MEET SHERRYL CLARK – VERSE NOVELIST, POET & CREATOR OF “THE LITTLEST PIRATE”

Sherryl Clark is an award-winning author of 41 children’s books, and 3 adult books (two of which are poetry collections).

She’s also a writing teacher at Victoria University TAFE where she taught me a lot of what I know about writing. I was lucky enough to have Sherryl launch my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo last year.

This week, Sherryl is at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her three most recent books (two of which were released just last week).

Sherryl has been writing for many years and started in a  community writing class that morphed into a writing group.

At first I soaked up everything the class had to offer, then I went on and studied a BA at Deakin Uni by flexible delivery. In those days there was no other way to study and write at the same time.

I also became involved in community arts and met a lot of great writers who helped me and spurred me on to things like residencies and schools, and also gave me the courage to start submitting my work.

Sherryl admits to being a first draft lover!

I love the excitement of dreaming up characters and stories, and pounding away at the keyboard. I also love it when I get a new idea, and I’m not sure where it might go, but the exploration is a lot of fun.

At the moment, Sherryl is working on Draft 9 of “Pirate X”; an historical series for Penguin which will be part of their Our Australian Girl project; two different verse novels; and poems for her www.poetry4kids.netwebsite.

The hardest part of the writing process

Sherryl says that for her, the hardest part of writing is the revisions.

I’m better at this now – I’ve learned how to tackle a revision in a way that makes it new and interesting, and how to look at structure and then scene by scene. But the hardest thing of all is making myself sit down and start when I’m not entirely sure what comes next. I like plenty of thinking time in first draft stage, which helps the writing flow better.

I asked Sherryl about her greatest writing achievement.

At this point, I think it’s managing eight drafts of my historical pirate novel and not giving up on it! It started at 120,000 words and is currently 80,000 and is about to undergo another major rewrite. I still love it, and I still want to make it work.

I also won the NSW Premier’s Award forFarm Kid, which was pretty amazing.

She admits there are some consistent themes in her writing.

I realised a few years ago that with my books for older readers, one of the recurring themes was abandonment, and identity. With my books for middle years (Grade 5 to about Year 8 or 9) I write a lot about powerlessness – how kids are either ignored, abused, or treated like infants by adults. Kids are really smart. I like writing stories where they find their own solutions and their own way through the world. With picture books, it’s more about being the hero, being “centre stage” – little kids have a world that is all their own, and it’s all about them! Which is a good thing.

Sherryl’s tips for new writers

Apart from all the stuff about reading, writing and rewriting, educate yourself about the marketplace. Who is publishing what, what the current trends are (and understand you need to be ahead of the pack), and most importantly, how to be professional.

Motormouth

Sherryl’s most recent verse novel, Motormouth came out in in March this year.

She wanted to write a story about a boy who lied – big lies, not little ones! And delve into why someone would create such a huge fiction about their life. She also wanted to write about cars and boys, and the two things came together.

  • Chris has lost his best mate in a car accident, and he’s going through that stage where people expect him to “get over it”, but he can’t. His refuge is his love of cars. Then he sees this kid steal a model car right in front of him, and he can’t believe it – even worse, the kid turns up at his school. Josh is a real show-off, and talks all the time about his dad who is a racing car driver in Europe. Despite his initial doubts, Chris gradually gets drawn into becoming friends with Josh.

Motormouth, for years 4-7 is also a story about family, about where a boy fits with his dad, and his dad’s expectations and hopes for him.

Verse novels look easy to read, but there’s always more below the surface, so they can be accessible to younger readers and give older readers plenty to think about.

As a verse novel, Motormouth taps into deeper emotional issues, but I think kids of that age are very aware of their friendshops, of being included or left out, of being pressured into stuff they’re not sure about. But there are elements of humour as well – I like to add those touches for contrast.

What Sherryl enjoyed most about writing this book

Sherryl says she really enjoyed discovering who Chris was. I knew Josh right from the beginning – I think I went to school with one or two kids like this for whom the “mask” is everything. Their image (even in Grade 6) is paramount, and their need for friends overrides everything else. But Chris has gone inside himself, through grief, and he doesn’t even really understand what that means. He just knows he’s hurting, so it was up to me to draw him out and find out who he was and how he could begin to heal.

The hardest part about writing this book was the climax, where Chris confronts Josh. He has to decide what’s most important – his pride, or forgiveness. I rewrote those poems many times.

More about Sherryl

Sherryl will be back at Kids’ Book Capers on Wednesday and Friday to talk about her newest books, Now I am Bigger and One Perfect Pirouette.

Sherryl’s website is at http://www.sherrylclark.com/ — her blog is at http://www.sherrylclark.blogspot.com/
Check out her new site at http://www.poetry4kids.net – it’s all about poetry for kids!

She also has a new Littlest Pirate web page at http://www.sherrylclark.com/LittlestPirate/littlestpirate.html