'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Look What I'm Reading! Sandy Fussell

Sandy Fussell loves words, numbers and the internet. She lives on the NSW south coast with her family, a Scottish deerhound and four cats, one of which likes to eat manuscript pages. She has been awarded four CBCA notables, with Polar Boy shortlisted for a Younger Readers CBCA Book of the Year, 2009, the Sakura Medal in Japan, an International IBBY Award, and her picture book Sad the Dog, was praised in the New York Times.

Her books are published in Australia, the UK, the US and Asia. Sandy is often found in a school library wielding her Samurai Kids books or teaching a Minecraft-based writing workshop.

Which children’s book are you currently reading?
I have just finished reading Claire Saxby’s Haywire.

Can you tell us in two sentences what the book is about?
The book is historical fiction told from the perspective of two young boys – about 12 years old.  Tom is the son of a baker in Hay, NSW. His older brothers have left for war and he has to forgo the opportunity of an academic scholarship to help his father in the bakery.

Max is a Polish refugee who escaped to England ahead of Hitler’s invasion. His parents sent him to live with his Uncle. They have been incorrectly transported to Australia for incarceration as German ‘aliens’. Max and Tom become friends when Tom delivers bread to the camp. Max escapes hoping to go home, and Rom helps him only to realise he has put Max in danger, alone in the Australian bush. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it is a positive, hopeful one.

How much did you enjoy/are enjoying this title?
From the first few pages this book hit me hard. The story begins with Tom’s two older brothers announcing at the dinner table they have joined up to fight in the war. Not in the home militia. They’re going overseas. There is a silence and Tom’s youngest sister, not even old enough for school, says, but people get killed in war. It took me back to one of my vivid childhood memories. Although I was a good student, my childhood was pre-internet and my parents were not readers. Until high school I never had access to a library. There I was seduced by science fiction and fantasy and ancient history. I had little knowledge of the world wars or Australia’s participation.

It was Year 8 History and the teacher was explaining conscription. I was stunned. Older people voted to send people who were too young to vote, to war to die. My innocence crashed. I had believed the world was fair, governments were just and Australia was a good place.

The story was something that immediately interested me. Max and Tom were genuine and believable. There’s lots of Australiana, lots of action and wonderful descriptive writing. Like this sentence which describes Hay as a flat-out town in a flat-out country at the intersection of two roads on the way to other places.

There was a bonus at the end when the ‘aliens’ were released and the camp was to be the home for Japanese prisoners of war. My first book in many years, Red Day, is based on a backdrop of the Cowra Prisoner of War Camp breakout. The final straw that tripped the breakout was the Camp decided to send the enlisted Japanese men to Hay and the Japanese officers considered it unacceptable and dishonourable to be separated from their men.

What made you choose this title? Was it a review, advertising, the cover, the blurb, the author/illustrator, or the subject/genre?
When I first started writing, I had an immediate connection with three other authors who were being published with Walker Book around the same time – Sally Murphy, Sue Whiting and Claire Saxby. In March/April we all had new books and a Messenger conversation brought us together. We decided what we could do to support each other with the restraints COVID-19 brought to book promotion. I had read Worse Things, Sally’s terrific verse novel with the wonderful unignorable cover.  Sue’s The Book of Chance and Claire’s Haywire were in my reading pile. I picked up Claire’s first because it just happened to be sitting on top. The Book of Chance is next.

What other titles are on your bedside table /To Read Pile?
These are the first ten – The Book of Chance by Sue Whiting, The Threads of Magic by Alison Croggin and The Power of Positive Pranking by Nat Amoore.

How did you come by these titles: personal choice/request, publisher’s review copy, or other?
I am so lucky to have at least one wonderful children’s book delivered to my door every day. I’m the children’s book reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph Funday section which has a published readership of 836,000. Publishers are keen to have their books reviewed there even though the reviews are very short and I do my best to share the love around.

Do you have a favourite genre? If so, what is it, and why do you prefer it?
I read all genres, but my favourite is fantasy. I came to fantasy because the books were so thick and I’m a fast reader. With adult books, I either want something complicated to slow me down or something wildly imaginative that lasts a long time. I love that anything can happen in fantasy. Australia has so many wonderful adult, kids and YA fantasy authors. I’d like to recommend Alison Croggin, Margo Lanagan, Trudi Canavan, Karen Brooks, Garth Nix, Duncan Lay, Kate Forsyth, Jessica Townsend, Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufmann (together and individually), Cate Whittle and Meg McKinlay. Many of these are so talented they write other genres too.

Do you read from printed books or some other medium? Please expand a little on the why of your choice.
I’m old-school. I like the weight of a book in my hand. I like the smell of the pages. And I like seeing the spines on my bookshelf. I’ve since discovered that for kids and YA readers that’s the norm too. I tried reading on my iPad but I work at a screen all day and reading wasn’t relaxing in front of yet another screen. I’m not a good sleeper. Screens keep you awake at night but a book helps you drift into dreams.

Twitter: @sandyfussell