Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Interview with Sonja Anderson: author of Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar

In our last post, we mentioned how special it is that Sunpenny has such an international group of authors. As promised, in our forthcoming posts we will be publishing the interviews we've held with them to find out something about where they live and how their environs inspire them. First up is Sonja Anderson, the author or our gorgeous children's books, Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, superstar.

Sonja Anderson with her lovely daughters

SP:  Sonja, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Seattle, Washington, USA?

SA: A good friend from college invited me to come stay with her in Seattle for a few months before I went to work at an international school in Tokyo. During those five months, I fell in love with the mountains and water and people and moved back there when it was time to leave Japan.

SP: I've often heard about how beautiful it is there. What do you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Seattle?

SA: I live near Puget Sound and watch boats, large and small, going by every day. It makes me wonder where they are going and why. I used some of that wondering in my children’s novel, Sophie’s Quest! Probably more significant, however, is that Seattle is a place where many people have come from all over the world to live, and I’m inspired to use my writing to help people understand one another a little better.

Sonja with Puget Sound in the background

SP: That's a lovely idea to pursue. What prompted you to start writing in the first place, and how long have you been writing?

SA: I’ve been writing most of my life in one way or another—I kept a lot of diaries as a kid, and even entered two stories into a Christmas writing contest at school. When one of my stories was selected to be read in front of the whole school, I was hooked!

I began writing fiction in earnest when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. She had a “discussion” on the playground with kids of different religious backgrounds over “whose God is biggest.” I wanted to write a story that would help kids respect each other despite their differences, and also to introduce them to Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

SP: Again, a wonderful motivation to write. What do you prefer writing? Fiction or fact and why?

SA: I recently finished a non-fiction project with my husband about the history of Mount Rainier National Park and the historic inns and lodges there. It was really fun to learn lots of new things! I have to say, though, that writing fiction that seems to touch children’s hearts is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life. I know what fictional characters meant to me growing up, and it brings me so much joy to hear kids tell me how much they love Sophie Topfeather and her friends!

SP: That is no surprise at all! We love Sophie too! Do you write anything other than fiction/fact?

SA: When I have time, I enjoy writing personal experience blog posts on my website, It’s one way that I’ve found to share encouragement for other school employees, and to tell some of the really interesting stories that kids tell me about their various cultures, like White Sunday (Samoan) and Ethiopian Christmas and Easter celebrations.

SP: That's terrific! Okay, then, if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

SA: Just start writing, and don’t worry about whether or not each sentence is very good. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re starting the story in the right place. Just go, and keep going! When you finally have a draft, think of it as a nice, big, pile of raw material to play in until you can get it right. I spent a year on the first chapter of Sophie’s Quest, trying to get everything right, only to realize much, much later, that it was completely the wrong beginning. I pitched the whole chapter and wished I had that year back!

SP: What a great lesson to learn. What would you say is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

SA: It’s hard to see your own strengths and weaknesses, isn’t it? I guess what I try to do is to encourage everyone around me and to live my life in a way that is consistent with what I believe to be true. My weakest point is that I concentrate so hard on some things that I completely forget other things that are also important, like being thoughtful for birthdays and other special events, in a timely manner.

Sonja is one of twins: this is her with her sister
Suzanne Cordatos, also a Sunpenny author

SP: Ah, those special days are always difficult to remember, aren't they? Sonja, if you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be?

SA: That’s an easy one! I’d bring my study Bible, because this one book contains enough to keep someone interested and curious for a lifetime, let alone a year, especially with all the notes and commentary.

SP: And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

SA: I admire many children’s book authors, but I really love Steve Sheinkin’s narrative non-fiction (especially Bomb), and Kirby Larson’s work (Her book, The Friendship Doll, made me sob out loud!)

SP: Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

SA: I’m very excited to be finishing Mount Rainier’s Historic Inns and Lodges, a project I’ve been doing with my husband for Arcadia Publishing. It’s due to be released May 22, 2017. I’m also about fifty pages in to the third Sophie Topfeather book! It’s called, Sophie’s Gold Rush, and I hope to have a good rough draft done by the end of the summer.

SP: That's wonderful! Okay, now, the final question. If you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

1. Visit Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lake District

2. Follow the footsteps in England of Katherine from the historical novel, Katherine, by Anya Seton (with my twin sister, who also wants to do this!).

3. Go back as a guest author to the international school in Tokyo where I taught 2nd grade. That’s where I first had a vision of my owl main character, Sophie!

Sonja, this has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring home and thoughts with us. We know Sophie Topfeather is a very popular character with young readers, and hope more of them will discover her soon. Thanks for joining us!

Sonja's delightful books Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar are both published by Sunberry Books, an imprint of Sunpenny Publishing. Links to the site where readers can by them are below. Both books are available on all Amazon sites, however, and also as paperbacks through the Book Depository:

Sophie's Quest
Sophie Topfeather, Superstar


Julie said...

What a lovely interview. I met Sonja last year and her wonderful personality comes across in this interview.

Vallypee said...

Lovely to read more about you, Sonja! Sophie's Quest was a lovely, inspiring book and I love that your international environment and the beautiful Puget Sound have added so much to your writing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Julie, and Val! Meeting you both last year (and the rest of the Sunpenny gang) was one of the highlights of the year for me!