Sandy Fussell is a talented Australian author who will soon be launched into the American YA industry. She is also a techie as her day job is as a computer programmer. It's not a surprise then that she has a blog, an author's website and the Samurai Kids series website.
What was your inspiration and motivation in writing this series?
Japanese culture has always been a part of my life. I love Japanese cartoons. My current favourite is Avatar: The Last Air Bender. As a kid I watched The Samurai and The Phantom Agents on TV every chance I could. Then my friends and I would throw homemade ninja shuriken stars at each other and battle with tree branch samurai swords. They were dangerous times. On the other hand I have a real empathy for the wisdom of Zen –and kids get this too. When you take Zen to the extreme – to the most ludicrous end – then you have understanding. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I understand.
How did you research Japan and the Samurai to make the kids' experience authentic?
I have a very vivid imagination and I read a lot of books but I haven’t been to Japan. So I make it up. It’s all about creating atmosphere. I wrote while listening to a shakuhachi flute. I went to sword fighting classes and a traditional tea ceremony. I ate lots of sushi (I love sushi!). This bit will sound incredibly boring but when writing historical fiction I like to read primary texts concurrently. While writing White Crane (the first Samurai Kids book) I read the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings over and over until suddenly the working day stopped beginning at 9 o’clock. It was the hour of the Dragon. I had started to think like a 17th century samurai.
The language you used is simple and yet very visual. How hard is that to keep consistent throughout a novel?
I like to create poetic images but I want to do it in such a way that younger readers and especially boys, will still read the words. Simple but descriptive language comes naturally to me. When I first started writing, I tried to write differently. It bothered me that my writing was too simple. My sentences were much shorter than those in books by ‘real’ writers.
At the same time I was attending lectures where editors talked about looking for ‘a different voice’ in writing. Then I realised that’s what my simple, visual sentences were – my voice. And different was good! Now I like the way my short sentences lend themselves to a quirky sort of humour. I get to be silly with words sometimes and it fits right in with the poetic stuff. Simple and visual is the only way I know to write!
Rhian Nest James has designed some beautiful art for your story. What was this partnership like?
Kids always ask me how I chose the illustrator. Or if Rhian and I went to school together. But I didn’t meet Rhian until the book launch. So it wasn’t really a partnership. More two people concentrating on what they do best with Sue Whiting (editor extraordinaire) in the middle joining it all together. Authors don’t get much input into illustrations and I think that this is a good thing. Let the illustrator draw and the author write. Except for those rare super talented individuals who can do both. I did see illustration roughs to check them for historical accuracy and to make sure all the swords were in the right places.
Rhian is enormously talented and very modest. I have no doubt her artwork is a huge contributing factor to the success of the series. She won’t agree. But I know kids look at the cover and immediately want to read the book.
The third of the series is about to be released. What are your continue plans for the series?
Sensei Ki-Yaga is preparing his students for a great battle to come. To meet the challenge they are learning (and I am exploring!) a range of skills from various martial arts disciplines. And that’s the thread linking all the books together. In Book 1, White Crane, the Kids began their samurai training.
In Book 2, Owl Ninja, they added ninja techniques. In Book 3, Shaolin Tiger, which is released on 1 April, they journey to China to study in a Shaolin Temple. Book 4, Monkey Fist, which is due out in August 2009, sees them travel to the Forbidden City (Beijing) to rescue Kyoko and learn Chinese ninja arts.
Along the way to obtaining these skills, they have many adventures. I never run out of ideas. It’s hard to tell when the series will end and I suspect the readers will dictate that. But I would like to add Tae Kwon Do to the Kids skill set and Book 4 did see them heading towards the Korean border…
Aussie YA/MG literature is going strong. Who are some OZYA authors you'd recommend to Pernickety Snark readers?
Such a hard question. Two of my favourite recent reads are Dianne Bates’ Crossing the Line and Mo Johnson’s Boofheads (both titles were reviewed on Persnickety Snark in February). Anthony Eaton’s Into White Silence and Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta open up wonderful different worlds - you can get lost in those books. I also like the YA novels of Bill Condon, with whom I am in a workshop group. I can guarantee his next novel is excellent. Finally, I am a huge Carole Wilkinson fan. If I could choose an Aussie book/series I wish I had written – it’s her Dragonkeeper series.
Thanks Sandy for granting me this interview. On Friday, come back and read her guest blog about one very special town and their celebration of her book.