Monday, March 10, 2014

An Excuse and a Repost: When a Series Ends

I looked at the date on my last blog post and its a very significant one - a week before my total thyroidectomy operation. I had an excellent surgeon but unfortunately there were complications and I hemorrhaged so had to have a second turn in theatre. Recovery took longer than I expected and it wasn't over then. My operation was to remedy swallowing difficulties because of right lobe nodules and the strong possibility the left lobe would cause the same  problems within a few years. After the pathology was done, cancer was found in the supposedly currently innocent left lobe. So I had radioactive iodine therapy and a week in isolation while I was "hot property".

I admit I enjoyed that week because I had time for lots of writing - no-one was allowed near me! I would have preferred a different reason of course but it was all good in the end as I am now cancer free, subject to a lifetime of annual testing for recurrence.

So that is my blogging excuse for the empty months and while I am not big on making excuses I think I had a good one this time.

To kick off a new year of better heath and blogging I am reposting a favourite piece I wrote for the now defunct Walker Book Walk-A-Book blog. I want this piece to have permanent home on the Internet because it lives in my heart every day. I never realised how it would feel when the Samurai Kids series ended. I knew the time had come but it still hurt to let go.

Even now, six months after the last book in the series was published, the Kids still talk to me.

When a Series Ends
I’m currently working on the last book in the Samurai Kids series. I feel a bit sad. Not because the series is ending. I know the timing for that is right. Samurai Kids opened doors for me as a writer, it won awards and brought me a flood of feedback from enthusiastic fans. The story – its journey and its telling -  feels complete.

So why am I sad? Because I know I’ll miss the Kids and I hate to think I’ll never hear their voices in my head again. They argue and fight all the time, but they are the best of friends and they like to gang up on me. They do as they please and have no respect for my role as the author.

Some adult readers have wondered at my choice of a modern tone for the 17th century Samurai Kids’ voices. I think that makes history more accessible to young readers. But to be honest it wasn’t my idea, that’s how the kids speak to me.

The stories grew out of my passion for ancient history, Japan and swordsmanship. I knew that to be a samurai, you had to born into a samurai family. And the children of a samurai family had no choices – it was their destiny to bear a sword. But everyone wanted to be an elite samurai so that part didn’t matter. Or did it? What if you wanted to be a samurai but weren’t very good at it? What if no amount of training would help because it wasn’t something you could change? What if you were born with one leg?

That’s when Niya, the one-legged narrator of the Samurai Kids series, first spoke to me. See for yourself, he said. So I went into my backyard and tucked up one leg. To my surprise I had assumed  the White Crane stance, a form common to a number of martial arts. That’s right, said Niya. I am the White Crane, really good at standing on one leg. Now give it a try and see what it’s like to be me.

I accepted Niya’s challenge. I did a flying one-legged karate kick and landed flat on my face. I had found the first lines to Niya’s story.

I scissor kick high as I can and land on my left foot. I haven’t got another one. My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.
I’m not good at exercises, but I’m great at standing on one leg. Raising my arms over my head, I pretend I am the great White Crane. ‘Look at me,’ the crane screeches across the training ground. ‘Look at him,’ the valley echoes.

Niya laughed at me sprawled on the ground. Then he began to tell me about his friends -  Mikko, Yoshi, Nezume, Kyoko and Taji – and how they all struggled to become samurai despite their disabilities. He told me about their teacher - wise, eccentric Sensei Ki-Yaga, once a legendary warrior. A man who saw their strengths and ignored their weaknesses and taught them the power of working together. Or gently rapped them over the ears with his travelling staff if they didn’t pay enough attention.

Niya confided to me that he thought Kyoko was really pretty. And that sometimes he could hear Sensei talking inside his head. Sensei would talk inside my head too. He would whisper oddly-slanted words of wisdom to make me laugh. Put it in the book, he would say. I’m really very funny. I often didn’t get to write what I wanted to. The kids had their own ideas. I wouldn’t say that. I’m much too brave, Mikko would insist. He’s right you know, Yoshi would agree. Kyoko would get cranky with me if I didn’t let her win all the wrestling matches. I’m a better samurai than those boys. Taji would patiently make suggestions, a blind kid who showed me a different way to look at things.

And when I tried to take them on a journey to India, they refused to go. They had traveled to China, Korea and Cambodia, and now they wanted to go home. That’s when I knew it was time to write the last book. The Kids want to make sure that I get this book right. Even now they’re banding together to convince me I need an epilogue. So readers will know what happened to us. And they want to make sure I reveal Sensei’s secret the way they think is best. They admire him heaps but even more importantly, they love him a lot.

As I type, I can still hear Niya’s voice. Do you think I would ever go away? What about writing a sequel? What about a series all about me? I’m going to be a teacher, just like Sensei. There’ll be a new generation of Samurai Kids. My kids. He sighs. It won’t be the same you know. The golden age of the samurai has come to an end. But I’ve got some ideas. Really big ideas…

For an author, imagination has a way of blurring into reality. Who are you calling not real? the Kids demand to know. 

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