I’m here to finish the ‘first’ draft of my current work-in-process, VIVALDI’S ANGEL. It’s progressing well, thankfully! How lucky am I to be able to have this four weeks time to escape into the 18th Century Italian Baroque, to Venice and into the lives of street urchin, Caterina L’Artiglia (the Claw), and that genius, the composer, virtuoso violinist and music teacher, Antonio Vivaldi. Yes, I do play my tiny collection of some of Vivaldi’s 500 concertos to help me on my way.

My main character, 12-year-old, Caterina’s ‘voice’ grows stronger in my brain – I suspect it’s always been there but I wasn’t listening very well. But where did that stray, three-legged black cat come from? I had no intention putting a cat in this story, and yet, there she is. That’s what I love about discovering a story – you never know where it will lead.

I do know the ending though, and much of what is to unfold. That’s because I’m a ‘plotter’, rather than a ‘pantser’ so I have a rough outline that evolves naturally as I follow the desires and ultimate journey of my main character, a feisty, street child who’s cursed with a claw-hand, but blessed with the voice of an angel. Vivaldi also plays his part in this plot.

One of the famous images by Canaletto, who lived there at the time.
One of the famous images by Canaletto, who lived there at the time.

I also get to be the author-in-residence for Scotch College’s junior school – a lovely place in beautiful surroundings. Started my week today with them, and what a great bunch of kids and librarians they are. Thank you, Fiona and Lucy for preparing my way. It’s going splendidly in their lovely library. Today, I worked with Years 3/4s and Year 6s. Hopefully my throat and voice will hold out until the end of the week – but it’s going to be a great one! Now, back to writing I go.

With Years 3/4s.
With Years 3/4s Scotch College, Adelaide.


Have you ever stopped to ponder on brain activity? Not brain activity in a general sense. I mean your own brain.

Like, how many things do you store in it at any one time – just in day-to-day life? Now overload it with your work environment clutter. Overwhelming, isn’t it?

the creative brain

All Hail to the wonders of a mass of tiny grey cells. Check out this interesting site if you’re interested in creativity and the brain.

As a former teacher of young children, I could not have survived without the BIG PICTURE – lists, checklists, programs and anecdotal records on each child in the class. And daily, weekly, yearly planning? There were greater authorities who made sure I did that.

So why was it as an author, I thought I could rely on storing information in my head or on bits of paper for my work-in-progress?

Ideas surged from my brain, thick and fast or thin and tangled like Singapore noodles. Details of characters personalities, likes, dislikes and motivations; plot line possibilities; sensory inputs from settings filled notebooks, scrawled across torn out articles from the morning newspaper and scribbled on the back of petrol receipts on the floor of the Subaru.

This story began with one tiny idea and one misspelt word – from that it grew into a short story and then into a fully-fledged, intricate story of adventure, history and magic in a north Queensland rainforest. When I finished it I sent it off to several publishers. They rejected it … most with a kind comment about interesting characters, lovely writing style etc, but ‘not loving it enough to take it on’.

A trusted writing friend agreed to have a look at it.

This is the value of having fresh and experienced eyes read your story – most likely you won’t see core inadequacies in plots and characters after you have been writing it for a year or so.

She came up with something I had missed – there was no true antagonist, no BAD ‘baddie’ to thwart the needs and wants of my hero. Hence, no real DRAMA. How did I miss this?

Usually, sorting out a ‘big picture’ of a story allows me freedom to branch out into unplanned areas. So did I plot and plan the big picture of this story, like I would normally do for anything else (anal-retentive comes to mind)?

No, I did not. Why? Too much happening, too eager to start writing. Also I was trying to finish another story at the same time.

My author friend showed me her planning methods on butcher’s paper – it was like a veil lifting. I tried it on my ‘completed’ story and was shocked at how much I was trying to store in my head. By seeing those ideas noted as connecting mind-maps and dot-points, I added other possibilities for the story. My mind-map looked more like a multi-coloured mud-map than a mind-map, but it proved the ‘baddie’ wasn’t who I thought it was. She was sitting over on the far-edge of the sheet of paper … waiting … biding her time …

Of course, this all adds to the workload of writing, requires more brain-draining, more pulling apart and reassembling of plotlines, and more frustration and joy, but no story is ever really good until it has been through the fire first.

Click for more more of Dee White’s blog from her May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship here in Brisbane.


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.’