Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome Claire Saxby!

Claire Saxby is talking about her new picture book, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate. The first question I asked her reflects the problems with googling titles... I happened upon a site that miss-punctuated the title!

Welcome, Claire!
1. The Sheep Goat and the Creaking Gate is a fascinating title. It asks questions immediately; what is a sheep goat? Or is there a comma missing? And is the creaking gate literal, or does it imply something that needs help (oil)? Are any of these questions intentional, or are they serendipitous?

A. There is a comma! The creaking gate was an image that stuck in my head.
Every now and then I wrestle with what I actually meant psychologically, but it eludes me. Certainly nothing intentional. So I'll settle's a device to help draw in the audience. They 'creak' for me every time I mention the word. On the surface level, which is where most children will access the story, it's a sheep who's ignoring what she has for what she wants, and a goat who is temporarily led astray. I toyed with using names for each character (not the gate) but liked the generic names better.

2. Goats and sheep don't star in as many stories as one would expect, given their intelligence and humour (goats) and their iconic Aussie status (sheep). Do you have any idea why this is?

A. No idea at all! I think sheep and goats deserve their place in our literature along with the cuter, cuddlier animals. I do have a fondness for sheep, despite having worked closely with them on a farm. They are funny to watch, generally fairly content with their lot, and I have to say, quite cuddly! (lambs and sheep, not rams...they're not cuddly at all). I have written about sheep before (sort of) in my book 'Runaround Rowdy' although the focus there was on the sheep dogs they worked with. I did want to stay away from stereotypical images of either animal, despite the lighthearted nature of the story, and Judith's cartoon-y illustrations help to keep the story light and funny.

3. Did you have any resistance from editors who wanted you to make this about a more "popular" (fictionally speaking) animal?

A. Not at all. This story has had three lives. One in School Magazine, one online and now here in picture book form. Perhaps the editors all belong to the sheep and goat appreciation society and were secretly cheering the opportunity to give both animals their turn in the sun (and moon and stars).

4. Do you read your texts aloud to "test" them or do you have sufficient "ear" in your mind?

A. Yes, I do read my texts aloud, but also listen to them in my mind (is that possible?). I also test them with a couple of readers. I ask them to point out bits that don't make sense but also to read them aloud. Then I can see how the text operates in the hands/voice of a first-time reader.

5. Is the story based on fact in any degree?

A. I have seen sheep poke their head through a fence to reach something that obviously takes their fancy. This even when they have their own food supply. I've help disentangle them from said fence.Goats are more known for finding things of interest beyond their own fences. I've been slowed down on a few country roads and had to report runaway goats. And I've certainly met my share of creaking gates. But this sheep, this goat and this gate? Never met them before. Pure products of imagination.

Here's a complete list of Claire's stops on her blog tour.

Here is a complete list of the dates so you can join Claire on her blog tour:Monday 17August 2009 Dee White: 18 August 2009 Rebecca Newman: 19 August 2009 Mabel Kaplan: 20 August 2009 Sandy Fussell: 21 August 2009 Dale Harcombe: 22 August 2009Sally Murphy: 23 August 2009 Robyn Opie: 24 August 2009Sally Odgers:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome Sandy Fussell!

Today I'm delighted to welcome Sandy Fussell to Spinning Pearls. I've known Sandy for years, so it was fun to find out how she goes about researching her Samurai Kids series. To follow the rest of Sandy's tour, check out the venues at the end of her post.

The Hour of the Rat – Researching Samurai Kids

Time to confess. I’ve never been to China where Monkey Fist (Book 4) and Shaolin Tiger (Book 3) are set. Nor have I been to Japan where White Crane (Book 1) and Owl Ninja (Book 2) take place. I’ve never studied a martial art or touched a samurai sword. But I desperately want to do all of those things one day and a good friend even suggested I started writing, just so I could.

Where does the world of Monkey Fist and the Samurai Kids come from? It’s inside my head, imaginings drawn from hundreds of hours of careful, detailed research and even more hours of playing around with all things samurai, ninja and Zen. My imagination is the ultimate time travel machine. It can take me across the ocean as easily as it takes me back four hundred years to feudal Japan and imperial China.

In my mind, I always go to Japan first. When I get there it’s the mid 17th century and Japan has a historical relationship with China (always shaky) and Korea (even shakier after the Japanese invade). So I go to these places too. In Monkey Fist I journey to the Forbidden City, deep in the heart of Beijing, accompanied by the mysterious Chinese ninja.

I spent hours poring over maps and diagrams. Looking at photographs of artefacts. Sometimes I sat in my cotton kimono, listening to shakuhachi flute music. I was fortunate to interview the Australian Shakuhachi flute master Riley Lee (the interview is on the Samurai Kids website).

Just like Sensei, I have a gong I’ve been known to bang in the middle of the night, to find just the right onomatopoeia for its sound. I discovered Sensei’s wisdoms in the many Zen, Tao and Confucian texts I read. Some I found in my own sense of humour. (“Sensei sounds just like you,” my eldest son said, accusingly.) I went to sword fighting classes. I learned how swords are made, how to imagine the moves and choreograph a sword fight. I also learned I should never be allowed anywhere near a real sword. Luckily I wouldn’t do too much damage with my wooden bokken.

The best research tip I ever received came from Felicity Pulman, author of the wonderful Janna Mysteries. “Never overlook the value of pictures in non-fiction books meant for children,” she told a roomful of aspiring historical fiction writers, including me. It’s wonderful advice. Adult non-fiction often assumes we can work it out from the words. But children’s books often contain wonderful artistic impressions that kick-start the imagination. Japanese castle layouts. Battle scenes. Samurai heroes and ninja villains.

My constant companion for the writing of Samurai Kids still is Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. The legendary samurai swordsman wrote it after he grew weary of fighting and retired to live the last years of his life alone in a cave. Every time I read it, and I read it over and over again, a fuse is lit in my imagination. I am transported into the world of samurai honour and swordsmanship principles. I am on 17th century north-east Asia time. When I finish writing for the night, it’s not one am. It’s the Hour of the Rat drawing to a close….
Follow the tour:

Sat Aug 1 Dee White
Sun Aug 2 Dale Harcombe
Mon Aug 3 here!
Tues Aug 4 Sally Odgers
Wed Aug 5 Mabel Kaplan
Thurs Aug 6 Sally Murphy
Fri Aug 7 Robyn Opie
Sat Aug 8 Rebecca Newman
Sun Aug 9 Susan Stephenson
Mon Aug 10 Jefferey E Doherty