Tell me about your books
Starting with the most recent: Dragon Gift is a slim collection of ten flash fiction/short stories loosely based on myths and fairytales. As one reviewer so beautifully said, these are ‘stories that touch on the whimsical and haunting, the heart warming and gut-wrenching’.
Next up is Keepers, a women’s fiction novel set in Australia in 1950. It tells the story of three young people who have to grow up fast, and how that happens. Reviewers use words like ‘exhilarating’, ‘emotionally charged’ and ‘heart tugging’ to describe it. And love to debate the ending!
Behind that comes my fantasy trilogy, Guardians of the Forest, originally written for children but finding a wide audience, aged 8 to 80. To save her forest home from desolation by an invading warlord, Callie recruits an army of wild creatures, helped along by a touch of gryphon magic.
When and how did you start writing?
Late! As so many of us do. My long held dream of writing a book had largely faded by the time I took early retirement in 2007. It was shocked into wakening by the 2010-11 people’s fight here in the UK to save our public forests from being sold off. I was heavily involved in the campaign, and after we won, I was walking the dog through the woods when the idea of Guardians came to me. The rest, they say, is history – plus a shed load of learning!
What do you consider your greatest writing accomplishment? And which was your biggest challenge?
While I’m proud of all my books, and while it’s always lovely to be commended/awarded a prize in a competition, my proudest moment to date was being longlisted in the UK’s Historical Writers Short Story Award in 2020. This is a major competition, which I’d entered a few times before with no result. When I saw my story on the list, I danced in the street!
What was your favourite research activity you have done for a book?
Research is not really a favourite activity for me, but in writing Keepers I needed to find out more about post world war two migrant camps in Australia. It was fascinating reading the memories of people who had stayed in these camps, and about the hugely varying conditions. I was sufficiently inspired to write an article about them for our local history newsletter, which also appeared in my own newsletter.
What writing advice have you been given that really helped you?
That’s tough. I’ve had a lot of writing advice over the past few years. Advice on craft, publishing, marketing etc. In terms of craft, the honing of material to a fine point, making every word count, has disciplined my writing enormously. Cut, cut and cut. Also using similes and metaphors in lieu of adjectives and adverbs, where appropriate. This sounds contradictory as a simile will use more words than an adjective, but hey, we’re writers!
How does being part of writing groups help you?
I have an IRL writing group which has helped me tremendously. It includes some very talented prize winning writers who are constructive and detailed in their feedback, and it all helps. Then there is the brilliant twitter #writingcommunity. The support there for everything from, ‘what do you think of the colour of my cover?’ through critiquing, beta reading and sympathies for those doldrum days, is a tremendous boost.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m involved in a few things around the place. The writing group I mentioned before is very active, and I’m the chair. During lockdown we met by zoom in various formats once a week, and grew our membership. We’re now looking ahead to events, including one to celebrate famous past and current authors connected with the Forest of Dean. The list includes Tolkien, Rowling and Dennis Potter so you see we have high bars to reach.
I’m also part of a small group called Dean Scribblers, set up to encourage creative writing among young people. We’re now getting back into it post Covid. I love working with the kids, mostly about 10-11 years old.
Then there’s the local history society, where I’m the membership secretary (300 plus members), and also end up being involved in various projects. The most rewarding recently has been helping out best selling children’s author Andy Seed as he wrote a children’s history of the Forest of Dean. Two years of hard work, and now each primary school has their ten free copies. The sales are going well too.
Oh, and then there’s life!
What is your ultimate dream as a writer?
I would love to win the Booker or the Costa! But as I self publish, this is a long shot (and perhaps other reasons too). More realistically, I want to be recognised as a writer whose work people think of highly for its story telling quality and for the characters I create.
What projects should we be looking out for?
From the concrete to the hazy future:
I’m finishing up the draft of a prequel to Guardians, with the help of my two US critique partners. I started and abandoned it a while ago, so have had to re-read to find out what’s happened so far. While that’s in beta, I need to edit draft one of my magical realism novel set here in the Forest of Dean along the banks of the Severn River. Further out, I’ve been asked for a sequel to Keepers and am thinking of focusing on one of the lead male characters. And my twice prize-winning short story Sabrina Rising, based on the great flood of 1607, is begging to become at least a novella. Other than that … !
Do you have any advice to share with us?
Start writing as early as possible is the best advice. If it’s too late for that, dig into your life experience to add authenticity and depth to your writing. Keep persevering, keep learning the craft, and get as much feedback as possible on anything you write (and not from your mum).
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. She is the author of the fantasy trilogy, Guardians of the Forest, and of Keepers, an historical women’s fiction novel set in Australia in the 1950s. 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 -
Find Cheryl’s books here https://cherylburman.com/books/
Sign up to her newsletter and receive a free eBook of Dragons Gift https://cherylburman.com/by-the-letter-newsletter/
All images belong to author.