My work in 2020 includes the development of Émilie & Voltaire, the opera by Nicholas Gentile to my libretto. Nicholas was Fine Music FM's 2019 Kruger Scholar and in 2020 we were invited to present selections from the opera at the Puccini Chamber Opera Festival in Lucca, Italy. Because of Italy's health crisis in the early part of the year the festival was postponed, but we still went ahead to prepare a short film starring Julie Lea Goodwin as Émilie, Robert McDougall as Voltaire and John Longmuir as Maupertuis. The principal sponsor of the film is Opera Australia. To follow the development of the opera, visit the Émilie & Voltaire Patreon page.
In 2019 I completed Murder on High, the third Victor Constant Mystery, and featured it on my blog in March and April 2020.
All my novels except the Victor Constant Mysteries continue to be available in paperback and on Kindle from Lume Books (formerly Endeavour UK).
VISIT MY AUTHOR PAGE ON AMAZON here
'Waking up in a sumptuous seventeenth-century French château every day is a dreamlike opportunity for any historical author.' That's what Maggie Hamilton, then the wonderful publicist for Random House Australia, said about the experiences in France that partly inspired my first novel, La Créole. Truth to tell, it's hard to pin down where the impetus for each story comes. All I can say is this: writing is a drive that exhilarates and challenges me.
Cheryl Sawyer is my maiden name and I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, then lived in Cambridge and Auckland. I have been a teacher and university tutor and hold two master’s degrees with honours, in both French and English literature.
My training as a publisher began in Auckland. I subsequently worked in New Zealand and overseas as a freelancer on a wide range of non-fiction and fiction; the highlight came when I edited The Bone People by Keri Hulme, which won the 1985 Booker Prize in the United Kingdom. I still see Keri's book as one of the great novels of our time. When I moved to Sydney, Australia, with my husband and two sons, I eventually became publisher for Lansdowne, an independent Australian company. From 2003 to 2014, I created the lists for popular fiction and non-fiction collections for Reader’s Digest. I now write full-time. I have finished Death in Champagne, the second Victor Constant Investigation. I'll let you know when it's available.
My First Opera
It was first called The Propagation of Fire, which was also the title of the play that I wrote in tribute to the extraordinary Émilie du Châtelet, a physicist, mathematician and thinker of the eighteenth century who was one of the great figures of the Enlightenment in France.
I had been studying Émilie ever since I first saw a portrait of her in the lovely Château de Breteuil, southwest of Paris. I asked the then Marquise de Breteuil, 'Who is the beautiful woman in that painting?' She told me that Émilie had been the most notorious member of the Breteuil family, partly because of her learning but also because she was the mistress of the brilliant and controversial Voltaire. For fifteen years they lived together at Cirey, the Châtelet country mansion in the Champagne province.
The play was well received by the Literary Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Chris Mead. He said, 'Your work on the play is engaging, dramatic and both amusing and moving. I don’t need to tell you that you write well, but I can say that as a dramatist you well balance forward momentum, the world of ideas and the raw human emotions of some very smart people. The play is lively, rich and robust.' John Bell, opera and theatre director and the founder of Bell Shakespeare, said, 'It is a very engaging, entertaining and intelligent piece of theatre. If I were thirty years younger I’d be keen to play either of the male roles—it’s a treat to have witty and articulate dialogue to speak. Émilie is a very feisty character and the lynchpin of a great love triangle.'
Suddenly I realised that Émilie's story deserved to be expressed in an opera, and as soon as the libretto was complete I approached Nicholas Gentile, praying that he would be as excited as I about all its possibilities. To my great joy he threw his amazing talents into its composition.
Émilie & Voltaire takes place over a single day in 1738, while the lovers are at Cirey. They are passionate about scientific research and Voltaire has entered an essay competition set by the Academy of Sciences on the subject of fire. Unbeknown to him, Émilie has also submitted a paper—an act unheard of for a woman. She has kept this a secret from Voltaire for months. All at once they must cope with the unexpected arrival of the geometer Maupertuis, ‘the man who flattened the earth’, a friend of Voltaire’s and former mathematics tutor—and lover—of Émilie. He comes direct from the Academy in Paris, with the results of the competition.
The intimate conflict reveals their fears and jealousies, their ambitions and desires—and at its heart is Émilie, burning to lead an authentic life as thinker, writer and physicist. The painting of the lady in blue on the left is the portrait of Émilie that the present Marquis de Breteuil considers to be the most accurate.
Jane Austen fans can purchase a light-hearted piece from Flirting with Pride and Prejudice; called 'Lord Byron and Miss A', it's available here from Ben Bella Books. Other works are: with Isabel Ollivier, Early Eyewitness Accounts of Maori Life, transcriptions and translations of the journals of 18th century French explorers of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Secondary-school English texts: Outsiders and Something to Write Home About, Heinemann Educational Books, NZ. With Cheryl Westenberg: children's picture book, Gala Koala of La Scala. For Lansdowne Publishing, editor and additional verse: A Gift Book of Teddy Bears.
1979-1987: Food & Wine columnist for Better Business magazine, NZ. 1997-2006 Opera Reviewer for The Australian Jewish News.
La Créole the Musical
With music and lyrics by Nicholas Gentile and Julia Plummer, and my book and script, this received two arts and performance grants in 2010/2011 in Melbourne and Sydney. The two composers are currently involved in other productions and projects but the musical may be developed further at any time. Visit Nicholas Gentile's website here for his latest productions.