It’s Friday! And that means it’s time for Pass the Book Baton. Every week Alphabet Soup features a book creator who will answer one question before throwing a new question to the next Friday visitor. (It’s kind of like a book relay in slow motion.)
Today the book baton is passed to Aleesah Darlison. Aleesah writes picture books, chapter books, and series for children — she’s published 20 books since her first book was published in 2010. Aleesah’s latest book is Secrets & Spells (the first book in the Little Witch series).
Here are just some of Aleesah’s books:
Last week, Peter Carnavas asked:
You have written many different types of stories: picture books, funny stories, adventure stories, and books about the importance of looking after animals. Which stories do you enjoy writing the most, and is there a type of story you haven’t tried, but would love to?
It’s so hard to choose! I love writing all types of stories and sometimes different ideas lend themselves to different genres, styles or lengths of stories. Mostly, I like to write funny stories and if they can include an animal or two somewhere in the narrative, then all the better.
Picture books are wonderful to write because I am ‘gifted’ with an entire book of beautiful illustrations to accompany my text that are done by the talented artists and illustrators I work with. They bring my text alive with colour, light, layers and sometimes humour.
And now Aleesah passes the book baton to the next Friday visitor — Danny Parker. Danny’s latest books are the first four books in a new series: Lola’s Toy Box, illustrated by Guy Shield, and a new picture book — Sarah and the Steep Slope, illustrated by Matt Ottley.
Aleesah asks: “You’ve worked with some amazing illustrators in the past, in particular Matt Ottley. Can you tell us how much interaction you have with Matt before and during the book creation process?
Check in every Friday for mini interviews with children’s authors and illustrators.
In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine, you’ll meet an Australian writer or illustrator. In the summer issue we talk to Mark Wilson who is an author AND an illustrator. It’s hard to fit the whole conversation in the magazine, so we’ve posted the whole interview here on the blog. Read on!
Where do you live?
I live in Frankston with Ros, my wife and our two dogs—Toby and Couta. (Silky terrier and a Shitsu Cross.) We have 7 fish in our pond, and lots of native birds visit as well. We live near the beach where I go for long walks when I get the chance.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I have so many stories in my head! At the moment, I am obsessed with trying to save sea turtles and whales, and will be doing that forever. All are endangered thanks to plastic bags and coastal developments, amongst many other things. Also anything about Australian history inspires me. The explorers and pioneers were so brave and determined to do what they did!
An idea can come from a photograph, an article in a newspaper, or something someone said. I write everything down and then it might pop up as a part of a story
How did you come to be a writer and illustrator?
All I ever wanted to be was an artist, or a fighter pilot or an architect. I was terrible at maths, so the last two were out! I loved telling stories in pictures when I was little, and still do. Always loved just drawing things!
Was it easy to get your first book published?
It was very good luck! I had a weird collection of surrealistic black and white drawings and applied for an illustrator’s job on Pursuit Magazine in Melbourne. I got it—my first illustrations were pretty strange too!
Does the story influence your choice of materials?
Never. I use everything from a pencil to house paint, including derwents, ink sand, dirt, feathers etc. Lots of pencil drawing go straight into my books.
When you are creating your own books, which comes first—the artwork or the story text?
Usually the pictures, then I make up a story around them. Lately I have been writing stories first, which is strange for me. An idea can also come from a photograph, an article in a newspaper, or something someone said. I write everything down and then it might pop up as a part of a story.
When you are illustrating a book written by someone else, do you discuss the story and illustrations with them?
Always. I love to hear an author’s ideas and they often see things that I wouldn’t see. Gary Crew was great for illustration ideas, and Jackie French had some wonderful ideas for A Day to Remember, and I used them in the illustrations too!
Are you working on a book at the moment?
I am working on a book about the Vietnam War that is the 3rd book in the Children in War Trilogy. (The other books in the series are My Mother’s Eyes and Angel of Kokoda). It will be out early next year. There is also a new Ben and Gracie’s Art Adventure book underway!
Do you have any advice for young writers and artists?
Write everything down. Keep a journal and make notes for your stories in it.
Observations, quotes, discussions, interesting things—write them all down.
Writing takes practise, so keep writing; stories, poems, song lyrics, anything and everything. Talk to your grandma and grandpa—discover the stories in your own family, there are so many!
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love singing in my blues band, playing drums and reading books about the Romans, Vikings and history in general.
Is your writing influenced by any writers in particular?
The Australian Impressionist painters Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton are my favoutites. I am also inspired by the French Impressionist Monet, and Australian Illustrators Robert Ingpen and Shaun Tan. You can tell I’m a bit of a melting pot, but the Australian Impressionists painters mainly. I particularly love children’s paintings. They use really fresh colours and simple shapes. I am trying to get back to doing that myself!
As promised, today we are talking to Sandy Fussell – the author of the Samurai Kids series. The fourth book in the series – Monkey Fist – was published on 1 August 2009. (It’s hot off the press!)
To celebrate its launch, Sandy is taking Monkey Fist on a Blog Tour. We’re excited to have her visiting Soup Blog today, and we asked her some questions about how she does the research for her books.
But first, a little about Monkey Fist:
Set in 17th century China, Monkey Fist follows the adventures of a group of samurai students and their teacher, Sensei Ki-yaga. Each student has a challenge to overcome on his personal journey.When Kyoko is kidnapped and hidden away in the Forbidden City, Sensei and the kids hurry to her rescue. They are aided by the Lin, a group of Chinese forest ninja and by Master Jang, the Poisoner.
And now, some questions for Sandy!
How do you do the research for your books?
I love the Internet but when using it for research you have to be very careful that the information is coming from a credible source – someone who knows the subject. The internet is both trap and treasure. I have been collecting history books since I was a child so have a huge personal collection covering my areas of interest – and am always looking for an excuse to buy another book. I like to write about the periods of history that are not so well known so there aren’t many relevant books in my local libraries. I do consult experts and they are always very happy to be involved in research for a children’s book.
Do you have a favourite way to research?
I love the internet because it is a real treasure chest. Following a link can lead to the most interesting and obscure information. I find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.
My real favourite of course, would be travelling overseas to do my research first-hand but I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future. Unfortunately. *Sigh*
How do you record your research, and why do you do it this way?
I make lots and lots of notes. I photocopy book pages and print out web sources. It’s important to document all the facts used when writing history.
I found this out the hard way. After I finished my first book, White Crane, I threw out all my notes. Then my publisher, Walker Books asked me for references to support the historical facts I had used in the narrative. I had to relocate everything and reproduce 30 typed pages of notes. It felt like I had written another book!
Before you write anything, do you get all your research done first? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I like to spend a solid month researching and thinking about where my plot will fit – as in the geographic location, any significant events occurring at the same time. Then I start to write.
I am very structured and the Samurai Kids books are always on a deadline. I allocate a month because a month is all the time I’ve got.
How do you use your research when you sit down to write?
I reread constantly. Little facts take on new significance as the story emerges. I particularly like to read primary sources – texts written by people alive at the time. One of my favourites is The Book of Five Rings by the legendary samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.
Do you enjoy the research as much as the writing? (Or is the writing more enjoyable?)
If I am writing a historical novel the two are so entangled they are impossible to pull apart. But I don’t want to try as I love doing both.
Do you ever find out something in your research that means you have to take the story in a direction you weren’t originally planning to?
Recently I discovered an arquebus (gun) from the mid-seventeenth century can only fire once before reloading. In the second chapter of my current manuscript (book 5) my character shot two birds in succession. So far it has always been small stuff like that and doesn’t affect the story direction. However I am a stickler for getting the facts right and check my references quite thoroughly so I don’t often find research errors.
How much time would you spend on each book in Samurai Kids?
The Samurai Kids books are generally on a six month schedule. I research for one month, write for four months and then revise and rewrite for one month in addition to the revision I do as I go. I always say there is a lot of mathematics in writing – the planning, the pacing and all those word counts!
This is the eighth stop on the Monkey Fist Blog Tour. You can find out more about Sandy Fussell, the Samurai Kids series, and Monkey Fist by visiting the other hosts on the tour. (You can also visit the Samurai Kids website for fun activities related to the books, and take a quiz to find out which Samurai Kid you are!)