'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 3 July 2010

Author Interview: Sheryl Gwyther

We are thrilled to welcome children's author Sheryl Gwyther to Kids Book Review. Sheryl is the author of Secrets of Eromanga and Princess Clown, with her next book, Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, due for release in August 2010. You can view Sheryl's work on her websites:

Sheryl Gwyther 4 Kids
Writing Life
Find out more about Secrets of Eromanga
Find out more about Princess Clown
Find out more about Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I was born in far north Queensland in a sugarcane town called Innisfail. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been crazy about reading books, but I never thought I would be a writer – which is why, when I left school and earned some money, I left Australia to travel the world.

I had lots of weird jobs (like grooming a one tonne prize Brahmin bull whose method of making me brush him for longer was to stand on my boot so I couldn’t leave. He never squashed my foot though, clever bull).

Also went to art school, and finally I became an early childhood teacher, majoring in art and drama. I loved encouraging kids to write, act out and tell stories. For me, it was a natural progression - I’ve been a full-time writer for ten years now.

My first novel, Secrets of Eromanga began from my fascination with Australian dinosaur fossils. Princess Clown is my new chapter book – it’s the story of Belle, a lively, fun-loving princess who would much rather be a clown.

I love visiting schools and libraries to talk to children about my books and about writing. And when I’m not writing, I enjoy blogging about writing and books on my Writing for Kids blog, and on a Writing Life blog.

What genre do you write in? My favourite genre is adventure stories for 9-13 year olds, like Secrets of Eromanga, a story set on a fossil dig. I’ve also discovered how much fun it is to write shorter, funny stories for 7-8 year olds – like Princess Clown and Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper (August 2010).

What other genres have you written in? I’ve written some articles for Explore and Comet magazines. I also write plays for kids to perform or read in the classroom or out in the playground. Recently, I had lots of fun writing a funny, scary play called Scaredy Crow.

Why do you write? I write because I can’t stop doing it, and because I have all these stories in my head that insist on taking over my life. But I’m not complaining! It’s fabulous when children read and enjoy the characters and the stories I write.

What do you love about writing for children? Children’s books are brilliant, especially those written by Australian authors. They are chock-full of amazing characters, fascinating worlds of imagination and fantasy, hilarious situations and truths that can cut right to your heart. I get much joy from being part of that world.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your book-writing journey? I’ve come to realise the greatest obstacles are in my own head. It is easy to get distracted if a story is difficult to write. You also must face publisher rejection of your stories. It happens to all authors, even award-winning ones. You must pick yourself up from that bitter disappointment and have another look at the story to find the reason for rejection. Then it’s time to re-write it again.

I have a motto stuck on my whiteboard ... A window of opportunity won't open itself. Says it all really!

What’s a typical writing day? I check my emails first (not a good habit as it can be distracting). Then I re-read over the section of writing I did the night before. It fires up the action in my head and I’m off, fingers tapping keys as the story spills out. That’s what I call a zingy writing day.

On the clunky writing days, I fiddle with words until they become, well ... clunky. Disgusted, I wander out to the kitchen looking for something to eat, then talk about life to our two budgies or I go for a walk. But in the end, it’s back at the computer with a fresh idea to get rid of the clunks. The day passes so quickly – before I know it, I have to get off the computer to cook dinner.

What advice do you have on writing? Read tons of stories. Write from the heart, every day, even for a little while. Read your writing out aloud – you will hear if the rhythm of the language works. Listen to constructive criticism of your stories – it will help you improve. And NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be? Dead! ☺ Seriously, I can’t even contemplate not being a writer now. Nothing gives me greater joy, hope, sadness, frustration and delight than writing for children. I also love being part of a fantastic community of Australian children’s authors.

What books did you read as a child? I loved adventure stories the most – the Narnia series, The Secret Seven books, The Hobbit, The Nargun and the Stars (by Australian writer, Patricia Wrightson) and books about King Arthur and Merlin, Greek legends about Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the Golden Fleece.

What else do you like to do, other than write books? Painting pictures and doing printmaking. Spending time with my family. I like growing vegetables too, and inventing ways to keep the possums and scrub-turkeys away from them.

I love reading about science and history (especially about the fabulous dinosaurs that once lived in Australia). History! So many fascinating things happened in the past. I pounce on them like a cat on a ping-pong ball and ask, ‘What if?’ Before too long, a story is on its way. I do wish I were keener on exercise though!

What would be your perfect day? Like yesterday – I sat on our back deck overlooking the trees and writing my new story, Singing the Wires. The writing went well, our two budgies, Ting and Tang sang like they were in love (they are) and my family called in for morning tea. Lots of laughter, talking, scones, jam and cream. What more could I ask for?

What five words best sum you up? Creative. Curious. Determined. Animal-lover. Is that counted as one word? Optimistic.

What’s next for Sheryl Gwyther? August will see the release of Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. A publisher is reading my manuscript, McAlpine & Macbeth. It is a longer adventure/historical story and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I have been passionate about this particular story for almost nine years, and I know young readers will read and love it too, one day.

See what I mean about being optimistic? ☺

Soon on Kids Book Review, we will review Sheryl's latest book, Princess Clown.