Saturday, September 11, 2010

The red, hot questions . . .Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Hello and a big, red hot welcome to my dear writing friend and colleague, Sheryl Gwyther, whose Pearson chapter book,Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, has just been released. It's a great story with plenty of problems, humour and determination woven throughout and perfect for the chapter reading age group!

I wanted to ask Sheryl more about the book and her writing in general.

Can you tell us what was the initial trigger for this story, and what are three other related ideas you used to help create or develop it?

That’s an easy question, Janeen. I love the look of chillies – their varied shapes and colours and gorgeous glossy skins, and I like growing them. Only problem is, I’m allergic to eating them!

When I decided to write a story about someone who was crazy about growing and eating chillies, young Charlie jumped into my head and the story took off.

What was your method in working on this book? Was it mainly plot or character driven?

I did have a strong vision about what Charlie was like, but I also had to come up with a plot that would keep the reader wanting to know how Charlie would solve her dilemma. Would she and her Habanero win with all the obstacles put in her way? Then it was a matter of imagining lots of situations where chillies could cause problems.

Were there any surprises that happened along the writing journey?

You bet your guacamole boots there was, Janeen! When I first began to plan this story, I didn’t realise how much fun it would be actually writing it. Charlie was such a strong character in my head, sometimes it was like I was thinking through her head, not mine. Very surprising!! I also got a very big surprise when a possum ate a chilli from the FIERY Habanero plant in my garden. I didn’t know possums ate chillies! Maybe that possum got such a shock it never ate a chilli again.

I learned a number of things while reading the story; for example, milk cools the mouth after eating hot, spicy food. Did you find you needed to do a lot of research?

I love researching for all my stories – partly because I enjoy researching and mostly because it’s good to know the ‘ins and outs’ of the subject matter – whether it’s about dinosaur fossils out in western Queensland (in my novel, Secrets of Eromanga), or learning to juggle when I wrote Princess Clown (I failed at the fourth ball toss), or some amazing things I found out about chillies while writing Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

Did you know that birds can eat the hottest chillies possible with no ill effects? Why? Because their internal system can cope with the chilli’s capsaicin (burn-factor chemical), the chilli seed passes through their gullet quickly and is dispersed further from the mother plant ... more chance of survival for the new chilli plants!

Of course, the reason why the chilli is so hot for everything else is to stop it being eaten and destroyed – the seed does not survive in the intestines of all other animals (including humans). Clever chillies! Clearly, my possum thinks he’s a bird.

I love the element of music in the story. Do you find music is an element that appears in your stories, or are there more predominant ‘Sheryl passions’ like art, geology or palaeontology?

Clever you, Janeen, to pick up another one of my passions! Yes, the element of music is present in many of the stories I write, even if I don’t mention it in the story. Music has rhythm, just like words and sentences.

Music also has colour and I like to bring ‘colour’ to stories – that’s the element that keeps a plot and characters interesting to the reader. I play music on my stereo while I write – from classical, to jazz, to Cuban, to rock and Celtic music. Some people need silence to write, I like music!

Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper is published by Pearson in their new series, Chapters. Tell us what it was like writing for the Educational Market.

I started writing chapter books for the Education Market late last year – it was a pleasant surprise. I’ve had two published for this market so far. No-one in those two publishing houses told me I had to use word-lists, nobody stopped me using longer, more complicated words that would challenge a child (like soufflĂ© and circlet).

The books themselves are professionally produced, and I’m really happy with the end product. And best thing of all, I am delighted to be the author of chapter books – the first ‘real’ books that young readers tackle by themselves.

Princess Clown was the first book I wrote for the education market. Blake published it a month ago and I was thrilled with how it turned out. Sian Naylor’s illustrations are brilliant (and very clever!) and I love their extension activities in the back of the book.

Pearson did a fantastic job with Charlie and the RHCP too. The book’s illustrator, Richard Hoit has captured Charlie’s enthusiastic face and all the pictures are just right for the story. He even got the shape and colour right for the Habanero chilli on the front cover.

Both Charlie and the RHCP and Princess Clown are available from the publishers on the internet. Some schools already have copies and Charlie could also be in some bookshops by now.

I’m having a book launch in October for Charlie and the RHCP in Brisbane – everyone is welcome! It’s at Black Cat Books in Paddington, Brisbane on 22nd October, 2010, at 6pm. Phone: 07 3367 8777

What are you writing now?

I have several stories 'on the boil'. Three are longer novels and one is a shorter length to suit the 9-10 age group. I'm enjoying writing this story - Fangus Fearbottom is a young vampire who would rather eat bananas than drink blood, so he's having heaps of funny adventures.

I'm hoping to develop it into a series as I have lots of ideas that could cause conflict for poor Fangus (I wonder how he will solve his banana-dilemma?)

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk on your blog, Janeen. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! If any of your readers would like to know more about writing chapter books, I’ve written a blog on the subject.

Here is the link for it on the Kids Book Review site.


Princess Clown

Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper

Secrets of Eromanga

For more information on my writing and art work:

Thanks Sheryl, for such great answers and best wishes for your terrific book. By the way, I am also a lover of the shape and shine of chillies!


  1. Well done Sheryl and Janeen- loved finding out about chillies! Topics for stories are endless!! What fun.
    What a great writing year you've had so far Sheryl! all the best for the new projects.

  2. Thank you, Lorraine! You are right - there is an endless line-up of topics for story writing. The trick is knowing what to do about them!!

    And yes, I sure am having a productive writing year so far :)

  3. Thanks Lorraine. Lovely to hear from you and to affirm that there are stories all around us.


  4. I just finished reading Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. It surprised me at the end 'why' Charlie's pepper was by far the hottest. You learn something new every day. Well done, Sheryl. Thank you, Janeen!

  5. Hi, Angela, thanks for your comment. Often when enjoying a piece of fiction, you find out something new, don't you? Almost like a lovely bonus.


  6. Hi Janeen and Sheryl,
    What a lovely smiley photo of the two of you. Sounds like the book was fun to write Sheryl. I love the look of chillies too.

  7. Thanks Katrina. I was up at the Ipswich Festival in Queensland and Sheryl and I caught up there - that's where the photo was taken. There's certainly something about the look of chillies, isn't there!