Posts tagged Sandy Fussell

Is the Animal Story a Dead Duck?

I’ve always been told not to write animal stories, that no-one reads them any more. Unless it’s a picture book. But as a reader, I love animal story novels – stories in which animals are the main characters and are given human characteristics such as speech. Any humans are the minor characters! Two of my favourite series of books are about wolves (The Wolves of Time by William Horwood) and moles (Duncton Wood also by William Horwood). My all-time favourite book is about a mouse, The Tale of Despereaux. Apparently the movie was awful but the book is great.

I also enjoyed the Redwall series (more mice), Watership Down (rabbits), Guardians of Ga’Hoole (owls and I saw that movie last year and it was great) and Warriors (cats). Does anyone else have any animal stories to add to my list? Do you like animal stories and if not, why?

I’ve heard some people say it is a ridiculous idea to have talking animals but I think that Wilbur, the talking pig in Charlotte’s Web would have to be one of the most famous characters of all time.

But I also believe it’s important for a writer to write what they love. So yes, I am working on an animal story!

Here is a YouTube of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole movie trailer. if you get a chance, read the book and watch the DVD. Let me know which one you think is best.

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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!

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Making a Noise – in the library!

Hello from Sandy

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Making a Noise

If I came to your school for an author visit, one of the first things you would notice is I like to make a noise. When I visit schools I take along the gong I used for research when I was writing Samurai Kids 1:White Crane. Most of my presentations are in libraries. There’s something a bit radical about being able to make a big noise in the library!

I love to make a noise when I write too. My favourite words are onamotapoeias. An onamatopoeia is word that imitates the sound or noise it is describing. In the Samurai Kids series Sensei Ki-Yaga regularly bangs his gong to get the Kids’ attention so I needed lots of sound words for that. But the most fun I had with onamatopoeias was when I was writing Polar Boy. I knew one of the things that happened on the first page was that Iluak tripped over a pile of pots and pans and attracted the attention of a polar bear. It was a long way away… until it heard the noise.

The best way to find onamatopoeias is to listen to the sound you need. So I took some pots and pans from my kitchen and dropped them off the balcony. They made wonderful sounds. Crash. Bash. Clang. I thought that would make a great start to my novel. But then when I continued researching life above the Arctic Circle, I realised there was no metal there. My story is set 800 years ago, when pots and pans were made out of soapstone, a soft rock. So I took rocks from my garden and dropped them off the balcony. They made a very different sound.

Here is what I heard and how I used it in the first few lines of Polar Boy:


Klunk-tunk. Konk. Tunk.

There are no words in my language to escribe tripping over a fully laden sled and landing with a cooking pot on your head. But that’s the sound it makes. The noise skids across the night to touch the arctic sky.

The onamatopoeias I ultimately used are much more interesting than the first ones I found – because I made them up. Not only can you make up onamatopoeias but you can give them an unusual spelling. Recently I wrote a short story about a boy who lived with dingos. I called the boy Rlph becuase it sounds like a dingo yip and because it looks like the human name Ralph.

But perhaps the best thing about noise words is they are a great way to start a story. They are a real attention grabber. So if you ever get stuck trying to begin a story in class… use words to make a noise

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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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Hello from Sandy…

Hi everyone. My name is Sandy and I’m the author of the Samurai Kids series, Polar Boy and Jaguar Warrior. I am really interested in ancient history and writing stories gives me the opportunity to explore what it was like to be a kid hundreds and hundreds of years ago – it was a lot more dangerous than now! I also like jigsaw puzzles, tree frogs (I have four in a terrarium), hockey and white chocolate.

Long before I accidentally became an author (that’s a story for another post), I was a reader. I can still remember the first book I was given at a present on my fourth birthday. It was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. On the cover was the scariest bear in the whole world. It frightened me so much my mother hid it in in the linen cupboard under all the bath towels.

But I couldn’t stay away from it . I kept looking in the cupboard to check the book was still there, to check if it was a frightening as I remembered. It always was. Even now, I am afraid of bears and have written two books with ferocious bears in them. You’ll find lots of polar bears in Polar Boy and a sun bear in the fifth Samurai Kids book, Golden Bat. Luckily for me there are no wild bears in Australia except koalas – and I’m not scared of those!

Can you remember the first book that had a big impact on you? I’d love to hear about it. Unless of course it was about a scary bear!

Unlike many other authors, I didn’t grow up in a house full of books. For a long time the only book I owned was the scary bear one. When I started school, it didn’t take me long to read my way through our small primary school library. But my best library memory is when I started high school. It was a huge place with a huge, new library. Shelves and more shelves. I didn’t know where to start so being a logical person I started at A and over the next few years, worked my way towards Z. Lots of science fiction writers start with (Asimov, Aldris…) so for a long time they were my favourite books.

Since then there have been lots of books in my life and I read about three a week. In addition to writing books, I also review books. Who could say no to a free book? Not me! My most favourite recent book is by John Flanagan who wrote the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s the first book in his new Brotherband series, and is called Outcasts

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? I am always looking for new books to read.

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