Australian Crime Fiction Author Sherryl Clark has More Than Seventy Books for Children Published, but an Earlier Success With Crime Fiction Convinced her to Start Writing Adult Crime Novels
Sherryl Clark began writing crime fiction in the 1990s and had several short stories published, before writing children’s books took over. She has more than 70 children’s titles published, but still the urge to write crime never went away, and she continued to work on her novels. Being shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger was the catalyst for her to refocus on crime once again! She also writes poetry and nonfiction. She taught creative writing for many years and now writes how-to articles about aspects of writing fiction and poetry to help other writers.
Do you have a “real” job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?
These days I am working as a freelance editor, which keeps me very busy–I am going to cut back on work a bit because I’m not getting enough writing done! Before that I taught creative and professional writing for about 30 years, but I’ve also worked for a printer as a typesetter and binder, done waitressing and office work, and my first job after high school was as a librarian.
What compelled you to write your first book?
I have loved reading crime fiction since I was a teenager, and I wrote a few crime short stories and a couple of bad novels in the 90s and 2000s. Then I read a tiny bit in an article that just stuck with me, about a man who left behind a tape recording that changed everything his family thought they knew about him. It grew and morphed and became Trust Me, I’m Dead.
Before that, though, I had been writing for many years. Mostly poetry and short stories at the start, then a bad novel, then I moved into writing for children, which has been very successful for me. Still, the crime fiction itch was always there!
My first children’s book was mostly about me – it was called The Too-Tight Tutu and was about me as a fat child wanting to learn ballet. It ended up being very successful as part of a series called Aussie Bites, and stayed in print for over 20 years. That was the beginning of the writing for children.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, when I was a kid that wasn’t even real! I was going to be a vet, but by the time I finished school, I couldn’t face university for 6 years, so I applied for a bunch of jobs and became a librarian. I’ve always been an obsessed reader, so I guess that lead eventually to writing – seriously. I always wrote poems and letters and things. It’s a big step for most writers–you write for your own entertainment and enjoyment, then you think…what if I tried to get published?
Tell us a little bit about your books. What are some of the titles?
My first crime novel was Trust Me, I’m Dead, and that was followed by Dead and Gone. My character, Judi Westerholme, is in her early 40s. I like having an older protagonist, someone who has a history and a backstory that I know impacts on how she reacts and feels in the present day. Her family background provides lots of grit and gristle for her, and her feelings about her mother resonate throughout all of the novels. Mad, Bad and Dead will be out in August 2022, and it continues her story as well as introducing a whole different kind of crime, based on real crimes committed in Victoria, my home state when I wrote the novels.
Since you’ve written more than one novel, which is your favorite?
I think the latest Judi Westerholme novel is my favourite of the series so far (Mad, Bad and Dead). I’m proofreading it at the moment, and I had forgotten what was in it, so it’s been a fresh read for me, and I’m really happy with it. Sometimes you read what you have written and feel a bit disappointed, but not this time!
Let us know what they are about. Pay particular attention to your most recent book and/or your first book:
I love writing about Judi as a character – she’s often angry and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Her path to romance is rocky, and I keep it in the background as she’s not warm and cuddly at all! But it’s still there – there’s hope for her. All the same, I have another series with a character, Mal Forrest, who is a homicide detective. And I love Mal. He starts out as a plodder, bound by following the book and his own methods, and then he’s forced into a situation where that no longer works. I have really enjoyed writing about him as he’s pushed into going with his gut, and showing how much he struggles with it. (This series hasn’t found a home yet…)
Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?
I have a new book–still in first draft stage–which started as a short story for our Australian Sisters in Crime short story competition. I liked my private investigator, Louisa Alcott so much that I decided to write a novel about her. However, I have found that shoe-horning the short story into the novel has not worked! So I am now on Draft 3 and finally finding out how to make it work. If it ever gets published, I hope the title will stay the same. Sometimes titles have to change.
Do you belong to any writing forums or organizations that have helped spur your career as a writer? If so, tell us about them and how they’ve helped you.
I’ve been in two different writing groups over the years, and they have been fantastic. Originally, Western Women Writers was a workshop and support group (we meet as longtime friends now, although some are still writing). We also produced and published a women’s poetry magazine for 20 years. For the past ten years I have been in a writing workshop group called Big Fish–we focus mostly on our novels. It works really well because the group is small and it’s easy to keep track of where we are up to with everyone’s novels. We are quite critical, and have big discussions about all sorts of things, but ultimately it’s so helpful to have those fellow writers who can give you good feedback.
What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
Funny enough, going to the movies really inspires me to write. I love a good movie that sweeps me up and takes me into the world and the characters on the screen. It has to be in a cinema to get the full effect! I do also get inspired by really good crime TV dramas with strong characters, so Unforgotten and Happy Valley are two that had a deep impact on me. I also loved River, which wasn’t very popular in Australia, but I still think about it now and then. I think a lot about what resonates in a story or character, and how I could create that resonance in my novels. (I would love Nicola Walker to play one of my characters.)
When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?
I grew up in New Zealand, and a lot of the books I read were from England–the Just William books, for example, and the Narnia books. But I also loved adventure and Malcolm Saville was a favourite author–I wrote to him once, and I actually received a reply! I wish I had kept it–it disappeared over the years. I also loved the Arthur Ransome books–so stories with lots of action and kids doing things like sailing boats which was amazing to me.
What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
I love crime fiction, of course, and my current favourite authors are Ann Cleeves, Tana French, Val McDermid – I never miss a new book by any of them. But I do have lots of favourites, to be honest. I’m a very keen reader, and I can read two books a week when I have the time. I save books up for the Christmas holidays or if I go away anywhere, half of my suitcase is filled with books. There are a lot of Australian and New Zealand crime writers now, and some of my favourites are Garry Disher, Dave Warner, and Emma Viskic, to name just a few.
I also love reading poetry–it inspires me to write poems as well.
Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now–city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
I grew up on a farm in a rural area. As a kid, I had the sense that there were things going on with the adults around me that were kept from me. Later, I learned what some of those secrets were! That’s inspired more than a couple of characters in my books, as well as one plot and some subplots. I think secrets are a core part of any good story, and they very often are at the heart of crimes. I do tend to write novels set in the country, probably because if you live there, it’s an enclosed kind of world where people know each other’s business a lot more than they do in the city. More fertile soil for stories!
I do have this fantasy of buying a cottage in France and living there six months of the year and writing there. One day…
How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?
My first published crime novel, Trust Me, I’m Dead took me about ten years to write and then rewrite, although I discovered recently that I had notes in a notebook going back a few years earlier, so maybe it was 15 years! The early drafts were a bit “light” and the characters not developed enough. I think I had to learn to write deeper and darker and not be afraid to make my character rage against the world and say what she thought. She’s not me–she’s braver than me. I didn’t think it would take so long, but I’m glad it did because it’s a better novel for the work I did on it. I had thought about entering it in the Debut Dagger for three years, but it wasn’t until the third year that I felt it was really ready.
Now that you area published author, does it feel differently than you had imagined?
It’s different from being a published children’s author, I have to say. With children’s books, I do school visits and talk to kids and answer all of their questions, and they are all so keen (or maybe that’s because I’m saving them from a math class?)With adult novels, I’m very aware that other writers have their own crime novels they’ve worked hard on, and I’m in a “marketplace” of crime fiction. Readers will put my book down if it doesn’t draw them in and keep them really interested. It feels a bit more edgy, I think. A different kind of arena. But seeing my crime novels on my shelf makes me feel just as proud, and I am really glad I didn’t give up and think it was too hard.
Is there anything else you want your readers to know about you? Include information on where to find your books, any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and writing.
I have a website for my crime novels–https://sherrylclarkcrimewriter.com
My site where my children’s books and other things sit is https://www.sherrylclark.com
My crime novels are published by Verve Books UK, so they are all on this page, https://www.vervebooks.co.uk/books.php and available on Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo etc.
I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @sherrylwriter
Thank you Sherryl for telling the readers about your books and where they can find them,