Canberra-based author, Sandra Bennett, has many books under her belt. From picture books to delight younger readers, through to her award-winning midgrade novel, Secrets Hidden Below, along with numerous short stories and a new graphic novel due out this year (both for NFP organisations), Sandra Bennett has a wealth of experience. Her greatest passion is to encourage a love of reading by taking children of all ages on journeys and amazing adventures around Australia and beyond.
Sandra Bennett is a founding member of the Story Creators Community and is active in supporting up-and-coming writers and presenting Library ACT workshops. Being a former primary school teacher, Sandra is also clued in to what motivates children.
Share Sandra’s answers to our five questions with your children and inspire them to go on their own writing journeys.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for your books?
I truly believe ideas come from everywhere around us, whether it’s our life experiences, day to day activities, holidays or nature. I live in a beautiful bush area surrounded by native birds and animals that inspire many of my short stories and picture books. My kids inspired my original Gingerbread Alien series which eventually lead to the Adamson Adventure series. Although my boys are adults now, memories of their childhood experiences help create the basis for my characters.
The first book I published, Gingerbread Aliens, was inspired by a mishap in our kitchen. Locations also inspire me. We have been lucky to travel a lot around Australia and through our journeys I have discovered many gorgeous places that make perfect settings for stories.
The inspiration for Secrets Hidden Below came from a holiday to Bali when our boys were little. While there, I searched for an adventure story we could read aloud together at night that would highlight parts of Bali and help them learn a little about the beautiful Balinese culture. There was nothing, so I decided to write it myself.
Do you have any tips for students who might be struggling with the blank page?
A blank page can be rather daunting. We all face that at times. I often find if I feel blank, the best ideas come after I clear my head. Go for a walk. Get some exercise. Kick a ball. Relax, laugh and have a bit of fun. Give the ideas time to marinate in your head.
There are plenty of one word or one sentence prompts to be found. Try doing a Google search, or open a book and randomly select a word from several pages. Can you link them to start a story?
Try brainstorming. Ask ‘what if?’ questions. One question will lead to another idea and so on. Don’t be afraid to make a mess of the page when brainstorming. Use circles, lines, arrows, squiggles, doodles – whatever will help your imagination flow.
If you come up with an idea but think it’s too simple or obvious, try turning it on its head. What would happen if you did the opposite? Never be afraid to look at an idea from an entirely new or whacky perspective.
Remember – once you do start writing, let the ideas flow.
Don’t stop, reread or edit until you have all your thoughts down on the page. If you stop to check your work, you often lose your idea or thoughts and get stuck again.
No first draft is perfect, nor is the second or third.
You may need to edit many times before you’re happy with it. Then you can share it with someone else to edit again. Some stories take years of drafting and editing, only to be put away to rest for a while before they see the light of day again and edited once more. Don’t rush it. Take your time. Most of all – have fun with the writing process.
Which of your books is your absolute favourite? Why?
That’s a hard question to answer. I always say my favourite is the last one I wrote. That means the third book in my Adamson Adventures, Fossil Frenzy, is my favourite. Can I say that? My mind has been focused on that one recently as it was shortlisted in the Queensland Writers Centre Adaptable competition. This involves pitching the story to movie producers and screenwriters. I adore this story as it not only highlights a drought-stricken area of outback Queensland but also unique Australian dinosaurs. It is a wild adventure that takes our three squabbling siblings back in time, running from and fighting carnivorous dinosaurs while befriending a demon duck of doom and a giant echidna. I had so much fun writing this story and love talking about it during school visits.
Before Fossil Frenzy, my favourite book was A Lighthouse in Time, the Adamson Adventures 2. In this adventure, the siblings find themselves lost in a cave while camping on a beach on the NSW South Coast. Rescued by a mysterious young girl, it soon becomes evident that there are a lot more secrets to be revealed. When I talk to kids about this story, they are always fascinated by the two lighthouses at Jervis Bay that are the setting and inspiration behind the story. When they learn that the lighthouse at Cape St George was destroyed because it was the cause of so many shipwrecks, they want to know more. Kids love a good ghost story and this is perfect for those nights where you’re telling stories around a campfire or huddled with a torch under your blankets.
Which of your characters is your favourite? Why?
While the eldest sibling, Zac Adamson, is a bit of a know-it-all science nerd, and the youngest, Luke Adamson, is the cheekiest and most mischievous, the middle sibling, Clare Adamson, is my favourite. Clare has a lot of growth from Secrets Hidden Below, to Fossil Frenzy. She is shy and is happy to follow on their journeys, as long as it doesn’t mean getting into too much trouble. She starts out timid and unwilling to be drawn into Luke’s antics. As circumstances change, Clare’s growth and courage become more evident. Time and again she steps out of her comfort zone to come to the rescue. In fact, she inevitably takes charge in Book 3 while still maintaining her nurturing nature. Clare is a quiet achiever who grows in strength of mind and resilience. She demonstrates you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. I found she even took over the story as I wrote it. Each adventure is written from Zac’s point of view. It was always my intention that these would be his stories, but somehow Clare spoke up and took control.
When you think about children reading your books, how does this make you feel? What do you want their ‘take-aways’ to be?
I always feel a buzz of excitement when a child or a parent tells me how much they have enjoyed one of my stories. It fills my heart with joy to know I have been a small part of a child’s love of reading.
That’s why I began writing in the first place, to encourage kids to love reading.
As a former primary school teacher, I wanted to help increase literacy levels through my stories so that kids would love reading and learning. Each of my books includes STEM topics in one form or another so that kids learn while reading but in a subtle, enjoyable manner. They also have a chance to escape on wild adventurous journeys while remaining safely in their home.
The key take-away for me is that they have had fun reading and want to read more books. Whether those books are mine or not, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that I have helped encourage a child to become a life-long reader and, therefore, learner so they have the imagination and mindset to achieve whatever they want in their life journeys.
I recently had a mother tell me that her son loved A Lighthouse in Time so much because he felt it was scarier than the five Harry Potter books he had read. She also said he can’t wait to read Fossil Frenzy when it comes out. I admit I was a little shocked, it was never my intention to write a scary story but I was also delighted, it felt like amazing praise indeed.
Find out more about Sandra Bennett and her books by visiting her website (where you can also lock her in for a school visit). Sandra Bennett can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Look her up and start going on your own amazing journeys.
Sandra Bennett has both the experience and the enthusiasm for getting kids engaged in writing and reading. Check out Just Right Words’ take on what’s going on with writing in the classroom, and let’s see if we can turn it around to create a new generation who embraces journeys with the written word.