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


Sally Murphy said...

A great post. Your passion and research shows through in the quality of your wonderful books, Sandy.

Dee said...

Thanks Sally and Sandy. It's always so interesting finding out how people research for their books.

Sandy, you are so meticulous, no wonder your Samurai Kid's books are so authentic.


Mabel said...

Thank you Sandy and Robyn - another post worth the wait. The Hour of the Rat! What a wonderful concept.

PS See you tomorrow at

Mabel said...

Apologies Dee - my brain slipped a cog and I called you Robyn!!!

The Book Chook said...

You certainly light a fuse in the reader's imagination too, Sandy. I hope someone took a photo in sword-fighting class?

Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

SANDY said...

I am afraid there is no swordfighting photo *sigh of relief* but I have since bought a little digital camera I carry everywhere so all future embarrassing moments will be recorded for blog posting *grin*

Thank you for hosting me Sally.

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