I met Perth author and children’s librarian Sandi Parsons at a Rockingham Wrtiers Centre event last year, but I was keen to find out more about her long before that day. You see, I’d read an early copy of the Writing the Dream anthology (published by Serenity Press), and was impressed by her personal story about her passion for books, reading and writing, and about how she overcame significant challenges to pursue her writing dream. She’s a bright, articulate and utterly charming woman, with a comprehensive understanding of what children are looking for in a good book and, as her delightful new novel Pepsi the Problem Puppy proves, the skills to write one. She has also written a remarkable children’s picture book called The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses, to help educate and raise awareness about cystic fibrosis.
As Sandi explains, she’s a Book Nerd at heart, a children’s librarian/Book Warrior by day, and she “sings along to Cyndi Lauper songs (rather badly) while posting pictures of her disgracefully behaved blue heeler, Pepsi Parsons” in her free time.
Sandi considers her guardianship of gifted lungs as one of many victories in her ongoing battle with Cystic Fibrosis. She lives in Western Australia with her husband and a “To Be Read” pile of books “so high that they frequently threaten to cause a book-a-launch”.
As you can see, Sandi also has a terrific sense of humour — and you’ll see further evidence of her wit, and wisdom, in her answers to my questions, below. Find a few spare minutes, grab a cuppa, and enjoy the experience of getting to know a little about Sandi Parsons, the books and authors she loves, and that pesky but loveable puppy, Pepsi Parsons.
Q. How would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. Pure and simple, I’m a book nerd. I live and breathe books – as a reader, a writer and as a librarian.
As a reader I read almost everything (the exception being westerns).
As a librarian I strive to create a place that would have been my ideal haven or reading nook as a child.
As a writer, I dabble with a mix of short memoir and children’s fiction.
Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?
A. A long term project – Pepsi the Problem Puppy — will be released this week.
Pepsi, who bears a striking resemblance to my pooch, Pepsi Parsons, is a sweet-natured but disgracefully behaved dog who disrupts the household. It’s a chapter book for confident readers with fabulous illustrations by Aśka.
I’m currently working on the first draft of a middle grade mystery novel which features a very feisty female who has a love of old, forgotten and unusual words and an impetuous but loveable boy who loves to sneak and spy. Together they discover that their art teacher has stolen Ned Kelly’s death mask.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. There are 14 bookcases in my home, and several book cupboards. They are scattered all over the house, including the study, the lounge, the kitchen and the guest room.
A large chunk of them reside in “the book room” (which sounds very fancy but in reality it’s organised chaos as it contains all the books for sale on my online second hand bookstore as well as a storage space for my props and realia for library displays).
There’s also a very large wobbly pile of books by my bed, which never seems to get any smaller and is often in danger of collapse – there have been times when Pepsi has been in danger!
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. Given my librarian background, you’d think it likely that my personal books would be organised with an efficient system. Instead it’s more a loose genre based system, with my husband and I sharing some bookcases while others are exclusive.
I have two bookcases totally dedicated to my books – they are organised in a kind of mishmash of loose groupings. My signed books take up most of the two top rows (this allows me to scan my other shelves for books if I’m going somewhere that a book signing could be likely).
The rest of my shelves are roughly grouped in genre, although the fantasy books are starting to spill onto other shelves due to lack of room.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. Topping the list would be thrillers & crime, as my husband reads those genres also, in fact one of our combined bookcases is dedicated to those books. It’s very squishy in there at the moment.
Fantasy (in all its subgenres and age groups) would follow closely behind, as that is my favourite genre. Children’s books that don’t have fantasy elements would a close third.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. I’ve never had a favourite place – I can read anywhere and anytime. But I consider the most comfortable reading space to be snuggled in bed during winter – especially if it’s raining outside.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’ve just finished The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín which was fabulous. I read it in 24 hours (and didn’t accomplish much else during that time). I discovered it at the Perth Writers’ Festival – I had originally chosen ‘The Books That Shaped Us’ panel because Garth Nix was participating. But Peadaer spoke about his book and the premise intrigued me enough to put it on my must read list. I’m now interested in reading his Bone World Trilogy.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. Given that I consider fantasy to be my favourite genre, it’s kind of surprising that Lily Brett ranks so highly on my favourite authors list – but she does. I think in a way I’m fascinated by how she weaves her own situations into her books. Other long-time favourites include Morris Gleitzman, Dianna Wynne Jones, Stephen King, Juliet Marillier, Tamora Pierce, Teena Raffa-Mulligan, Karin Slaughter & Jonathan Stroud.
My favourite series include: Artemis Fowl, Dragonriders of Pern, Dresden Files, Harry Potter, Incarnations of Immortality, Iron Druid, Magic Ex Libris, Ranger’s Apprentice, Skulduggery Pleasant, and Wardstone Chronicles.
I enjoy biographies, in particular Maya Angelou’s autobiographical books and those written about Marilyn Monroe. Finally, as a standalone novel I adore The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. I’ve never been attached to a specific book or edition, often trading a book in my collection for one with a prettier cover or in better condition, so I would choose three books that can’t be replaced
Robyn’s Book by Robyn Miller –For me, this was a book that changed my life. It was the first time I read something that had been written by a person with Cystic Fibrosis. It made realise that there was a very real possibility that I could one day write my own books.
My copy of The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses. It’s not simply the first copy of my first book; this copy is signed by Stacey who brought Jeremy to life with her illustrations. The Mystery of the Sixty-Five Roses was a first book for both of us, and she has written a lovely message about working with me on the inside.
P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Lost Little Penguin. I’m one of two people this book has been dedicated to. As a book nerd, there’s no greater honour than a dedication from a fellow author.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I’ve chosen two authors and one fictional character, with only one of the three fitting within my favourite genre.
Number one on my invite list is reserved for Robyn Miller. Her words have always resonated with me, in both a sense of a shared journey and as unexplained sadness for someone that I never met but wish I had. Her writing influenced mine for years. She died knowing her book would still be printed, but never got to hold a copy in her hands. The opportunity to tell her that her words mattered would be one I couldn’t pass up.
Number two would be Cyndi Lauper (not only is she a songwriter, she’s also written her autobiography – so I’m not even stretching the rules a tiny bit!!) with the first question being if we could write a song together. I have a line (overheard but never forgotten) which would make a great premise for a song, but as I have a complete lack of musical ability, other than being decisively off-tune, I need a co-writer and I may as well aim high.
My lucky last guest would be The Doctor, not only can he facilitate the arrival of my other guests but I’m also including him because of the potential opportunity to travel in the TARDIS – who wouldn’t want that?
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention afternoon tea there at all. I’m not a cook (my husband will tell you that’s the understatement of the year), if I was entertaining my chosen guests it would have to be a catered party.