CHINESE WHISPER … a flash fiction story to delight

This story is from Week #7 of my 52-Week Flash Fiction Challenge. It follows the form of the genre: 500 words, and at its heart, a snappy, sensory exposé of the human condition – a sense of shared humanity. Its finale, like all good Flash Fiction holds a twist, a delightful ah-ha moment that surprises both protagonist and reader.

Day10  COLD

CHINESE WHISPER  by Sheryl Gwyther

The racehorse lived in a paddock at the edge of town. Every day, when Elia McCarthy stopped by on her way to school the horse gazed out across the rolling green hills, one leg more crooked than the others, her black mane long and tangled. She wore a purple blanket with her name in spiky print. CHINESE WHISPER

Elia climbed the gate, calling and waving a handful of grass. ‘Whisper, here’s some sweet grass to eat.’

Every day, the horse limped to the gate, gently snuffling and nibbling the offering from her hand, even though the same grass grew all around the paddock. To Elia’s ten-year-old instinct, the animal’s soft, brown eyes looked sad.

‘That old nag’s not a racehorse.’ At the kitchen table, Connor McCarthy stuffed his face with afternoon tea. ‘Mrs O’Dooley from Finnegan’s Pub told me so, and she heard it off Mr O’Shanagan whose second-cousin’s wife works for Ballantyne’s racing stable.’ There was nothing worse than a big brother who thought he knew everything.

‘Whisper is a racehorse!’ Elia said. ‘The fastest ever.’

Connor snorted. ‘I heard that mare’s headed for the knackers.’

Horror chilled Elia’s heart. Everyone knew horses that went into the knacker’s yard never came out alive. ‘You’re just saying that, Connor.’

‘Go see for yourself. Mr Ballantyne’s horse float’s parked in front of the pub. I bet he’s taking that old horse to the knacker’s this afternoon.’

Up the street raced Elia. No sign of the horse-float in town. Mr Ballantyne must be at the paddock already.

With her dread pounding in every step, Elia sprinted through town. The gate was open and a man stood beside Whisper patting her neck.

Elia tore across the paddock, her hair flying, and her feet sure on the clods.

‘Don’t take her away!’ She stumbled to a stop, puffing. The man stared at her, his mouth agape. Whisper nudged Elia’s hair, as if she wanted to whisper a secret in her ear.

‘I’m Elia. Please don’t take Whisper to the knacker’s yard. I’ll pay you everything from my money box for her.’ Not time to reveal her ceramic pig was small. Nor that she’d all her savings on a new book.

A grin spread across Mr Ballantyne’s face. ‘Send the old girl to the knackers? Who told you that?’

‘My brother, Connor heard it from Mrs O’Dooley at Finnegan’s Pub who heard it from Mr O’Shanagan’s second-cousin’s wife who works for you.’

Mr Ballantyne laughed until his face grew red. ‘A prime example of Chinese Whispers! I said I’d never send my best ever mare to the knackers. She won the Irish Derby one year, and lots of other races. Whisper deserves a great retirement.’

Elia grinned like a loon. Then she frowned. ‘But why bring the horse-float here?’

‘Come see.’

Elia followed Mr Ballantyne. He opened the horse-float door and led a pretty piebald down the ramp. ‘Meet Curragh, she’s retiring too.’ The horse-trainer smiled at Elia. ‘Another friend for Whisper. And perhaps yourself?’

© Sheryl Gwyther 2014    500 words  (Image: SC Gwyther – Tasmanian highlands)

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Authors are funny animals. We inhabit storybook worlds; and sometimes reside in our characters’ heads. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of your fictional characters beginning to live.

I’m taking part in A Character Blog Hop – and would love to tell you about my character, Adversity McAlpine. She’s someone you won’t know yet, but one day, you will. She’s the young protagonist in my completed manuscript, SWEET ADVERSITY. (A very well-respected publisher requested my manuscript to read, so, keep your fingers crossed!) 

Addie personified. This image helps me focus.

Addie personified – image by Alexandra Kirievskaya. Check out her link below.

What’s your character’s name and where did she come from?

SWEET ADVERSITY is a 61,000-word historical adventure for young readers (and not so young). Set in NSW during the Great Depression, without a doubt the story belongs to Adversity (fondly known as Addie).

She took over my life around eight years ago after a dream of a young girl running away from an outback orphanage with Macbeth, her Shakespearean-quoting galah. The dream ended before I knew what she was running from – all I knew was she was angrier than a box of bees, and she was scared. That dream girl stayed with me for days … I even remembered how she looked (I dream in colour). The image above fits perfectly.

The only child of travelling Shakespearean actors, 12-year-old Addie McAlpine is feisty and loyal, funny, talented and at times opinionated (not such a good thing when you live in an orphanage under Matron Maddock’s iron rule. She dreams of becoming a great actor one day – if she survives the dangers ahead.

When is the story set?

I set this story during the worst year of the Great Depression. Did you know that in 1930, Australia’s economy was much worse than in any other country in the developed world? Ordinary people suffered; children even more so.

Addie lives in the country where people could at least grow food. But then again, life in an orphanage in those days was bleak – especially one run by the likes of Matron Maddock. And that was all before Addie received the worst news of her life. And, before she fled for her life.

What sets your story apart from others?

There aren’t many children’s novels set in Australia’s Great Depression – this fascinating, life-changing era is ripe and ready for young readers. Those Hard Times were filled with turmoil. Life in the cities was a daily fight over lumps of stale bread; for a homemade remedy to cure illness. Some children fled to live in children’s camps in the bush.

It was a time when unwanted children disappeared and nobody asked questions. Corrupt and unscrupulous people got away with their bad deeds, but there were brave souls who stood up for themselves and for others less able to … rather like our young heroine, Adversity McAlpine.

With Shakespearean actors as parents, what else could Addie hope to become? She adores performing, whether in song or with the drama and language of the Bard’s plays – and even though her parents are gone, she continues to dream of what could be. One day.

1930-view-of-the-Sydney-Harbour-Bridge-under-construction Main characters usually have ‘side-kicks’ – Frodo has Sam, Sherlock Holmes has Dr Watson, and Harry Potter has Hermione and Ron. Like in real life, these characters provide our main characters with more than just friendship. Who does Addie have?

Addie has a side-kick or two … one is Jack, her young friend at the orphanage; she also befriends a boy with a price on his head, but can she be sure of his loyalty?

Her third side-kick is Macbeth, a very talented galah. A bird who becomes the catalyst forcing Addie to take up her dangerous quest; and to be there in the end when – in Shakespeare’s immortal words – even the most diminutive of birds will fight to the death if their young is threatened.

Did your story require researching?

You bet your sweet Nellie it did! Oops, slipped in a bit of old-speak there. I was awarded a 2013 International SCBWI Work-of-Outstanding-Promise grant for this story, so I used the prize money to fly down to Canberra’s National Library and Archives to research for my story.  Of course, being the first non-American to win a SCBWI W.O.O.P. Grant was extra exciting! 

The National Library proved to be the BEST place to search for hidden stories of Australia’s Great Depression … to find out how it affected children. A bit of serendipity: someone ‘s recollection of their pet galah’s antics backed up my belief that these are very clever birds indeed.

williamson5 What next for this book-in-the-making?

Writing SWEET ADVERSITY has been like that famous line from Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It … Sweet are the uses of adversity… (check out the rest of the quote).
So it has been for Addie McAlpine, and for her creator – the the reason for the story’s title.

For Addie, facing adversity leads her into isolation and life-threatening danger, but it is tempered by the sweetness of friendship, loyalty, and just when she least expects it, her heart’s dream.

For me, adversity came with the uncountable drafts, rewrites and rejections for over 8 years – but it was worth trying to make it the best. This story is now all the better for surviving the fires of perseverance.

I’m excited by my vision that a publisher will one day see its possibilities. And, like all stories that endure the blowtorch of a professional editorial team … bring it on and let the TRUE edit begin!

My favourite characters from other authors: you’ll love the many wonderful characters that inhabit the work of Karen Brooks.

Now I tag author and creative writing teacher, Dee White AND author and illustrator, Angela Sunde to lift the lid on one of their story characters!

Image of Addie: Check out the amazing work of Russian artist, Alexandra Kirievskaya 

Posted in a. THE WRITING LIFE, c. AUTHOR INTERVIEWS | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Tennis balls, FORTRESS AUSTRALIA and Hope


Australian flag behind the wire at Villawood Detention Centre.

A week ago, my husband joined a small group of refugee advocates outside No-man’s Land and the barbed-wire fences at the Pinkenba Immigration Detention Transit Centre in Brisbane. They were trying to throw tennis balls over the fences – unsuccessfully.

Ross, being a resourceful physics man took his tennis racquet from the car and lobbed dozens of yellow balls over those high fences. Refugee children chased them, giving them to their parents who waved from behind the fence.

Written on each ball was the message … WE CARE! DON’T LOSE HOPE!

But last night, in the Australian Senate, the most fascist, inhumane politician we’ve ever had the misfortune to endure, MP Scott Morrison, forced through a law that not only takes away any chance of hope for these lost souls on the high-seas who seek a safe haven, he used refugee children as ransom.

“No other minister, not the prime minister, not the foreign minister, not the attorney-general, has the same unchecked control over the lives of other people,” writes Ben Doherty in The Guardian.
With the passage of the new law, the minister can push any asylum seeker boat back into the sea and leave it there. He can detain people without charge, or deport them to any country he chooses even if it is known they’ll be tortured there. Morrison’s decisions cannot be challenged.”

Morrison, with his LNP government has torn up our commitment and bond to the UN’s Refugees Convention, a treaty Australia helped write and willingly signed up to more than fifty years ago. All references to our UN commitment have been removed from Australian law via this new bill that passed through the Senate.

I do not believe the majority of Australians would support these moves. To do so incites the very worst in us, a frightening apparition of what we could become. A fascist nation with no heart.

I work in a field that writes for our nation’s young, and we care very much about children. We visit schools, we talk to kids, we write about their dreams and hopes. I cannot imagine even one of Australia’s children’s book creators not standing united in horror and dismay at the direction our country takes under this regime.

I urge every single one of you, my friends, to look away from your computers, from your story making, from your pens and paints, and to stand united with one voice.

Speak out before it’s too late. Join the voices of those who abhor this evil attitude engulfing our Parliament and our democratic Australia.

Use your powerful word skills for a powerful purpose.

Do it now … the pen (and the voice) is mightier than the sword!

Scott Morrison’s email.

Or ring your local LNP politician

Posted in a. THE WRITING LIFE, d. THE POLITICS OF WRITING, g. AUSTRALIAN POLITICS | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jumping into the waters of Independent Publishing … interviewing Angela Sunde, author

SM.cover.119KBI’m thrilled to host my friend and author, the lovely Angela Sunde, on the occasion of the launch of her new novel for kids, Snap Magic.

Angela’s own tweenhood experiences were the inspiration for Snap Magic’s cringe worthy laugh-out-loud moments. As she says, ‘Writing Snap Magic took me right back to being twelve years old. It’s like I never grew up. I just wish I could reassure Lily that it’ll all be okay in the end.’  

Thanks for hosting me on your blog today, Sheryl. It’s lovely to be here!

Angela, I’m sure readers will be immensely interesting to hear about your experience of jumping into the waters of INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING. Take it away, kiddo! :)

 Independently publishing isn’t something I would’ve considered when I wrote my Aussie Chomp, Pond Magic. But with the Aussie Chomps list now closed, publishers tightening their belts and bookstores diminishing in number, it made sense (with the release of my new book, Snap Magic) to open up a new avenue to connect with readers.

 I’m one of the new breed of hybrid authors – being both trade and independently published. The lines of publishing are blurring and this is an exciting time for writers who are open to exploring new distribution platforms, independent publishing and the production of print on demand, e-books and other online offerings.

Was it a scary thing to take on?

You don’t have to go it alone. I strongly recommend first securing a high level, professional editor and also a book design company like Book Cover Cafe – my designer, Anthony Puttee, is also my mentor.


Angela Sunde, author and illustrator

As an independent publisher you set your own deadlines – a book’s editing and design needn’t be rushed or sent off to print before it’s ready. You now wear the publisher’s hat and all the responsibility that goes with it. The choices are all yours, from page placement to font size, from illustrator to line count, from signing off on cover designs to choosing price, retail discount, printer, distributor etc. This is why it’s imperative to be surrounded by an experienced team of industry professionals. It’s not something I would contemplate doing alone.

What about the book’s distribution; always a difficult aspect of non-traditional publishing?

Distribution is a question I am often asked about as an independent publisher. Our bricks and mortar world is moving online. Distributors in Australia are fewer than before, with good reason. As buyers move to online stores, distribution is bypassed by the print on demand companies who deal directly with these stores. My retail distributor is Ingram Content and libraries can order Snap Magic through their usual distributors.

With regards to Snap Magic (from a marketing and publicity perspective,) it’s not that different to the amount of work I have had to do for my trade book, Pond Magic. With my trade book I was never assigned a publicist and so had to do it all myself anyway. Trade or independent, only the big names have a marketing team and publicist. In spite of this I’ve managed to secure for Snap Magic’s release media interviews and features on live radio, online and in print media.

Would I do it again, Angela?

Absolutely! It’s such a buzz working with design professionals and creating a first class product you’re proud to show the world. Plus it challenges the brain, which keeps me young. It doesn’t get better than that!

I loved visiting today, Sheryl. Thank you for having me on your blog!

It’s always a pleasure, Angela. All the very best for your delightful story, Snap Magic!

If you’d like to know more about SNAP MAGIC, click HERE.

PODCAST: Angela Sunde was interviewed live on 612ABC Brisbane radio on Friday 3rd October about the release of her new children’s book, Snap Magic. You can listen to the podcast here:

Check out the rest of Angela’s blog tour on these fabulous blogs.

Snap Magic Blog Tour Dates


Monday 13. Kids Book Review

Tuesday 14. Sheryl Gwyther

Wednesday 15. Robyn Opie

Karen Tyrrell

Thursday 16. Alison Reynolds

Friday 17. Chris Bell – From Hook to Book

Saturday 18. Boomerang Books Blog

Dimity Powell

Sunday 18. Sandy Fussell / The Reading Stack

Monday 20. Aussiereviews

Tuesday 21. Dee White

Wednesday 22. Angela Sunde’s Blog Tour Wrap Up

November – to follow

Robyn Opie

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ON WRITING A NOVEL: Part 2 … video interview

Here’s Part 2 of the video interview with Mark G Mitchell in Austin, Texas … talking about illustrating the chapter motifs for my children’s novel, SECRETS OF EROMANGA; the novel’s Australian Society of Authors’ mentorship; jumping a slush pile; researching a novel on a fossil dig in western Queensland – the inside story; doing school visits in Australia.


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Facing the terror of a video-interview …done it! Part 1

I have no fear of public speaking in front of a roomful of children, or adults, well, except for a few tummy flutters beforehand. But nothing was as fearful as being the subject of a video interview.

That’s how I felt when I was in the United States last year and Mark G. Mitchell, an illustrator, author, blogger, interviewer and SCBWI member from Austin, Texas set up an interview between he, his trusty, tiny camera and me .

There we were in the Children’s Section of the beautiful library in Austin with the camera set up on a tripod and all ready to go … scary! But under Mark’s wonderful ability to put people at ease and his great questioning techniques, I forgot the camera was there. As you can see when I tell a few secrets!

Here’s Part 1 in the video Mark made where I talk about the writing of Secrets of Eromanga, and about my journey to being published. And a few other bits and pieces. (I look a bit dorky at the beginning … put it down to shaking legs!) Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Check out Mark’s website link to his very successful How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator  So many interesting and useful articles, videos etc that will fascinate illustrators, artists and author alike. Mark also runs online classes. mark mitchellThank you, again, Mark, it was a great experience for this first-timer!

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Granted! A re-blogging of Charlotte Wood’s fabulous article

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Originally posted on How to shuck an oyster:
Some hints on applying for arts funding & fellowships Recently I was invited to assess some fellowship applications for an arts organisation, which I was very happy to do. It’s one of the…

Gallery | 1 Comment