Ryan Meyers, Sunshine College student and book club member, is fascinated by things Japanese and writes Japanese martial arts fiction himself. Recently he interviewed Sandy Fussell, YA novelist and author of the delightful and exciting Samurai Kids series of YA adventures. We would like to thank Sandy for her kindness in answering the questions Ryan sent and hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.
RM: What was your inspiration for the Samurai Kids series?
SF: I have always been fascinated by Samurai Japan. I found myself thinking about how a person is born into the samurai class. It’s a birthright and there is no other way for someone to become a samurai. Then I started to think ‘what if someone didn’t want to be a samurai warrior?’ And’ What if the reason wasn’t something they could control?’ “What if it was physically very difficult to learn sword fighting and martial arts – with only one arm or one leg?’
I went into my backyard and tried a martial arts kick on one leg. And landed on my bottom. I had found the opening paragraph for Samurai Kids 1: White Crane:
I scissor kick high as I can and land on my left foot. I haven’t got another one. My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.
RM: Were any of the characters based on real people?
SF: In Samurai Kids 2: Owl Ninja the character of Mitsuka Minamoto is loosely based on Miyamoto Musashi, who is generally considered the greatest swordsman of all time. He also wrote the Book of Five Rings, a strategy guide still studied by the military. I regularly re-read this book as I write the series - it helps fix me firmly in the right time and place. Musashi was known for his poor hygiene habits and I liked the ironic humour in that – so Mitsuka has the same flaw. I guess if you are the best swordsman in the world no-one is going to tell you to take a bath if you don’t want to.
All the other characters are fictional although some of the character traits of my family and friends have sneaked in.
- RM: Are you planning on starting any other series?
SF: I do have another idea for a series. I am currently roughing out the story arc for a trilogy. It is a fantasy although there is not a wizard, angel, demon or dragon in sight. Don’t hold me to that last one, there might be a dragon. I love dragon books.
- RM: Do you know any martial arts that helped you write the books?
SF: I did go to tae kwon do for a while and I attended a sword fighting class. I was hopeless at both and dangerous at the latter (even with only a wooden bokken). I am proof you don’t have to be good at something to write about it! You just have to be interested, do a lot of research (written and visual) and be willing to have a go (for hands on research).
- RM: Are any of the samurai schools in the books based on real samurai schools?
SF: No, they are all fictional. School for samurais was generally training with an older relative – a father or uncle. I extended this by imagining who would train the samurai children that weren’t considered capable enough – like Niya with his one leg. I imagined a very gifted teacher like Sensei Ki-Yaga would gather them up.
- SF: Do you speak Japanese?
I wish I did. It is on my to-do-list but I suspect I will always prefer to write and never find the time for learning a new language.
- RM: When did you decide to write for children?
SF: When my own son stopped reading because it was ‘all boring’ and nothing I suggested interested him, I asked him to write me a story to show me what he liked. I didn’t expect him to say yes but he said he would as long as I wrote it down. I tried to help him with some story basics (like you can’t just ditch the main character mid story without explanation just because you don’t like girls anymore). He quickly tired of my interfering and told me to go and write my own book. I did and still am!
- RM: How long does it usually take for you to write a book (including research time)?
SF: The Samurai Kids books take me about six months each. Because I already know the characters there is not as much preparatory work. I spend a month researching the time and place and developing the story line and then I write for four months and revise in the last month. This enables me to write another non-Samurai Kids book in the same year. I don’t have a lot of writing time as I also have a job in Information Technology, a family and two very demanding Burmese cats.