Posted in teachers' resources

Meet the author – Norman Jorgensen

In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine we interview an author or illustrator. The trouble is, we can only fit some of their answers in the magazine. So we print the full interviews on the blog—we wouldn’t want you to miss out!

In issue 13 we talked to Norman Jorgensen, author of many books including The Last Viking, and In Flanders Fields.

"The Last Viking (cover)"In Flanders Fields (cover)

Where do you live?

I live just out of Perth city in an old Federation house built in 1906. It is a bit too cosy; in fact, it is far too small for all the books I have collected over the years. If I buy any more books my wife and I will have to go and live out in the garden shed along with the rakes, spades, half empty paint cans and redback spiders.

What do you love about being a writer?

I love the way stories develop from just the flimsiest shred of a single thought or sentence into full-blown worlds full of exotic places and interesting out-of-control people.

I also love the ego stroking that comes with the job. People seem to think writers are special, especially children’s book creators, and treat us accordingly. I know for a fact, however, that most kids’ book writers are just adults with arrested development issues, and have never really grown up properly. That is certainly true in my case.

A real bonus being a writer is that I get to travel to all sorts of great places for literature festivals and writers’ talks, and get to meet kids who like reading.

What was your favourite book as a child?

There was a load. One I remember and was very keen on was as series by Anthony Buckeridge, called Jennings and Darbyshire, about boys in an English boarding school that was an awful lot like Hogwarts. Unlike Hogwarts, though, Linbury Court Preparatory School was a ripping and topping place with midnight feasts, easily fooled school masters, japes and pranks, and, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, no wizards. The books were also a great deal funnier than Harry and Co. They kept me in stitches of laughter for days at a time and I loved them.

My other great favourite was Biggles by Captain WE Johns, a series of nearly a hundred books about an ace World War I fighter pilot who never seems to get any older and also flies planes in WWII and into the jet age, and has hair-raising  adventures together with his chums, Ginger, Smyth and Algy. They are probably horribly dated by now, but at the time they sure kept me wide awake at night.


Was it easy to get your first book published?

My first book came out years ago. It was a graphic novel illustrated by Allan Langoulant and was called Ashe of the Outback. At the time I had no real idea of what I was doing and used to flood Allan with hundreds of ideas, often on coasters or scraps of paper.  He was very patient with me and managed to pull them into a sequence that made sense and that he could illustrate. Luckily for me, he was such a clever artist and well-known that that a publisher soon contracted it.

My fourth book In Flanders Fields proved to be a much harder task. A picture book about the war in the trenches for small children? Are you joking? A number of publishers couldn’t see past the idea that picture books don’t always have to be about talking rabbits or cute teddy bears, or for little kids, and instantly rejected it. Luckily, the crew at Fremantle Press weren’t so traditionally bound.

Norman Jorgensen in Northumberland. (Photo © Jan Nicholls.)
Norman Jorgensen in Northumberland. (Photo © Jan Nicholls.)

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Like all writers I read a great deal. I like comedies and funny writers, historical novels, spy thrillers and well constructed sentences but, above all, I like a good story that drags you along with it.

I also love travelling, especially with my gee-wiz top-of-the-range camera and taking photographs, especially to Europe. I love the old castles, cathedrals, villages, country pubs, museums, battle grounds and all the stuff that makes history so exciting.

Watching old movies give me a thrill, especially black and white dramas, westerns and silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (go and look them up on You Tube. They are hilarious, even 80 years later. )

I like woodworking and have made several pieces of furniture using old recycled Jarrah. I love the smell of wood shavings and the sense of achievement when you do something as well as you can.

What made you become a writer?

Truthfully? I saw an old film when I about fifteen called Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck, about the famous writer F Scott Fitzgerald. He was a romantic, tortured writer and as a teenager I could see myself being just like that. These days I’m not particularly tortured and, sadly, neither do I look like Gregory Peck or F Scott Fitzgerald.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?

Here you go, from the horse’s mouth, as they say:

Ashe of the Outback was inspired by Biggles (and The Jolly Postman).

In Flanders Fields is from a scene is a movie called All Quiet on the Western Front.

The Call of the Osprey came from all the times I spent with  my grandfather in his marvellous old workshop in Northam.

A Fine Mess is from a poster I have on my office wall of old comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, and also the adventures my brothers and I had growing up in Kalamunda.

Another Fine Mess 002 has James Bond stamped all over it.

Jack’s Island is a collection of stories about my father’s life growing up on Rottnest Island during the 1940s.

The Last Viking I wrote because of my Danish name, and the thought that perhaps one day I should do a Viking story to honour the ancestors. You never know if they are watching. If they are, I hope they like it. It has only just been released.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Yes, ignore all advice!!! Except, practice writing a lot. Just like violin or netball training, the more practice you put in the better you get at it. Oh, and always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas when they occur. They are such fleeting things and are easily forgotten.

Also don’t take rejection too personally. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. 

Are you working on a book at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?

Hmmmm … There are three on the go.   

The Goldminer’s Son is a picture book, based on a true Western Australia story, about a miner trapped underground, his son’s steadfast belief he’ll be saved, and the heroic efforts to rescue his dad from a flooded pit.

Brave Art is about a girl who doesn’t fit in at a school, at home or with her friends. All she wants to do, with a single-minded passion, is paint pictures like the Great Masters and become a famous artist herself.  Luckily, it has a happy ending as she does achieve her ambition.

Sons of the Desert is, hopefully, an authentic and action-packed, rip-roaring, page-tuning, old-fashioned adventure with horses, villains, stagecoach robberies, explosions and enough realism for you taste the dust and feel the heat as the battles rage.

Find out more about Norman Jorgensen and his books on his website and check out The Last Viking blog, too. Norman also answered our Three Quick Questions as part of our third birthday celebrations in October. You can read his answers here.

Interview by Alphabet Soup magazine. © Alphabet Soup magazine & Norman Jorgensen, 2011. (Photo  © Jan Nicholls.)
Posted in authors, info, teachers' resources

Interview with Sandy Fussell, author of the Samurai Kids series

Author, Sandy Fussell. Photo courtesy of the author. Artwork by Sarah Davis

Our author Q&A in issue 7 features Sandy Fussell, author of the Samurai Kids series, Polar Boy, and Jaguar Warrior. We could only include a selection of questions in the magazine, so we thought we’d post the full interview on Soup Blog. Enjoy!

Where do you live?

I live on the south coast of New South Wales, on the escarpment, which means I live between the mountains and the sea. What I like best is the wildlife we find in our backyard – possums, pythons, parrots, blue tongues, tree frogs, water dragons, a wallaby and once, even an echidna.

What made you become a writer?

My 10 year-old-son stopped reading overnight. One day he was an avid reader and the next day he was insisting ‘all books are boring’. Nothing I tried would change his mind so I suggested he write a story that wasn’t boring. It was my job to write his words down. I found that by the time the story was finished, I really wanted to write one of my own.

What do you do when not writing?

I love reading. Being a reader is an important part of being a writer. I also like to do puzzles like crosswords and sodoku. At the moment I am learning to draw manga. I never get bored because there are so many things I want to do that I will never even get close to starting.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

I was lucky. A commissioning editor at Walker Books heard me read a few pages at a workshop and she liked it enough to ask to see the complete manuscript. Two months later it was accepted and I was on the way to becoming a published author. I did however have wait two years before the book was finally available. Part of the reason for the delay was the beautiful illustrations by Rhian Nest-James. Definitely worth waiting for!

What was your favourite book as a child?

I didn’t really have a favourite as a child although I have many favourite children’s books now. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the library but I didn’t own many books. The only ones I had were birthday and Christmas presents. When I was nine I was given a set of two books for my birthday – one was stories about wizards and the other stories about witches. I don’t remember the titles but I remember how magical it felt to be reading them.

My current favourite children’s books are The Tale of Despereaux (although I didn’t think the movie was half as good as the book), The Graveyard Book, The Ranger’s Apprentice series and The Dragonkeeper series.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere. Sometimes it’s a strange word I hear, like ‘snizzle’ (I used that one in Polar Boy), sometimes it’s an overheard snatch of conversation, a picture or a snippet of history. When something sparks my interest I think about it for a while and the story starts to tell itself. In the beginning, the only idea I had for White Crane was one sentence: My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. But I loved that sentence because it asked so many questions: about samurai, about Niya and about being a kid with one leg. And when I started to answer the questions, I found a story I really wanted to tell.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

(1)  Read a lot. It’s no co-incidence that successful writers are keen readers. Not only do you learn from the work of other authors, reading encourages you to dream and imagine.

(2)  Write a lot. Being a successful writer is like being a soccer player or a netballer – you have to practise.

(3)  Have a go. Now, more than ever, with the help of the Internet and some wonderful recent books by teenagers, there are opportunities for early publication. Magazines. Websites. Blogs,

Of your own books, which is your favourite?

That’s a bit like asking me which of my children is my favourite *smile* I would say something different every day of the week but in the end, I love them equally. Same with my books. With the Samurai Kids series and it is wonderful to be able to spend so much time getting to know my characters and to take them on so many different adventures. But I also like to explore in a completely different direction and am looking forward to writing a story idea I have about Africa.

What are your hobbies?

I like scrapbooking. I often joke and say the most useful skills I learned were in kindergarten – cutting and pasting. But those same skills give me hours of fun sorting family and holiday photos and organising them with a few words to hold the memories in place. I try lots of new things even though I’m not very good at most of them. When I was researching Samurai Kids I went to sword fighting classes and I was hopeless at that. Still had a lot of fun and now I have a practice sword I take on school visits. My newest hobby is manga art and the next item on my wish list is learning computer animation.

Do you have any pets?

Our family has two Burmese cats. One is a huge sook and launches himself from the top of furniture to get a cuddle. The other is very affectionate but not quite so acrobatic. We also have a snake, frogs and tropical fish. In the past we’ve had mice, deerhounds, parrots, a cockatoo, lovebirds, budgies and guinea pigs. Soon we’re getting a rabbit. I belong to a family of animal lovers.

Are there any writers who influence your work?

I am influenced by everything I read in one way or another. That’s why writers need to be avid readers.

I have also been lucky to have had the support of a number of excellent writers for children and young adults. Di Bates, who wrote Crossing the Line which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for Young Adult Literature in 2009, was my mentor for many years. I am in a writer’s workshop group which includes twice CBCA Honour book author Bill Condon. I could easily write a list a page long of writers and aspiring authors who have helped and encouraged me.

Have you been to all the places where your books are set?

Only in my head! I haven’t travelled much at all. People are always surprised to find I wrote Polar Boy having only been to the snow for a few days. But I have a good imagination. I watch documentaries, read books, look at pictures and then I close my eyes. I write historical fiction. I can’t go back in time but that doesn’t stop me writing about hundreds of years ago. In the same way it doesn’t matter to me whether I’ve been to the places I write about either. In my imagination I can go anywhere. Any time.

What are you working on now?

My newest book is Jaguar Warrior. It’s the story of Atl, a young Aztec slave boy, waiting to be sacrificed. Atl is a fast runner so when the Spanish invade and messenger is needed to take a plea for help to the nearest city, Atl is released. It’s about choices. Will Atl run for himself or the city who wanted to kill him? Or will he just hide from the Captain who hunts him? It’s an adventure but a very dangerous one.

I am currently editing Samurai Kids 5: Fire Lizard which will be released in September 2010. Yesterday I saw some wonderful illustrations for the first few chapters. And I am writing Book 6, which might be called Bat Wings. In my To Do pile is the manuscript for my first picture book, Sad the Dog. It’s a busy time for me but I feel very lucky to be working at something I love.

If a young writer or reader wanted to contact you, where could they find you?

I can be contacted by email at samuraikids@people.net.au I always respond and love to get emails from young people. I am also in the Samurai Kids forum every day, so anyone interested can talk to me there about writing, my books, ninjas, samurai and all sorts of things. Sometimes we have competitions and members get a coloured belt and samurai (or ninja) weapon based on the number of posts they make.

You can find out more about Sandy Fussell’s books by visiting her website: http://www.sandyfussell.com.