This is an interview with my friend and fellow writer, Sue Bursztynski. She wrote a much better intro than I did, so I am going to outright plagarise what she said in my following paragraph:Every two years some members of the Australian SF community run something called the SF Snapshot, asking authors about their writing. Each one is different, with only two questions in common across the interviews. I've answered one or two of these in the past. but this year nobody invited me, or my guest, Sue Bursztynski, so after I mentioned it on Livejournal, Sue suggested we do our own unofficial Snapshot.
Sue and I have been friends since we met around 1985 – either at the Melbourne Worldcon that year or one of the media cons which followed. We were then devoted Star Trek fans and committed all the relevant follies, such as dressing up and writing fanfiction, but remained friends as we moved ahead into our own writing and being published.
Sue Bursztynski is a Melbourne writer of fantasy, science fiction and children’s books, specialising in a combination of the above. She works as a teacher/librarian for her day job, which provides both subjects and audience for her work. Often underestimated in the field, she has been quietly producing work that fascinates both children and adults.
Sue sold her first book, Monsters and Creatures of the Night,
in 1993, and Potions and Pulsars
(1995 ) a Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council Awards. Another book, Starwalkers: Explorers of the Unknown
, for Omnibus (1998), was nominated for the NSW Premier’s History Award.
Her work in print at the moment includes Australians Behaving Badly (2009), an Australian True Crime Book, It's True, Your Cat Could Be a Spy
(2006) and her Young Adult novel, Wolfborn
(2010), which Sue describes below in this interview.
* * *How does writing for children tie in with your job as a school librarian?
Well, it means I work with my audience, for one thing. It means I have some idea of what the kids are reading and enjoying. I could never have written Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly
, for example, if I hadn't known that kids, bless them, just love stories that are gruesome and true.
I also had a good response from the kids to my YA novel, Wolfborn
. When it was being edited, I showed them the manuscript - in full to one student, in bits to others - and acknowledged their help at the back of the book. It was a fun way to get the Year 8 students to work at their history; it was set in my own universe, but it was, after all, set in a world not unlike the Middle Ages they were studying. (The girl who read the full MS loved it and wouldn't give it back, so somewhere in the collection of a young student teacher in Melbourne there is the original MS of my novel!). And then I had book launches both for CrimeTime
in my own library, something most writers can't do. What short fiction or other work have you published recently?
Most recently, I've had a story in Rich And Rare
, a children's anthology published by Ford Street. It was called "The Boy To Beat Them All" and was historical fiction with bushrangers in it, based on a true story of a young boy who saw the robbery at Eugowra Rocks in the 1860s, through a hole in his hat! The bushrangers took a couple of carts to block the road and made everyone stand with hats pulled over their faces so they wouldn't be witnesses, only his hat had a hole in it. He wrote about it as an old man in 1935. What is your favourite YA or children’s book or author?
Goodness, that's a hard one! I read so much, wearing my librarian hat, how could I say? But we do have some wonderful children's and YA writers here in Australia, even in Melbourne. I think I could quite happily read only Australian books for the rest of my life. Off the top of my head, Gabrielle Wang(author of lovely, gentle children's fantasies), Kate Forsyth, Kate Constable, Sophie Masson, Carole Wilkinson, Anna Ciddor, Michael Pryor... Michael's Laws Of Magic series are delightful steampunk with a hero who's definitely a cousin to Miles Vorkosigan in personality! A lot of YA is read by adults as well as teens; do you have any thoughts on why that is?
Easy! It's because YA and children's books are the last refuge of story. You can publish entire dreary novels about divorce for adults, as long as they're "beautiful writing". No teen or child would let you get away with that. If you start a children's book with a divorce it had damn well better be an excuse for the hero/heroine to be sent away somewhere amazing to have adventures, without parents to interfere.
And adults want some of that. It's not for nothing you see so many adults with their noses in a Harry Potter book. Of course, there are those who are too embarrassed to be seen with one that has the original cover...Which author, living or dead, would you like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Depends. Assuming the person actually doesn't mind my chatter, perhaps Terry Pratchett. I've heard him speak and I think he'd be really interesting to talk to. And again, it's assuming I haven't gone all fan-girl and sat there like a stunned mullet. It has happened to me with the likes of Susan Cooper and Lois McMaster Bujold.What Australian work have you read recently and loved?
Plenty! But off the top of my head, The Family With Two Front Doors
by Anna Ciddor, Cloudwish
by Fiona Wood and Soon
by Morris Gleitzman. The last-mentioned are the deserving winners of this year's Children's Book Council Awards. Soon is the latest in a series about Felix, a Jewish boy we first met in Once
, running from the Nazis. In this one, the war is over, but terrible things are still happening to people in post-war Poland. It's just as well we learned three books ago that Felix survives and comes to Australia, where he has a loving family and becomes a much-admired doctor! Cloudwish
is set in Melbourne and tells the story of a bright young Asian girl whose family came here by boat, and who is on a scholarship at a private school. It's gentle, funny and sad all at once and a love letter to Melbourne. The Anna Ciddor novel is inspired by the life of her grandmother as a Jewish child in Poland in the 1920s. It's just about the family's preparation for a wedding, but the author took a huge chance on losing her writer profile to spend five years researching, writing and trying to sell it. I love it! So do a lot of others, if the sales figures are any indication.What's your writing process?
It depends on what I'm writing. For non fiction, I research. A lot. Sometimes more than the item would seem to require. For example, when School Magazine
asked for an article about forensics, about which I knew very little at the time, I read books and newspapers, articles about famous events in the history of forensics, watched documentaries, before I even started - yes, it was just an article and I was paid only a couple of hundred dollars for it, but I wanted to get it right. After writing my draft, I consulted a forensic scientist to whom I was introduced by a crime novelist friend. And the research didn't go to waste, because soon afterwards I was commissioned to write Crime Time: Australians behaving badly.
Fiction-wise, I often write a first draft with only basic knowledge, but research as I go along and never have the cheek to submit anything till I believe I have it right. For Wolfborn
, I read a lot of books about mediaeval daily life, the role of women, etc. I even looked up everything I could about the effect of multiple moons on a planet like ours. My world had three moons and I wanted it to be believable. "It's fantasy!" is no excuse for getting the laws of physics wrong. By the way, I asked a few knowledgeable folk, who didn't know, so I kept it vague. “Vague” would be the last word you could use to describe you, Sue! Thanks very much for letting me interview you, especially for a blog called Apocalypse With Rats, and please forgive the lack of proper links in this article.
I did try to put proper links to the books in, but if I wait till I get it right, Sue will be waiting until next year. If you type those book titles in and Sue's name, you'll find them, I promise!
My own interview with Sue can be found here at her blog, The Great Raven