Posts tagged November Star Author

Picture Your Story

DEAR PAPA is fiction, but it was inspired by family photographs, three of which appear on the cover of the book.

Say two writers get this assignment: Write about an elephant.

One writer thinks: What happens to the elephant? 

The other thinks: Who is the elephant? 

One writer starts by considering story, the other by considering character.

I am the second kind of writer. I can’t start writing a story until I know my main character.

So where do characters come from? For me, it all begins with pictures. After my first post, commenter Ella shared that she’d read Dear Papa, so I’ll use Dear Papa as an example.

My grandpa died when my mom and her siblings were young so I never met him. I asked my aunt once what he was like. She started by telling me that she wrote a letter to him before he died when she was in fifth grade. I asked to see the letter but we couldn’t find it. What we found instead were boxes of old family photographs.

I was particularly taken with a picture of my aunt as a child. This looks like a girl who could have an adventure, I thought. As is my way, I misremembered the facts and thought she’d told me that she had written her father a letter after he died.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl and her letter. So, with the photo taped on my computer screen in front of me, I wrote a letter like I thought she might have written, made up a name for her, then invented an adventure for her and just kept writing.

Here’s a writing game for you:

Look for a childhood picture of one of your parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles. Spend some time imagining what they might have been like as a child.

Study the picture and ask yourself, what could have been happening right before the picture was taken, what might have happened afterwards? Then set your timer (see last post) and see where your imagination takes you!

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Research a Story – it’s fun

One of the things I love about writing is all the interesting things I discover on the way to writing the story. Becuase I write historical fiction, there’s quite a lot research involved. I spend a whole month looking up bits and pieces before I even start to write – and the research doesn’t end until the story is done. The strange thing is most of the things I discover don’t end up in a book at all. But it still helps me write.

Research gives me story ideas. When I was writing Polar Boy, my initial idea was a story about a boy who was scared of bears. I was thinking polar bears, because they are magnificent creatures, they scare the life out of me, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near one!  As I dug deeper into my research I discovered the Vikings were coming from Greenland, at the same time as my story, heading for the same place I was. And they were called ‘the berserkers’ or ‘bears’. So immediately my plot extended and it wasn’t a Polar Bear that became Iluak’s biggest challenge. It was the threat of the Vikings who didn’t want to share the land with the Inuit people.

Research is full of snippets of day-to-day information. What should my characters wear? What do they eat? Do the doors have doorhandles? I am constantly surprises how much the details of life change from place to place and through the centures.

Another thing I get from research is a strong sense of time and place. I am an armchair writer. I never travel anywhere, although I would love to visit Japan. So when I am writing the Samurai Kids series I have to imagine I am there. I do this by watching documentaries, looking at images, reading books written by Japaese samurai hundreds of years ago and listening to shakuhachi flute music.

Sometimes I can’t find all the answers I need. I wanted my samurai kids to study origami. I knew the samurai believed it was important to exercise the mind as well as the body and in addition to fighting skills they also learned other things – like  flower arranging and poetry! And I knew origami was paractised in Japan at the time of my novel. But I couldn’t find any proof – not a sentence, not a picture. So I decided most kids love origami so the samurai kids would too and included it in my book.

Photo Copyright: Pedro Henriques

When I was researching the next Samurai Kids book, Elephant Feet (#7). I needed to know all about Cambodia. I didn’t know anything. One thing I quickly learned is it has the most amazing array of birds and animals. Many of the birds and their calls made their way into my story background like the hoopoe bird (It’s call is oop-oop-oop! You can listen to a sound file here ). But I was always gettting sidetracked by other interesting information even though I knew I wouldn’t use it. Here’s an example. I found that a new species of gecko had been discovered in the southern mountains of Cambodia. It’s wonderful to think new species are still being found but there is a sad side to this lizard discovery too. Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and many of it animal habitats are in danger of disappearing.

PS When I went to find a picture of the gecko on the Internet I found another new species had been discovered even more recently - a blind legless lizard that looks like a snake!

Check out my other posts here:

Making a Noise – in the library!

Hello from Sandy

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Check out our November Star Author – Sandy Fussell

Our fantastic Star Author joining us this month is Australian author, Sandy FussellSandy is the creator of the action-packed Samurai Kids series, which includes White Crane, Owl Ninja, Monkey Fist and the latest book, Golden Bat.  She has also written two standalone books, Jaguar Warrior and the award-winning Polar Boy.  Her favourite foods are sushi and chocolate, she loves sudoku, and if she was an animal she would be a wolf.

Thanks for joining us Sandy!

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Check out our November Star Author – Des Hunt

We have a Star Author joining us on the Christchurch Kids blog each month during the school year.  Our Star Author will blog about their books, give writing tips, answer your questions and talk about things that interest them.

Each month we will also have a Star Author competition.  You will have to post an answer to a question about the Star Author on the blog and you’ll go into the draw to win a copy of one of their books.

Our Star Author for November is New Zealand author Des Hunt.  He is the author of some great adventure stories set in New Zealand, including Frog Whistle Mine, The Tooth, The Secret of Jelly Mountain and Cry of the Taniwha.  His stories are set in places that you can visit and recognise, and he likes to highlight the unique wildlife and geology of New Zealand.  Des has just released his first non fiction book for kids called The Naughty Kids Book of Nature, showing you the grossest, nastiest bits of nature in New Zealand.

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