Author Interview: Sarah Mussi

We’d like to introduce a new feature on the Book Events for Children website. We’re going to feature regular interviews with people connected with the the children’s book industry. These features will include contributions from children’s and YA authors, illustrators, publishers, bookshops, literary festivals, theatre companies who are adapting children’s books into plays, libraries etc.

There’s so much going on in the world of children’s literature, we thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about the people involved in bringing the world of books to children.

To kick off our new feature, I’m delighted to introduce Sarah Mussi.

Sarah is an author of YA and children’s fiction. Her first novel, The Door of No Return won the Glen Dimplex Children’s Book of the Year award in 2007 and was also shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. The story follows London schoolboy Zac, who travels to Ghana following the murder of his grandfather, in an attempt to unearth the truth behind his grandfather’s obsession with their family history. Sarah spent over eighteen years living in Ghana and still visits regularly during her holidays as a school teacher in London.

Sarah’s second novel The Last of the Warrior Kings was shortlisted for the Lewisham Book Award.

Sarah’s next book Angel Dust will be published in August 2012 and she is currently working on another title, to be published in 2014.

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Sarah is the current Chair of  ‘Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London‘, an organisation set up to promote children’s books and their authors and illustrators. She kindly took time to answer some questions about her writing and her inspirations…

1. What inspired you to sit down and write your first novel?

Ever since I could hold a pencil I wanted to write a book. Sadly I didn’t know (at that age) how to read or write – but I did know about books. My father was a writer and he had libraries of them! In fact the whole front room was lined with book shelves. Names like George Elliot and Thomas Hardy (in gold lettering on well-worn cloth spines) gleamed down at me from positions high above my head.  My mother would laugh and point at them and whisper ‘The Gods!’ at me. So in my early childhood I learned that writers were Gods and I longed to become one.

My enthusiasm to become immortal only grew as I did. When I was dragged along to meet such great names as F R Leavis and Edward Thomas (all part of my father’s research) I started to cement a plan: one day I would join that hallowed circle and my name would shine from a book spine and I would be heaven!

 2. What was your favourite book when you were a child and what did you most like about it?

The Last of the Warrior KingsI loved all books as a child and the first one I ever read completely on my own – I was just turned nine – was  The Call of the Wild and White Fang a double volume  by Jack London, but the first one that was read to me was Jane Eyre (my father was very old-school and thought Enid and the Five were not ‘real’ literature – obvs that made me devour them the more!) . But I think the one I loved the most was The Midnight Folk by John Masefield – it was full of witches and secrecy and evil plots and pirates and talking animals – divine!

3. How do you juggle working as a teacher and finding time to write your novels?

Someone once told me (it was Michael Rosen who I met after being shortlisted for the BBC Worldwide Children’s Talent Fiction Award – a day spent at the BBC with Michael and Jaqueline Wilson was part of the prize -) anyway, he told me – very wisely ‘If you want to be a writer you must understand there is only ever twenty four hours in a day.’ This truism struck home. And I learned you can either work within this constraint or live in a future world where there are possibly more hours in the day, or your time is less in demand for other things. I chose the former. There are only 24 hours to earn your keep, do the shopping, cook the meals, make the phone calls, go on twitter, have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, face your troubles – you get the picture – you just have  to add ‘write the book’  into the equation and be a bit disciplined about all the spare minutes you waste and learn to multi task!  Not too much – eh?

4. What was your inspiration when creating the character of Zac in Door of No Return?

Zac is dedicated  to all the youngsters I’ve met at home and away: keen, clever, funny, smart, but sort-of-sad and dislocated from their roots too. For Zac and Max (in The Last of the Warrior Kings) the journey to find their own histories – both of their families and their cultures – is a journey I hope all young people (the Diaspora and those who can enter empathetically into their shoes) can make; if not in geography at least through the pages of story.

 5. I understand that you have spent a lot of time living in Ghana. What aspects of the country did you want to share with your YA readers in Door of No Return?

Ghana is a wonderful country full of a history rarely told in western curriculum. I wanted to make some of that history come alive.  For Ghana is more than the history of Empire and colonisation and the horrific slave trade (although there really are slave forts on every headland). It is a country full of the most amazing flora and fauna and natural beauty; it is a country full of friendly people with powerful cultures and traditions and fantastic food too! It is a country full of chocolate and gold and has the biggest man made lake in the world ever. I wanted to bring all of these things alive in The Door of No Return so that the reader might feel they were actually there and discover its delights along with Zac.

6. Your next novel Angel Dust will be published in August 2012. Could you give us a brief overview of the plot and the age range of readers who would most enjoy it.

ANGEL DUST is the story of Serafina, one of God’s brightest and best angels, who falls in love and in trouble when she is sent to collect the soul of a mortal, a gangsta, Marcus Montague. Her fall from heaven and from grace in her determination to save his soul from hell is a tragic metaphor for forbidden love which ‘rips you from on high and leaves you vulnerable, cast down and powerless.’ The story is dedicated to all the teenagers and young adults who are caught, or have been caught, in the grips of first love and know its strength, its passion and its pain. ANGEL DUST is for those readers who have been changed totally by their understanding of love and have willingly undergone that metamorphosis of the self. For them Serafina’s journey proves the age old adage: ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ – whatever the cost, the loss, the hurt even if the ‘omnia’ is only, finally, the power to sacrifice the self for love.

7. Who is your favourite author, writing for children and young adults at the moment?

Oh gosh what a difficult question!  There are so many writers writing such terrific stuff for young people today. I absolutely LOVE all of it. I especially love the BARTIMAEUS books, THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy; I ADORE all the vampire romances and edgy books like WHEN I WAS JOE but I guess I’ve never read a book to beat HOLES by Louis Sachar

 8. Do you have plans to attend any book-related events, literary festivals etc in the near future?

I just love book events. I’m currently the Chair of CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London). We organise through the year events, workshops, fairs and talks (check us out on www.cwisl.org.uk/). I’ll also be delivering a mini course and lecture at Winchester Writers’ Conference this summer http://www.writersconference.co.uk/conference.htm .

9. Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I support the Lambeth libraries and often appear there to run a chatterbooks session or as part of their Fusion Festival or for openings or talks – and Under the Greenwood Tree in Clapham is my favourite bookshop ever.

10. If you were giving a book as a present to a child today, which book would you choose and why?

If they were a toddler I’d give them Nicholas Allan’s FATHER CHRISTMAS NEEDS A PEE because it is so hilariously funny.

If they were a middle grade reader I’d give them RIFT by Beverley Birch. As well as being my editor, muse and friend; Beverley has, in this novel, captured the heart of the continent, Africa, that I love so much.

If they were a YA reader I’d give them ANGEL DUST – of course!

If you’re involved in the book industry and would like to be involved in this feature, please email us at info@bookeventsforchildren.co.uk

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