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.

Posted in authors

Sandy Fussell – author of the Samurai Kids series

Sandy PortraitsAs 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!

Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell
Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell

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!)

Blog Tour stops:

1 August http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

2 August http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale

3 August http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com

4 August http://www.bjcullen.blogspot.com

5 August http://belka37.blogspot.com

6 August http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

7 August http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com

8 August https://soupblog.wordpress.com (You’re here!)

9 August http://thebookchook.blogspot.com

10 August http://jefferyedoherty.blogspot.com/