Recently I was in the Southern Highlands doing a few school visits (best fun ever, post and pictures to follow as soon as I work out my new camera and which photos it is OK to use), and I was asked the inevitable “where do you get your ideas from?” I love this question. Firstly because I can always count on it and in my school visit rookie days I clung to the knowledge that I was always prepared for at least two questions (the other being “what is your favourite book?” The answer being a sneak in of two titles – The Tales of Despereaux by Kate DiCAmillo and the Dragonkeeper series by Carole Wilkinson). I know many children are encouraged to ask about ideas but you can tell they want to anyway. And adults ask the same question. Especially aspiring authors because they hear publishers say all the time ‘we are looking for a fresh voice and new ideas’. So they want to know where other authors found their ideas.

It always amazes me how ‘new’ (and that’s a whole other discussion!) ideas can appear at the same time. There have been a number of samurai books of course but no series. At the time Samurai Kids was released, three more samurai series hit the shelves. They were all very different – one had a strong fantasy element, one was blockbuster action and one was more kung fu. Samurai Kids is something else again – adventure, history and humour – with just a dash of philosophy (Zen is both really funny and really clever. Kids get this combination straight away). So how did this coincidence happen? Perhaps there were samurai idea seeds in the wind, blowing all over the place. And that leads me to my theory that ideas are in the air everywhere but some people are more receptive to catching them just as some people are more likely to catch the common cold (the air is full of germs and ideas!!). Perhaps that’s not as far fetched an analogy as it might sound. Once you catch a good idea – you live and breathe it every day.

Does it matter if an idea is not entirely unique? Not to me. I am a new author hopeful that readers who begin with one samurai series will enjoy it and look around for another. I hope they find my books next.

Sometimes ideas are right under my nose and I don’t see them. Recently #2 son and I finished The Greatest Blogger in the World. Loved it. And what a brilliant idea – a kid and a blog. Very technology and communications current but very accessible to primary kids. And every young reader loves a text type twist. How many children’s authors are blogging every day and missed the idea connection?

Sometimes I find my ideas are already taken. For years I have touched upon writing the story of The Highwayman – Alfred Noyes’ wonderful ballad – crime, love, adventure, romanticism and tragedy. If you haven’t read the poem, and even if you’re not into poetry, click on the link becuase it’s worth a look. I was flicking through a Walker Books catalogue recently and there it was – The Highwayman’s Curse by Nicola Morgan, book 2 in a series already well under way! So I added it to my reading list and crossed it off my writing list

And just in case you would like to know where the idea for Samurai Kids came from. From my study of history, fascination with swords and love of eastern philosophy. But the feature which makes the series catch its readers’ imaginations, that these are children with a disability, came out of the air. I know a number of children and adults who have lost limbs, who like Yoshi have struggled to overcome there fears or like Kyoko have lived with ‘being different.’ I am inspired by the way they barrel through life’s challenges. And this is a strength and power innate in most kids. They do because no-one said they can’t and it doesn’t occur to them to question whether they can – or even should. And for those children who are more reticent or unsure then I hope that like me, they draw on the same inspiration.

Sometimes an idea isn’t readily agreed upon. Especially if it is a little unusual. “You cannot put five disabled children together in a book,” I was told. “Why not?” I asked. “it’s not done.” I thought it was a good idea. I felt I had created a gathering of strength and a band of potential heroes. Why couldn’t they be samurai as much as any one else? Once you’ve found a good idea you have to believe in it and hold on tight so it doesn’t vanish back into the air it came from.

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2 responses to “SANDY WRITES”

  1. So much wisdom here, Sandy. I love the idea of the idea seeds blowing about. I think I will design a hat which is a kind of idea receptacle – I will start with a colander, right way up, and make sails of sticky paper which will revolve above the colander, probably to steam organ music.

  2. Hey Sandy,

    I always had the idea of one day illustrating The Highwayman. It would make a brilliant picture book for older readers.


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