Book People: Sue Whiting
Mackenzie da Luca’s mother is missing – she’s vanished without a trace in the jungles of Panama. Now, 116 days later Mackenzie and her dad are in those same jungles. Her dad is desperate to find out what’s happened to his wife. And Mackenzie is desperate to make sure he doesn’t…
Without a doubt ‘Missing’ is my favourite middle grade novel in some time. I read ‘Missing’ in one (long) night and felt all the emotions, marveled at the richness of the narrative and the pondered how Sue Whiting came up with such a plot (hence my interview request to her!).
‘Missing’ is a story of grief and trauma, love and loss,and the characters are so beautifully fleshed out that you feel every emotion with them and need to keep turning pages long into the night just to discover what happens. My own experience of grief has made me highly critical of inaccurate or trite portrayals of grief in writing; ‘Missing’ nailed it. At one point in the text I suspect we are meant to feel quite angry at Mackenzie’s father, and certainly other reviewers I spoke to (hi Trish and Pauline!) felt this. I however just ached for her father; I well understand that the deepest desire you have when you lose someone is to believe, with every part of your being, that they could still be alive.
To view and purchase books by Sue Whiting click on cover images, title links or here.
At this point in time I feel like walking around clutching my copy of ‘Missing’ and keeping it close to me. As a librarian I could possibly get away with this, but my children are already fairly embarrassed by most of my behavior, so instead I’m imploring people to purchase a copy for their middle grade readers, and read it themselves. ‘Missing’ is being pitched from 10+ but I am recommending it from 11+ and my young reviewer Jazzy has said the same in her review here. I prefer to see books read at the perfect juncture in time so they are fully understood and appreciated, rather than reading just a little too early and missing some of the depth of a story.
Thank you so much Sue for being featured as one of my 100+ ‘Book People’. See my other favourite ‘Book People’ here.
- Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is ‘Missing’. ‘Missing’ is a middle grade novel for readers aged 10+ that tells the story of Mackenzie da Luca and her quest to discover the truth about her mother’s disappearance in Panama. The story starts 114 days after her mother goes missing, when her father wakes Mackenzie in the middle of the night and announces that they are going to Panama. Her father is desperate to find out what’s happened to his wife. But Mackenzie is equally desperate to make sure he doesn’t.
The story switches between the then and now, as well as between Sydney and Panama, and is for readers who enjoy suspenseful contemporary stories. It was a tough story to write, and is a sad one to read, but as much as it is a story about grief and loss, it is also about resilience and human endurance.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
To complete my teaching degree, I took a course in children’s literature. One of the assignments was to write a children’s book. I was aghast! I couldn’t write a book. But I had to in order to pass the course. It wasn’t a very good story, but it was an important one, because it flipped a switch in my brain and quite suddenly I desperately wanted to be a writer. But I was a teacher, not a writer, so I dismissed this as a silly idea. Ten years later, when the idea wouldn’t go away, I thought, heck, I should give this writing caper a go, and soon after secured a job as a “contract writer” for a children’s novelty book publisher. This was my apprenticeship, and what started off my twenty-year (so far) career in publishing.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t really have a typical day – every day is so different, which is something that I really like about my job. But if my days were to run to plan, I’d like them to look like this:
- Sitting up in bed, enjoying an early morning coffee and writing my “daily papers” – three pages in my writing journal.
- Attend to email and social media – while still in bed.
- Breakfast, a walk, shower etc.
- Then down to my writing room by about nine or ten.
- Three or four hours of solid writing or editing until lunch.
- After lunch – whatever I’m in the mood for: more writing if I’m on a roll, some editing, email, more social media, reading, another walk or swim …
- Knock off for the day around five or six.
When I am writing a new book, I usually set a goal of a minimum of 500 words a day. (I really aim for 1000, but I say 500 so I don’t feel too disappointed if the words aren’t behaving.)
- Can you describe your workspace for us?
I love my workspace. It was my son’s bedroom until the day after he left home. It is light and airy, with a view over the back garden. I have a lovely long desk, a gorgeous reading chair and many shelves filled with my favourite books, as well as a large built-in cupboard to store all my “stuff”. But my favourite part is my drawing board. This I cover with large sheets of paper and is my happy place where I can play and plan and brainstorm and experiment. It’s where all my story problems are solved.
- Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
For young readers: the book is always better than the movie. With a book you get to use your own imagination to bring the author’s words alive – and there is nothing better than that.
For young writers – three things.
- Read everything and anything. Reading gives you access to your main tool for writing – words!
- Write daily if you can. This is how you will develop your voice and learn how best to use those precious words.
- Daydream – don’t make your lives so busy that you don’t have the time to daydream, to imagine and ponder and wonder about things. This is when the best ideas emerge.
- Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I have three favourite books: ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘ by Harper Lee and ‘The Book Thief‘ by Markus Zusak. All beautifully crafted; all full of heart and humanity.
- If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
I suppose I would be a primary school teacher. I loved being a teacher, so it wouldn’t be a hardship. But I equally love the fact that I was lucky enough to have a second wonderful career as a writer and editor.
- What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I write in silence. Music is far too distracting. I suppose it has the potential to snap me out of the imaginary world that I’m inhabiting as I write.
I may snack on nuts or chips occasionally when I write, but I never miss my cup of coffee midway through my morning writing block.
- How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
I don’t intentionally put myself, or people I know in my books, but some traits do filter in subconsciously. One classic example is the Mum character in ‘Get a Grip, Cooper Jones‘. When my daughter read this she was overseas and texted me something along the lines of “Now do you admit to slamming pots and pans and the kitchen drawers when you’re angry!” Caught.
- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
I would like to say “world peace” but I sound like a US beauty pageant contestant. So I will settle for kindness. I think we all need to remember our fellow human beings and practise kindness to one and other.