My work in 2019 includes the development of Émilie & Voltaire, the opera by Nicholas Gentile to my libretto. Nicholas is Fine Music FM's 2019 Kruger Scholar and he will spend the year finishing the composition and scoring of the opera and making cast recordings at Fine Music's studios in Sydney. To learn more about the opera, follow us on the Émilie & Voltaire Patreon page.
This year I'm also completing Murder on High, the third Victor Constant Investigation.
All my novels are available in paperback and on Kindle from Endeavour.
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 finished Death in Champagne, the second Victor Constant Investigation. I'll let you know when it's available.
My First Play
It was called Rhetorical Questions and I wrote it as a two-hander in 1988. It was about a couple who were in crisis without realising it at first: the crisis was the play, which took place over just a few days, in which the wife nearly called for a divorce, then didn’t. I quite consciously wrote it for two very close friends who were (and are) both super-gifted, brilliant actors: Bridget Armstrong and Roy Billing. I was very much hoping they would read it for me, which they very kindly did, one day in Titirangi, Auckland, in the house where Bridget lived with husband Maurice Shadbolt.
I was bowled over by their reading (they can each be very funny, yet also very moving) but curious about the merits of the play: was it worth presenting to theatre directors? They both thought yes, and Bridget made inquiries at the Mercury Theatre. A young, talented director of the time was interested and said she would read it.
This was the year when I left NZ with my family to live and work in Australia. While we waited for the Mercury to discuss the play, Maurice read it and confided his thoughts to Bridget: he’d enjoyed it but it had a major flaw—the couple quarrelled over a mutual friend who cropped up in the dialogue but never appeared in the drama. I was very fond of Maurice and loved his work, especially Strangers and Journeys and his play Once on Chunuk Bair (Roy starred in its stunning debut). Maurice said, ‘You can’t raise expectations in the audience that you don’t fulfil.’ If he considered the play flawed, Bridget and I agreed it had no future. We said all this on the phone, on the evening before I left the country. I cried all night.
In Sydney, after a year or so I entirely restructured the play, bringing in some of the previously invisible friends, and it became a pretty hectic seven-hander with a different title. I sent it to the Belvoir Theatre in Surry Hills and they wrote back to say they'd like to discuss it. I replied with a thank-you letter and asked when we might meet—then heard nothing. Ever.
Why am I telling you this story? Is there a moral or a piece of wisdom to be derived? Possibly it’s this: if you’re a writer (or for that matter a publisher) you’re bound to have good friends who are writers too, or creative artists, or who belong to the theatre. If you love them, then you must also respect them when they give a sincere opinion. My experiences with that first play helped me immeasurably when I came back to writing drama much later, and Maurice’s reading of it was part of that experience. Meanwhile the greatest joy, that I’m so grateful for, was sitting in Titirangi listening as Bridget and Roy brought my characters alive. Unforgettable! No way would I ever stop writing after that.
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.