Craig Sheather is a freelance writer and journalist specialising in the great outdoors. But when travel restrictions limited his writing opportunities, he decided to reinvent himself – taking the Reinvent Yourself course at the Australian Writers' Centre. Feeling inspired, he went on to do two courses for writing for kids: Writing Picture Books and Laugh Out Loud. Craig has now published his debut picture book The Incredible True Story of Sparky the Wonder Puppy, about a puppy who survived the bushfires.
“I found all these courses extremely valuable in developing my writing skills, diversifying my writing and introducing me to other writing genres,” Craig says.
Branching out into children’s fiction
Living on the border of NSW and Victoria, Craig was especially affected by lockdown restrictions. He literally couldn’t access the areas that he usually writes about. But rather than lock down his own creativity, he decided to branch out and explore new options.
“As a result I completed two picture books, both published by Australian Geographic,” Craig says.
Released in February 2021, Sparky the Wonder Puppy tells the story of a young pup who beat the odds to survive the 2019-2020 bushfires in the Upper Murray. It has themes of tragedy and loss, but also survival and community spirit, and is beautifully illustrated by Blue Mountains artist Eloise Short.
“This book was designed to help young children understand and discuss traumatic bushfire events such as those of Australia's 2019-2020 Black Summer,” Craig says. “I was inspired to write the story after seeing a photo of an injured Sparky on Facebook and after hearing Sparky's owner tell their remarkable story on ABC radio. I contacted Sparky's family and we all agreed it would make a great picture book.”
Craig was careful to get input from child psychologists into the manuscript, as well as working with the family to tell the best story possible.
“I spent a lot of my personal time since February 2020 on this project,” Craig says. “However, it has gained a lot of interest and support and we are confident that the Sparky picture book will have a positive impact on the people who were impacted by the bushfires – not only in the Upper Murray area but all over Australia.”
A different way of writing
Craig has previously published two books about walking with Woodslane Press and Australian Geographic: Best Walks of Victoria's High Country (2018) and Best Walks East of Melbourne (2019). But when he decided to venture into writing fiction for kids, he found that it was a ‘totally different process’. With the help of the AWC courses – and the brutally honest feedback of his two kids, Lyra and Morrison (aged 7 and 4) – he has successfully made the leap.
To kickstart the Sparky book, Craig secured a grant from Create NSW and funds from generous sponsors, which also allowed him to donate 700 books to children in local Upper Murray and Snowy Valley Schools. Kids were delighted at the Corryong launch when Sparky himself showed up while Craig was reading the book! To keep everything as local and sustainable as possible, Craig secured an Australian printer and Sparky’s story is now available through Australian Geographic and Australian bookstores.
Spurred on by the success of his first book, Craig has been working on another bushfire picture book Heroes of Black Saturday, due out in mid-2021.
“It will include stories of people who showed bravery, courage, kindness and generosity during East Gippsland's bushfire crisis,” Craig says. “It's been very rewarding receiving positive feedback from these books and it's been awesome to produce some books that support communities that have been doing it tough.”
Although he has branched out into writing for children, Craig still has some feature writing projects on the go. Diversifying his writing skillset has been a positive and uplifting experience during a tough time.
“I'd like to thank AWC for providing me with the skills and confidence to follow my writing dreams and I strongly encourage anyone who is considering a course, to give it a go,” Craig says. “Who knows where it will lead!”