Popular writer Sherryl Clark is back in Northland after 42 years in Australia. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Switching between writing children’s books and delving into the murky world of crime didn’t faze Northland author Sherryl Clark.
The popular writer, who has had a long and successful career publishing 72 children’s books, recently celebrated
the publication of his third crime novel, Mad, Bad and Dead, based on gruesome real-life events.
Clark has been writing detective stories “in silence” for many years while producing his award-winning children’s titles.
However, detective writing has gradually taken over from children’s books, due to the “time and brainwork it takes to plot novels and make them work”, she said.
“I don’t usually do them at the same time, whatever I write is what I focus on at that time.
“If it’s a children’s book, it could take me six to nine months.
“For me, reading helps me a lot, if I write crime novels, I’ll read a lot more of them… and I’ll put myself in the right headspace.”
Clark recently returned to New Zealand after living in Australia for 42 years, mostly in Melbourne.
Mad, Bad and Dead – released in Australia and New Zealand this month – is the third novel in the Judi Westerholme series, which includes Trust Me, I’m Dead and Dead and Gone.
Clark, who was born in Kawakawa and now lives in Whangārei, said she gets most of her ideas from true crime and reading newspapers, including the stories of famed crime reporter John Silvester, who works for Melbourne newspaper The Age.
“The first book I had published, Trust Me, I’m Dead, was set against the backdrop of Melbourne’s gang wars,” she said.
“That’s where the idea starts, but I do other things with it.
“The latest one starts with a woman being shot in bed, and that’s something that actually happened.
“It was a blow to a woman who testified against her ex-partner in court.
“They shot her in her bed next to her sleeping child.
“I tend to read stuff like that and it really sticks in my mind.
“One of the themes of detective novels is the effect of crime on the innocent.
“They get caught up and for some their lives are ruined.”
Clark’s passion for writing was born after taking a writing course when she moved to Melbourne in 1978.
She earned an Arts degree with a major in English Literature from Deakin University, then taught fiction and poetry writing at Victoria University Polytech in Melbourne.
Her doctorate in creative writing focused on fairy tales.
“I started in a hobby class and did the BA and went on to write and publish short stories and poems.”
Clark’s first children’s book. The too tight tutu, was released in 1997.
Over the next 25 years, 71 more children’s books were published, including Tiger Trouble, The Littlest Pirate and the Hammerheads, Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) and Jimmy’s War.
Some of his books are historical fiction and there is some fantasy and science fiction, but most are contemporary stories, as well as poetry and verse novels for children.
Thirteen of her books have been named Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) won a CBCA Honorary Award in 2008.
Over the years she has won a few other awards including NSW Premier’s Award – Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Books 2005, Children’s Book Council of Australia Honor Book Award 2008.
Clark’s foray into crime writing began with a few short stories in the 1990s.
Aside from the “really bad novel” somewhere in her bottom drawer, she quickly found success.
In 2008, she had started writing her first crime novel while writing books for young people.
It took 10 years to complete her first book, Trust Me, I’m Dead, which was shortlisted for the top NZ Ngaio Marsh award.
She also entered it into the CWA John Creasey Newblood Prize in the UK and was shortlisted and led to a two-book deal with Verve Books.
The second in the series, Dead and Gone, was released in 2020.
Clark said his passion for crime began in the Bay of Islands many years ago.
“I have always loved reading crime novels.
“I started when I was a teenager, I’m lucky to have had a great teacher at Bay of Islands College who gave me the books she threw away.
“There was a mix, but detective fiction was my favorite.
“I like mystery, trying to figure out who did it.”
Clark, who supplements her writing with a part-time job as an editor, draws inspiration from British writer Ann Cleeves and Scottish writers Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride.
She’s in the library one morning a week to write, and that prepares her for the rest of the week.
“The rest of the week depends on the editing work I have.
“I usually try to write in the morning; if there’s anything else I’ll make some edits and then write.
“I squeeze an hour or two into the day when I can.
“I tend to think a lot and then sit down and figure it out.”
Clark is now awaiting news from his agent about his latest crime novel and also begins work on the next one, which will be set in Northland or Waikato in 1962.
“It’s nice to have your books published and to be able to continue to do so,” she said.
“This is the main.”
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