Elaine Marie Carnegie
"It All Began With a Forest"
Please welcome Cheryl to the Writer's Journey Blog this week. As I love the forest better than just about anything. I have felt a kindred journey with her!
It began with a forest …
I wrote my first story when I was about ten. Pretty sure it involved a wardrobe, but I do remember it was set by the sea. I didn’t write for myself again for many years, and then only some bad poetry during the ‘angst’ years of early adulthood. I was, however, a voracious reader. I was the kid who not only read the required books for English class but read everything else by those authors.
My mother encouraged me and I was never without books: Black Beauty, Little Women (and its sequels of course), The Chronicles of Narnia (I still have my box set given to me when I was a kid), anything by Enid Blyton (the Famous Five in particular), etc. We had a leather-bound set of classics decorating the living room, and from age twelve on I steadily worked my way through Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes, among others. At university I took English literature and also Australian literature among other subjects and was introduced to the joys of 19th C Australian authors, a couple of whom were even women! My bookshelves in my study hold several books from school and university days carted across the world and stored against numerous walls in many homes.
Of course, I wanted to write a novel. I cherished this dream for decades, thought I was too old until I discovered Kate Atkinson was forty-seven when she wrote her first novel, the brilliant ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. Forty-seven! I wasn’t, at the time, so hope blossomed. Then I was, and older … But by the time I’d finished with corporate life and retired (early) to the country, the dream was dulled, shoved into the background of every day. There were other things to do. And it was one of those other things which led me, finally, to writing. It was to do with a forest.
In 2010, the UK government thought it a good idea to sell England’s public forests to raise cash. I live in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, an ancient place inhabited since time immemorial by people whose passion for this piece of land between the rivers Severn and Wye runs deep. It took the Romans two years to conquer most of Britain. It took them another thirty to conquer the tribes on the other side of the Severn. Little has changed. I was new here, but I badgered my way onto the committee of local citizens leading the fight to save our trees, and our right to wander in them as and when we wished.
Anyway, the government backed down in the face of national outrage, and afterward, wandering in the trees with the dog, an idea came to me to turn the core of this event into a book. I began to type bits and pieces of scenes, stick them together, work out a plot, characters, the evil, forest-destroying, warmongering lord, and so on. When I was finished, I had a book. That book in time turned into three, and a while ago I heavily revised them and re-launched them as Guardians of the Forest, which has fans from ages nine to ninety.
My plan was to write a sequel (outlined) and a prequel. The prequel was going fine until I became distracted by meeting another Australian author on a peer review site. Emma was writing about the life of a young woman hanged in Melbourne in 1863, aged only twenty-three. One way or another, Emma and I became co-authors for the book, and good friends, although we’ve never physically met. The book is done (many times over) and is being queried. The opening chapter was shortlisted in a major UK competition last year, which is a positive sign – any agents or publishers out there, take note!
This experience did two main things for me: it vastly improved my writing, having another set of eyes chapter by chapter and learning from each other; and it gave me a taste for historical fiction. This led me to write ‘Keepers’, set in 1950s Australia and inspired by little bits of family lore which have been greatly dramatised. I’m now most of the way through another project, set in the Forest of Dean this time, and again inspired by real life – a woman who was tried here for being a witch, in 1906.
Writing is now a (mostly) full time occupation for me. Although the worst paid of my career, it’s certainly the most enjoyable. Over the past few years, I’ve learned an awful lot about the craft of writing, and I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about publishing, from synopses and query letters to distribution platforms and ARCs. All brain food!
And then there’s the joy of getting to know other writers. Locally, I’m part of Dean Writers Circle, formed in 1978 and as strong as ever. We meet in various formats weekly, to write and/or discuss each other’s writings, from poems to novels. The feedback and support motivates and pushes us all on. Similarly, I finally joined Twitter and fell down the rabbit hole of the #writingcommunity which has brought untold benefits and great mates.
Writers suffer roller-coaster lives, I’ve decided. We wring our minds and emotions to draw out our characters’ stories, living their highs and lows, breathing their air, and sometimes, many times, we wonder if any of it is worth the keystrokes. The vision exceeds the reality so often! We re-write and edit, and keep on, still wondering. Then the magic happens: we win a competition, a piece is long/shortlisted, or a magazine/anthology accepts our submission, or – bliss – we get a five-star review from a random stranger who has found our book, and that’s it. We’re at the top of the ride, squealing with delight!
There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Bio: Originally from Australia, Cheryl Burman arrived in the Forest of Dean, UK, via a few years in Switzerland. The Forest inspired her to write, as it has inspired many before her, including Tolkien. She is the author of the fantasy trilogy, ‘Guardians of the Forest’, and of ‘Keepers’, an historical women’s fiction novel set in Australia post WW2. Her flash fiction, short stories, and bits of her novels have won various prizes and long/shortlistings. Her latest project is set against the backdrop of the Forest and the River Severn and is a magical realism novel about a young farm girl who talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina, goddess. Cheryl is married with two grown children and a border collie, Sammy (who is also an author).
Visit her at -
Featured work ‘Keepers’
‘Keepers’, released April 2021, is an historical women’s fiction novel, set in Australia post WW2. Raine’s family is living in a migrant camp, having moved from the country to the city for medical treatment for her father. Teddy’s family, and his best mate Alf’s, are there too, recent immigrants from the bombed-out East End of London. Raine faces all kinds of trials in her family and work life, and when she’s rescued by Teddy and Alf from an assault by a drunk, things get even more complicated. The story follows the three as they learn what’s important in life, and, ultimately, who their true ‘keepers’ are.
Read more about ‘Keepers’ including an extract, on Cheryl’s website. You can purchase a copy here. Paperback format also available here.