Endeavour Press has now published The King’s Shadow in paperback and on Kindle. An Amazon reviewer who gave it five stars says: ‘Fiction dovetails credibly with history in this highly readable novel based on the final act of the English Civil War period (1642-1660). Cheryl Sawyer's spare, uncluttered prose moves the story along at a clip the historical participants in this march to glory might have envied.’ The King’s Shadow completes my trilogy, Terror & Awe: England’s Revolution.
VISIT MY AUTHOR PAGE ON AMAZON here
'Waking up in a sumptuous seventeenth-century French château every day is a dreamlike opportunity for any historical author.' That's what Maggie Hamilton, then the wonderful publicist for Random House Australia, said about the experiences in France that partly inspired my first novel, La Créole. Truth to tell, it's hard to pin down where the impetus for each story comes. All I can say is this: writing is a drive that exhilarates and challenges me.
Cheryl Sawyer is my maiden name and I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, then lived in Cambridge and Auckland. I have been a teacher and university tutor and hold two master’s degrees with honours, in both French and English literature.
My training as a publisher began in Auckland. I subsequently worked in New Zealand and overseas as a freelancer on a wide range of non-fiction and fiction; the highlight came when I edited The Bone People by Keri Hulme, which won the 1985 Booker Prize in the United Kingdom. I still see Keri's book as one of the great novels of our time. When I moved to Sydney, Australia, with my husband and two sons, I eventually became publisher for Lansdowne, an independent Australian company. From 2003 to 2014, I created the lists for popular fiction and non-fiction collections for Reader’s Digest. I now write full-time. I have just finished Death in Champagne, the second Victor Constant Investigation. I'll let you know when it's available!
My first Reader's Digest interview
For many years I published Reader’s Digest’s condensed fiction and non-fiction collections for Australia and the Pacific. I loved choosing the latest popular novels and significant true-life stories. One of the books I’m most proud of is Madiba, which features two major works on Nelson Mandela. This year my first historical crime novel, Murder at Cirey, was condensed for RD’s Select Editions. Here is the author interview, conducted by SE manager Alison Fraser.
The descriptions of the Champagne region of France are rich and vivid. What led you to choose this location as the setting for Murder at Cirey?
I’ve done a lot of research in the past into Madame du Châtelet, who appears in the novel, and I’m fascinated by her life, with and without Voltaire, and the fact that she became one of the foremost physicists in France at a time when nobody expected women to be writing about physics at all. Let alone being mathematicians, or translators of Newton for Europe. I came up with the concept of doing a detective novel set in the Cirey district and I thought it might be amusing if she and Voltaire were consultant detectives. I visited Cirey and the area, in particular the town of Joinville, and it just seemed like a wonderful setting, because it’s in the Haute Marne, on higher ground than the Champagne district that we all think of when we think of sparkling champagne—further up the Marne Valley, in rolling hills. It’s very picturesque.
I imagine quite a bit of research was required to ensure the historical accuracy of the period. How did you confirm the historical details?
I had read a lot about Madame du Châtelet and Voltaire, so I knew about their times. I read 18th-century French literature and history for my other novels, and investigated who was in power and how society was run. Once I decided to write Murder at Cirey I had to do a lot more research into the Maréchaussée itself, the military police, so I went to the Fisher Library in Sydney University, and looked through a number of books in both French and English, trying to find details. It’s slightly specialised, but I’m persevering. In July  I’m going to go to the quite new museum of the gendarmerie in Melun in France, south-east of Paris.
Is there a historical figure upon which Victor Constant was based?
No, because the cavaliers were the privates in the military police, the lowest of the low. As far as I know I’m unlikely to find any personal documents such as letters from anyone like Victor. As you go up through the ranks, of course—brigadier, lieutenant, and Victor’s boss, the Prévôt Général—you’ll find documents in the archives. There are probably a lot in Châlons-en-Champagne, which was called Châlons-sur-Marne in Victor’s day and was the headquarters of the Maréchaussée in the Champagne. There you would find court records. There’s nothing like having somebody’s letters, or a complaint against them. Or a directive in somebody’s hand. I believe there’s also a wealth of documents stored at the Musée de la Gendarmerie.
To read the rest of the interview, click on this Author Anecdote in the sidebar.
Jane Austen fans can purchase a light-hearted piece from Flirting with Pride and Prejudice; called 'Lord Byron and Miss A', it's available here from Ben Bella Books. Other works are: with Isabel Ollivier, Early Eyewitness Accounts of Maori Life, transcriptions and translations of the journals of 18th century French explorers of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Secondary-school English texts: Outsiders and Something to Write Home About, Heinemann Educational Books, NZ. With Cheryl Westenberg: children's picture book, Gala Koala of La Scala. For Lansdowne Publishing, editor and additional verse: A Gift Book of Teddy Bears.
1979-1987: Food & Wine columnist for Better Business magazine, NZ. 1997-2006 Opera Reviewer for The Australian Jewish News.
La Créole the Musical
With music and lyrics by Nicholas Gentile and Julia Plummer, and my book and script, this received two arts and performance grants in 2010/2011 in Melbourne and Sydney. The two young composers are currently involved in other productions and projects but the musical may be developed further at any time. Visit Nicholas Gentile's website here for his latest productions.