Today on Tuesday Tours we have Tui Sutherland otherwise known as Erin Hunter, Rob Kidd, Heather Williams, or Tamara Summers. Yes, Tui is the writer behind a number of bestselling series and books, some of which feature her real name, and some that feature a collective name or pen name. What fun having so many alter egos! But the name Tui is the most well known name in our household because it’s the one featured on one of my daughter’s favorite books Spirit Animals: Against the Tide. We’re anxiously awaiting this weekend because we’ll be meeting Tui in person at the Sheboygan Book Festival. We have our book packed, all ready to be signed. We also hope to get a Tui trading card. A great bonus at this book festival, where authors and illustrators are honored with their very own cards that attendees can collect—how great is that!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Hi, I’m Tui, and I like to write about dragons and griffins and secrets and explosions and falling in love and betrayal and telepathy and setting things on fire—sometimes all in the same book, but usually spread out over a series! Things to know about me:
* My name comes from a kind of bird (the tui!) which only lives in New Zealand.
* I am a mom with two hilarious little boys (my bears) who are basically miniature whirlwinds of chaos and joy and havoc and Nutella.
* I was a two-day champion on Jeopardy! a few years ago, so at one point I totally knew all the presidents in order, but don’t test me on that! ☺
* My current ongoing series is the dragon fantasy Wings of Fire; I also wrote the Menagerie trilogy with my sister Kari, plus the fifth book in the Spirit Animals series, and about thirty other books so far.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We moved into this house about three and a half years ago, right before my younger son was born. My current study used to be a teeny tiny bedroom, but we took out the closet and now it’s a slightly less teeny tiny office. This is definitely where I write best—I love being in my own little space. Although I must admit I still haven’t properly organized it, even though we’ve been here three years! When I’m in here, I always feel like I should be writing instead of tidying or filing, so it’s usually a big mess, but I’ve been tackling a corner or shelf at a time for the last month and it’s starting to look more presentable now.☺
If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
I really should put up quotes—there are so many I love! There’s one from Jo Walton’s amazing book Among Others where the young narrator says: “When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head.” YES, exactly that, that’s what I want to write!
Or I also love Madeleine L’Engle’s quote: “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.” Ha ha! So great!
And then I recently came across a lovely one from Carl Sagan in Cosmos – I don’t know if it’s too long to include all of this, but it’s so beautiful and makes me so happy: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” Happy sigh.
But the only quote that’s actually visible from my desk is on a random magnet on my filing cabinet, and it’s a picture of Marcie from Peanuts, and it says: “Some of us think we look kind of cute with our glasses.” Which I guess says something about me, too! ☺
If you could live inside the world of one of the books you’ve written, which one would you chose and why?
Hmmm…could I be a dragon? Because if I was still little human me, I don’t think Pyrrhia would be a very safe place to live!☺ But if I were a dragon, maybe a RainWing or a SeaWing, it would be pretty cool to live there. As myself, though, I think I’d love to visit the world of the Menagerie (which is a secret zoo of mythical creatures) so I could meet the griffin cubs and Zoe’s pet woolly mammoth. Or if I knew I’d get a spirit animal (perhaps a red panda? or a slow loris?), it would be amazing to live in Erdas (the world of Spirit Animals)…maybe not while it’s in the middle of a big war, though!
What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
My biggest distraction is the guilt I feel about being at my desk instead of with my children. It’s kind of ever-present—no matter what I’m doing, I always feel like I’m either neglecting my writing or my kids. I don’t think I deal with it very well yet (they’re still little! it’s only been five years!).☺ I guess what I usually do is spend the month before a deadline holed up in my office doing nothing but writing, and spend the other seven or eight months of the year more focused on the kids. This is not an ideal solution, believe me. I hope one day I find some kind of better balance where I can stop worrying about it!
Evidence Tui’s 3 year old was in her office :)
The other terrible distraction is, of course, the Internet, where there are so many brilliant authors saying smart things all the time. I could spend all day reading what Anne Ursu and Justina Ireland and Shannon Hale and Daniel Jose Older have to say about the world and books (and unfortunately some days I do!). The only way I’ve found to deal with this is to give myself time limits—OK, Tui, you can have ten minutes of the Internet and then it’s back to work!
A box decorated by children at a school visit
What are the three best things about your writing space?
For me, I love that my writing space is at home—even though it’s sometimes distracting to be here, I really love being able to wear my pajamas while I write (that’s seriously the #1 thing—if I had to get dressed and wear shoes in order to write, my books would never get written!). Being at home also means I can easily go get tea if I need it and say hi to my kids when they get home from school or if they want to show me something they’ve made.
The second thing I love is the framed Wings of Fire full cover art over my desk, which was a present from my sister and her husband—it helps so much to be able to look up at those dragons (and at the map of their world) for inspiration when I’m writing the new books.
And the third thing is probably the little bed where my dog Sunshine sleeps while I’m writing . . . we’d both rather have her in my lap, but then it’s hard to type! So she has her own cozy spot, and it’s really sweet and comforting to have her close by, especially when it’s the middle of the night and everyone else is sleeping. (That’s my writing time—I’m an extreme night owl, writing mostly between 11pm and 4am, which is another reason I can’t work anywhere but at home!)
What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Jo Walton, for sure; I love her writing so incredibly much—her dragon book Tooth and Claw is genius and her book Among Others might be my favorite of all time. She did an event at a nearby bookstore not long ago, and everything she said was so wise and thoughtful and brilliant that I was literally in tears by the end.
Rainbow Rowell is another author I adore; I would love for my books to be that funny and heartfelt at the same time. I saw Kwame Alexander speak a few months ago and he also made me cry, he’s so smart and generous and joyful and intentional.
In terms of artists, I recently bought prints by Aaron Becker, Grace Lin, and Peter Reynolds, all of whom are amazing, and I would like to get something by Joy Ang (the artist for the Wings of Fire covers), Kazu Kibuishi, and Ben Hatke as well. Oh, and I find Hayao Miyazaki’s movies very inspiring, too—I’d like my stories to have that feeling of beautiful sparky weirdness!
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
I loved Liz Garton Scanlon’s answer to this question—that often what people need even more than space is time. That’s so true! Although I have my own space, I still find it hard to write unless I’m bossy with myself about making time for it. I also think your space should have things you love in it, that make you happy. The photos on my desk of my kids and my dog when she was a puppy make me smile all the time, and my shelves of favorite books make me feel like I have my best friends close by. (My shelf of to-read books is also exciting but probably less helpful, since I keep looking at it and wishing I were reading instead of writing!)
All the stuff Tui shoved into the hallway in order to take these beautiful tidy-looking photos :)
What’s coming up for you now and where can we find out more?
I’m currently working on book nine of the Wings of Fire series—Book Seven: Winter Turning was released in June, and Book Eight: Escaping Peril comes out in January 2016 (and has an awesome cover!)! The third book in the Menagerie trilogy will be coming out in paperback in the next year. And everything I’ve ever written is listed on my website: www.tuibooks.com.
Andrea, thanks so much for having me here! I can’t wait to meet you and lots of wonderful Wisconsin readers at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival next week! Yay!
Thank you, Tui! I love that you shared the stuff that got moved into the hall in order to get tidy-looking pictures. I can sure relate to that! Thanks for sharing your space and influences—I now have some new quotes to add to my cork board ☺. My family and I are excited to meet you this weekend at the Sheboygan Book Festival!
Join us on October 13th when we take a look inside one of my favorite novelists Kimberly Newton Fusco’s Rhode Island writing retreat.
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