All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is Sandy Fussell, author of many books including the Samurai Kids series, Polar Boy and Jaguar Warrior.
1. Where do you like to write?
I write everywhere—even at the school bus stop. I like to sit in the sun and draft longhand but when it comes to the ‘spit and polish’ I work on a laptop in my office.
2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?
I am very fortunate as a reviewer to have an advance copy of The Outcasts, the first book in John Flanagan’s new Brotherband series. I think it’s even better than his Ranger’s Apprentice books and I loved those. The Outcasts is released 1 November.
3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s block?
I have two favourites. ‘snizzle’ which I used in Polar boy (a snizzle of snow’) and ‘screak’ (the screak of a bat) which I used in Samurai Kids 2: Owl Ninja. I collect unusual words and often use them as inspiration or to give a description more impact.
Sandy Fussell is visiting today, to tell us about what she got up to after ‘lights out’ when she was growing up! Sandy Fussell is the author of the Samurai Kids books (The first book in the series, White Crane, is pictured below), and Polar Boy. Her latest book is Jaguar Warrior, and the fifth Samurai Kids book — Fire Lizard — will be out in September 2010.
I had a strict childhood. There were so many rules. Reading in the bedroom, in bed, under the covers, or otherwise was definitely not allowed. I wasn’t a rule-breaker to begin with but …
Rule Number One was bed time at 7.30pm. That’s doubly hard to take when you are in Year 12 and it’s summer daylight savings time, but my mother wasn’t one to argue with about anything. Her house, her rules. Rule Number Two was no more than one hour’s homework. That was also hard in Year 12 when I already had one subject over the scheduled 12 unit limit. Mum believed homework was set by teachers who didn’t get their work done during the day and she wasn’t going to help make up for their shortcomings. *sigh*
So I began doing my homework under the bed covers. My partner in crime was my grandfather who lived next door. He worked in the local coal mines all his life and firmly believed in the importance of a good education leading to a better job. I didn’t have any money so Pop bought me a torch and kept up the supply of batteries. Mum knew something was up but she couldn’t catch me. I was quick at turning off the torch and hiding the evidence. Mum thought I was reading in bed and removed my bookcase from my bedroom.
That didn’t seem fair to me. So after my illicit homework was done, I read, read, read. I was a huge science fiction and fantasy fan and luckily so was the school librarian. I loved those series of big thick books. It was pure escapism. From Frank Herbert’s Dune to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire, to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and William Horwood’s Duncton Wood.
In some ways not much has changed. Last night I finished Tallow, the first book in Karen Brooks ‘Curse of the Bond Rider’ series. The second title in the trilogy, Votive, isn’t out until March 2011. I don’t want to wait – that’s what I really want to read under the covers now. Right now! It’s a story of wonderful scope in very way – the world building, the characters and the narrative itself. Other titles on my immediate list are The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), Thai-riffic (Oliver Phommavanh), Beatrice and Virgil (Yann Martel) and the last two books in the ‘Rangers Apprentice’ series.
There are winter days when I would be happy to stay in bed and read under the covers all day!
Alphabet Soup magazine is celebrating the launch of Undercover Readers (our new reviewers club for kids)! If you’d like to join the Undercover Readers Club, you’ll find an information pack you can download from the Alphabet Soup website. As part of the celebrations, we have a different children’s author or illustrator visiting Soup Blog each day until 29 June 2010 to talk about what they used to read after ‘lights out’ when they were growing up. So be sure to check back tomorrow!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.