• Sheryl Gwyther

Sweet Adversity ... into the heart of history

I didn't set out to write an historical novel, and according to strict obligatory requirements of the genre, I haven't. Sweet Adversity is an adventure set in the historical times of the Great Depression in Australia, with music and Shakespeare, and a coming-of-age thrown into the mix. It's the story of Adversity McAllister's search, against the odds in dangerous times, for what humans crave ... a sense of belonging and to be loved.

I enjoyed writing Addie's character - like all the best heroines she's feisty and courageous, but she also has self-doubts, fears, a hatred of bad rules and a propensity to speak her mind ... not the sort of thing one gets away with in the Emu Swamp Children's Home.

Main characters usually have a side-kick to share the journey and provide companionship. Sometimes they're helpful, sometimes not; sometimes they play the role of The Fool, as in Shakespeare's plays ... providing insights the main character is too overcome with doubt to see; to shine a bit of light in a scary or overwhelmingly sad moment.

Frodo had Sam and Harry Potter had Hermoine and Ron. Addie McAllister has Macbeth, her talented, vocal, acrobatic cockatiel ... her companion in rule-breaking.

Researching for Sweet Adversity:

When I was awarded a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Progress grant for this story, I used the money to fly down to Canberra’s National Library and Archives to research about the era. I knew a bit already from one of the best books ever written on how the Depression years affected ordinary workers and their families ... Wendy Lowenstein's Weevils in the Flour. I have my own treasured copy.

The National Library proved to be the BEST place to search for the hidden stories of Australia’s Great Depression … to find out how it affected children. A bit of serendipity: someone's recollection of a pet bird learning to speak like a human backed up what I had planned for my feathered character. For Macbeth is a different sort of bird … he quotes Shakespeare, mostly in the right places.

The National Library staff who helped were fabulous. I'd planned ahead online what I wanted from the collection. The lady who assisted me found even more, including images, film and memoirs.

The Great Depression in Australia:

The 1930s was a life-changing era as the Hard Times were filled with turmoil. For most of the population, life in the cities was a daily fight over lumps of stale bread; for a homemade remedy to cure illness, and many hundreds of workers queued for the chance of a single job. Some children fled to spare the financial burden on their families ... or to avoid worse than starving.

It was also a time when unwanted children disappeared and nobody asked questions. Corrupt and unscrupulous people got away with bad deeds, but I imagine there were brave souls who stood up for themselves and for others less able to as well ... rather like Addie McAllister and her Shakespearean-quoting cockatiel.

Writing SWEET ADVERSITY has been like that famous line from Shakespeare’s play, As You Like ItSweet are the uses of adversity … so it has been for Addie and also for me.

For Addie, facing adversity leads her into isolation and life-threatening danger, but it is tempered by the sweetness of friendship and loyalty.

For me, adversity came with the ups and downs of writing this novel over 9 years ... of sorting out the structure over many rewrites and changes / of delving deeply into the life and times of the Hard Times in Australia / of following up on my instincts to follow the 'Shakespeare trail' after finding an antique copy of The Works of William Shakespeare (about to be chewed up by whiteants) in my mother-in-law's garage. More on this lucky find in a future post.

I never gave up on this novel when the going got tough. I just put it aside to work on one of the other stories I have. Then I got back into it because I knew my story 'had legs' - that it could be even better.

This story is now all the better for surviving the fires of perseverance.

And best news of all ... the team working on Sweet Adversity at my publisher, HarperCollins Australia is brilliant! I ♥ them! And so do Addie and Macbeth.

All's well that ends well!


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