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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Sandra Bennett

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

It's a great pleasure to introduce my latest Book Chat guest: author and former primary school teacher, Sandra Bennett. Sandra has a truly infectious passion for literacy and education through storytelling. In our chat, she generously shares insights into her writing practice and the experiences that have shaped her un-put-downable middle grade series, The Adamson Adventures - particularly the latest instalment in the series, Fossil Frenzy.

Hello Sandra, and a very big welcome to Book Chat! It’s a real privilege to have the chance to pick your brain on writing, and to chat about your journey as an author.

Thanks so much for having me here Cameron, I’m excited to join you too, and glad you have been enjoying my book tour.

Firstly, I’d love to know about your journey towards becoming a published author, and particularly about your transition from teacher to full-time writer. Was writing professionally something you’d wanted to do for a long time?

Yes, I’ve always had the urge to write for children. Studying children’s books while at teacher’s college way back in the Jurassic era before computer technology and social media made our life very different, fuelled my passion to write for children. That continued over the years as I taught, I wrote stories about the kids in my classes. Young kids are still very ego-centric and therefore love reading stories about themselves. This increases their motivation to learn and they quickly learn to read as they enjoy reading their own special adventures. It reached a point where once my own boys were grown and independent, I had the opportunity to change directions, leave teaching and concentrate on writing for all children, not just the ones in my class. A former teaching colleague self-published her own book, (not a children’s book) but it gave me the boost of motivation I needed to forge down the publishing path. I self-published two early readers and two picture books before I received a publishing contract for my middle grade series The Adamson Adventures.

How do your experiences as a teacher and your passion for children’s literacy inform your writing process?

My thoughts of all the kids I have taught over the years are always foremost in my mind when I write. I draw on my knowledge of what they found enjoyable to read and use that as the basis for my planning. I always try to incorporate a healthy dose of humour, adventure, thrills and excitement that I know will keep them turning the pages. It is my experience that kids need to be hooked from the first page and I try to hook them at the end of every chapter too so that they won’t want to put the book down. It is my passion for literacy that steers me to writing stories that I believe children will want to read again and again. After all, the more a child reads, the more they will learn. As a writer for children, it is so important that we write what they want to read, not what the gatekeepers believe they should read.

I love the fact that you like to write stories that entertain and educate at the same time, without the readers necessarily being aware that they’re learning as they read. Is this a difficult balance to strike, and are there any particular tricks you find useful to achieve this?

You don’t want to overload kids with information, they will tune out instantly. The trick is in making it a good fun adventure or romp with lots of intrigue and mystery, then sprinkle it with information often through dialogue so that it is part of the story. Using all the senses often helps too, so that the reader experiences the scene and feels what the character is feeling, seeing or doing. In Fossil Frenzy, Zac is often answering questions from Clare and Luke about the various dinosaurs. Zac is the curious older brother that has read all the science journals, so he imparts the information. Whether it’s a squabbling conversation or actions, you must make the characters believable and provide evidence that they can do whatever you say they can. It’s the same with actions, if a character needs to be able to do something later in the story, to make it believable, you must plant the seed early on.

When you wrote the first book in the Adamson Adventures series, were you setting out to write a series, or was there a point at which you realised it had the potential to stretch out into further adventures?

Secrets Hidden Below was originally intended as a stand-alone adventure. I had no plans for a series, while I had the idea for book 2, it was not meant to be the same characters. It wasn’t until I had the first book accepted by a publisher that the idea of a series was suggested to me. It didn’t take me long to think about other possible adventures for the three Adamson siblings. Each one is a stand-alone story with a slight hint that links the books together, however they can be read in any order. Zac, Clare and Luke may yet have other stories to tell.

I know that the characters in the series are loosely based on your own children. Has this made the series easier or more difficult to write in any particular ways?

Starting with my own three boys made it easier for me to develop the characters. When I initially wrote the draft for the first book, my boys were about the same age as the Adamson kids, so I found it easy to make the characters relatable. I used my boys’ behaviours and elaborated them. It was some years before I finished the second book and finally wrote Fossil Frenzy which meant my boys were grown and I had years of experiences to draw upon. Eventually each character took on a life of their own. The complication arose when my publisher asked me to change one of my characters to a girl to give the story a universal appeal. Trying to decide which was the best character that would make an easier transition to female was difficult, needless to say my middle son was not impressed with my decision. Clare then developed of her own accord and started speaking to me in my head. She let me know what she would and wouldn’t accept.

Having written books of a similar length, and found it very challenging, I’d love to know how you go about plotting and structuring your Adamson Adventures stories. Do you do a lot of background work before you write the text?

Absolutely, I do a lot of research and plotting beforehand. I let the plot marinate in my mind for months and do a lot of brainstorming with my husband before I put anything on paper. Then I draw up a rough outline, with the major plot points, a vague sketch of some scenes and a guide to what may cause the tension. Once I am happy with that, I start to write the first draft. I become a bit of a pantser at this stage and let my characters lead me into the action and what they want to experience. I always have the ending worked out, but it too, often changes by the time I reach it.

The three books in the series each centre around unique times and/or places. Have they required a lot of research along the way?

All three books have required a lot of research, much of which was initially done while on holidays. Secrets Hidden Below is set in Bali. The idea originated from our holiday there when the boys were young. Then I completed my certificate 1 & 2 in Indonesian and became an ESL/LOTE teacher after completing my graduate certificate. Much of the story developed from the knowledge I gained through my studies and teaching Indonesian. The second book, A Lighthouse In Time, is set around the old remains of Cape St George Lighthouse at Jervis in NSW. As a family we spent many summer holidays on the South Coast where again I was able to do a lot of research and take heaps of photos. As for Fossil Frenzy, with dinosaur loving boys, and one who was fascinated by rocks and fossils since he was 5 years old, I feel like I have been doing the research for this book for years. When I had the opportunity to visit Winton and the Age of Dinosaurs Museum, I jumped at it. There was plenty to learn and study there. Then I had the chance to fly up to Cairns and drive to the Daintree where I found the Discovery Centre also had much information on dinosaurs to absorb. There is always google of course, but let’s face it, there’s nothing like visiting and experiencing the places you want to write about, it improves your world building exponentially.

Please tell us all about the latest title in the series, Fossil Frenzy, and how readers can get their hands on it.

In the drought-stricken present the only hope is buried in the past. Fossil Frenzy sees Zac, Clare and Luke visiting their Uncle’s farm in outback Queensland in the fossil region around Winton. It is more of a working holiday as the farm is in the grips of severe drought. While checking the waterholes on the property, Zac comes up with the idea that the best way to help save the farm is to search for fossils. They pack their backpacks and head towards the base of the escarpment where they plan to camp overnight. It doesn’t take long for the adventure to increase in tension as two storms merge to produce a massive cyclone. The story becomes a time-slip adventure where they must learn resilience, co-operation and survival skills before they can find their way home. I lighten the fear factor with humour and intrigue and finish with a wonderful surprise ending. Readers learn all about the strange dinosaurs that once inhabited Australia and come away with fun information about some rather curious creatures. The story is also a great conversation starter for the effects of climate change and what we can do to help our environment. Fossil Frenzy The Adamson Adventures 3, is available from The National Dinosaur Museum and various bookshops around Canberra, including the National Library of Australia, Paperchain Manuka, Book Face Gungahlin, POP Canberra and next week will also be available in the Book Cow Kingston. I hope to have it in bookshops around Australia soon. I’m sure any bookshop would be happy to order it in for you. It is also always available through my website, from where I can send personally signed copies.

What’s next for Sandra Bennett?

I have a few stories in the planning stages. Perhaps the 4th adventure for Zac, Clare and Luke will be written this year, but I have a junior fiction story I would like to complete and a totally different middle-grade story I would like to write.

I plan to publish a picture book in the coming months, it has been written for a while now, the illustrations are fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and I’m still editing various other PBs that I hope to submit and maybe one day have picked up by a publisher. It’s going to be a busy year.

Where can readers find you online?

Thank you, Sandra!

Thanks so much Cameron, it was fun answering all your wonderful questions.

This post is part of a blog tour for The Adamson Adventures book 3: Fossil Frenzy, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please follow Sandra's journey on all of the wonderful blogs below.

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