27 February 2017
The Beast of Hushing Woods is set in a world that weaves together a variety of mythologies. Were there any particular myths or cultures that inspired the story?
A trip to Morocco planted the seed for this story. The landscape, the colours, the people so filled my imagination that I knew one day a novel would emerge. What I didn’t know, however, was when an idea would come.
Morocco is awash with tales of the jinn (or ‘djinn’). They are part of everyday life, and the rich and fascinating world of the jinn goes far beyond the ‘genie in the bottle’ trope. In earlier drafts of the novel, my jinn was a one-dimensional antagonist, just plain bad. But successive drafts revealed his back story and with it the reasons for his evil ways.
There are two main characters in the book—Ziggy Truegood and Raffi Tazi. Raffi is the outsider, the foreigner, feared by the small conservative town of Dell Hollow. Although Morocco is never mentioned in the novel, in my mind’s eye Raffi is a Moroccan boy.
Ziggy is a girl dealing with some major challenges. Do you feel a responsibility to balance the darker elements with lighter scenes when writing for children?
I’m not conscious of balancing dark scenes with lighter scenes and do not feel a responsibility to do so. The only given is a happy ending. After 16 novels perhaps the balance comes naturally.
Although my novels are written for children aged eight to 13, the stories are never simple plot-driven stories but deal with the problems that many children face: death, loss, bullying, family breakups, feelings of alienation, of being ‘the other.’ I never shy away from writing about the darker side of life. Novels can be powerful things. They have the ability to transport a child to another place and bring them back with renewed inner strength.
The novel is a mix of both the problems that might come out of small town life, combined with something more mystical. What appeals to you about writing in the magical realism genre?
Growing up as a Chinese-born Australian, I am fortunate to have two ways of looking at the world. There is the saying ‘seeing is believing’ but I think really it’s the other way around: what you believe is what you see. For example, the ancient Chinese belief that strange beasts existed in the mountains led to the classic Guideway Through Mountains and Seas (Shanhaijing) This book was written as a guide for travellers to safely navigate the areas these creatures inhabited. Europe had similar texts, as we know from Borges. Who’s to say that the ancients got it wrong? Maybe we have blinded ourselves to realms existing only an arms-length away, as it were. The Moroccans and many other nations certainly live that reality even today. So it is not so much that I choose to write in the magical realism genre, it is more true to say that this is how I experience the world.
You spent time in the Berkshire Woods in Massachusetts while working on the book, and it seems heavily influenced by this setting. Did Hushing Wood change before and after your time away?
Yes, it changed immensely. The early drafts for Hushing Wood lacked authenticity; the feeling of ‘the woods’ just did not emerge, because this type of landscape did not live inside me as do the forests, bush and scrub of Australia. When my publisher saw the first draft, she too was unable to get a sense of place. After some thought, it became clear that the only thing to do was find some woods, to live and breathe them.
I have a friend who lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with a house on a hill, a meadow in front and acres of woods around. I saw deer and a momma bear with her two cubs. There were humming birds and chipmunks. A groundhog lived under the house. Instead of eucalypts there were oak, birch, and sycamore. There were maple trees that bled real maple syrup.
I learned that if leaves turn over to reveal their silver undersides there will be a storm. I learned that the rows of holes on the trunk of a tree were made not by insects, but by woodpeckers. I dined in a log cabin by a stream full of brook trout. A tiny local school formed the backdrop for Dell Hollow Elementary.
Back home, I wrote about the woods with gusto. I now knew the animals, the smells, the sounds they made. I could write from the heart.
The book is also beautifully complemented by watercolour illustrations that you’ve drawn. Is a visual component a big part of your writing process?
I have always loved to draw and used to be a graphic designer. Later I lived in China and studied Chinese painting at an arts academy, both the fine-detailed painting called gong bi (‘labour brush’) and also the freer, more impressionistic landscape painting shan shui (‘mountain and water’). Being a highly visual person, when I sit down to write, the scene is as clear in my mind as if I’m watching a movie.
Once the story has been written and the novel is in its copy-edit stage, the illustration process begins. I go back through the story and look for scenes that inspire a painting. Brush and ink is the first stage, then watercolour.
What was the last book you read and loved?
I loved Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (various imprints), which I just finished. The book is better than the film, which deviates greatly from the original toward the end. It’s a classic in noir fiction, a psychological crime thriller, as much driven by character as it is by plot. I highly recommend it if you enjoy this genre.
I am very happy to reveal the cover of my forthcoming novel The Beast of Hushing Wood.
Ziggy Truegood has always felt like an outsider and lately she has been having dreams that she is going to drown on her twelfth birthday. She lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. The townspeople are fighting, Ziggy feels like something is hunting her, and her beloved woods have become dark and hostile. When exotic Raffi and his grandfather arrive in town, Ziggy finds herself strangely drawn to them. But are they there to save Ziggy, or are they the hunters?
The Beast of Hushing Wood published by Penguin Books Australia
Coming Out on April 3rd.
For preorders go to Penguin Australia
I’ll be announcing the details of the book launch very soon, so stay tuned.
Looking to entertain your children musically in Melbourne next week? This is a one off show for 5 – 8 years old.
Friday January 13, at 11 am
If you come along I’ll be there so please say hello. There will be no books available to purchase but if you have your own copy, I would be pleased to sign it.
Tickets can be purchased HERE
‘This beautiful retelling of the classic Chinese legend is a joy to read.’
A long time ago in Ancient China, the Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven and earth, held a great race between the animals. He declared that the first 12 animals to cross to the other side of the mighty river would have a year named after them and thereby be forever immortalized on the Chinese Zodiac.
The animals lined up on the shore, eager to begin. Some chose to race honestly while others were more devious. Some helped their friends, while others raced alone. Some were distracted, while some focused with all their might on winning. But 13 animals raced for only 12 places on the Zodiac. Who would come first? And who would miss out?
One of China’s favourite fables is brought to life through an intercultural arts experience for inquisitive young minds. Follow the story of The Race for the Chinese Zodiac and discover your Chinese Zodiac animal. Gabrielle Wang’s picture book is transformed into a multifaceted theatre production incorporating animation, storytelling and an original Chinese score played on traditional Chinese instruments performed live by the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble. Don’t miss this wonderful introduction to Chinese culture.
It’s been a busy few months. My gorgeous daughter, Lei Lei was married in February and now she’s off on her honeymoon road-tripping around the US.
I took this in the bridal car as we headed to the ceremony.
So now it’s back to writing and illustrating and thinking about story. Really though, once you’re a writer your mind automatically hones in on all kinds of stories no matter where you are.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of illustrating which is fun and so different from writing. I’m working on a picture book called The Runaway Zoo.
With illustrating I can listen to music. I paint standing up so I can also do a bit of dancing in between brushstrokes. Painting is so good for the soul. It makes me happy.
When I’m writing I can’t be distracted. It’s a totally different way of using your imagination. With writing you need to get deep down inside your subconscious. You need to peel off the layers until you come to the heart of your story where your characters dwell.
I’m still editing my novel, Hushing Wood and have now come up with an idea for the front cover which I’m rather pleased with. I hope my publisher will like it as well. All I need is to work out a colour scheme. That’s hard for me as colour is not my strength. But I’m getting better at it with practice and it is fun playing around with beautiful paints.
Here are some roughs for The Runaway Zoo. The little girl is called Ivy after my grand niece who turned one the other day.
I’m not sure about the little dog yet. He has three legs so I was going to call him Tripod.
What do you think? I’m open to any suggestions.
I’m superstitious. It goes hand in hand with believing in magical things which is why I write the kind of books I do. So when Chinese New Year Day comes around, or Spring Festival as it is called in China, I follow some of the traditions. I’m selective though. I follow only the ones that gel with me and are easy to do.
The Chinese calendar is a lunar one so this year, Chinese New Year falls on February 8th.
Here are the Do’s and Don’ts I stick to.
1.Clean, sweep or dust on Chinese New Year’s day otherwise you will sweep away all your good luck for the incoming year.
2.Don’t lend money on New Year’s Day otherwise you’ll be lending money for the rest of the year.
3.Don’t swear or say negative things or mention death or ghosts. Everything you say should be directed towards a new and happy beginning.
4.Don’t wash your hair on New Year’s Day or else you will wash away your luck.
5.Don’t cry on New Year’s Day otherwise you will cry for the whole year. For this reason children are tolerated even when they’re naughty. Sorry mums and dads of young children.
1.Wear something new, preferably red. Red is a bright happy colour so it welcomes in a bright, happy and prosperous year. I usually wear something that has red in the pattern.
2.Give children and unmarried friends ‘hong bao’ little red packets of money. It should be a nice crisp note. My children love this time of year.
3.Say something nice to the first person you meet. I like this custom. It should be a rule for everyday of the year.
4.If you hear birdsong on New Year’s Day, you are in luck. Living in Australia, where we have so many birds, this is an easy one.
5.And lastly, if it’s your year, wear red everyday until the year ends. This is not as hard as it sounds. When it was my year I wore a red silk thread around my wrist. Some people sew a red thread in their underwear.
The Monkey in the picture above is ink on Chinese watercolour paper. The character on the right is ‘hou’ meaning monkey. The red stamp is one of my Chinese names ‘shuang’ which means frost. My full Chinese name is Wang Xing shuang which means ‘Wang Happy Frost’. Chinese always put family names first.
Those born under this sign are intelligent, clear-sighted, ambitious, rational and gifted. All doors are open to them as they will be successful in anything they do. They are lucky, generous, chivalrous and sociable and often show a gift for languages. They make excellent parents.
Monkeys are born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2016
The Race for the Chinese Zodiac published by Black Dog Books in Australia, Walker Books in the UK, Candlewick in the US and Hubei Children’s Press in China is available through your local bookstore or online retailer. It’s a retelling of the traditional tale of how the animals on the Chinese zodiac were chosen and beautifully illustrated by my dear friend, Sally Rippin.
Happy Year of the Monkey to you all!
May it bring good health, happiness, a lot of creativity and new beginnings.
And, of course, a little bit of magic!
For the past week I have been writing at Varuna, the beautiful writers’ retreat in the Blue Mountains. Every time I go there, and this is my third visit, I come away with an incredible sense of achievement and satisfaction.
It has to do with being in the mountains, in the quiet, in a writer’s house, surrounded by bird song and rolling mist.
It has to do with working in the same environment with four other inspirational writers/illustrators/poets. We have come together to work day and night with words and pictures.
It has to do with getting down, deep down into the layers of your story where things you never realised before suddenly become obvious, where threads merge and twist and you cry out, ‘Yes! of course!’ and then you slap your hand over your mouth because you’re suddenly aware that you are not alone but on a writers’ retreat.
I imagine each one of us in our writing rooms, words and pictures swirling around our heads and I wonder if these swirling clouds of our imaginations overlap and ideas slip, slide and fall into each other.
I went up to Varuna to work on a particular picture book. I came away working on another. I like to illustrate randomly and do so almost daily. I like to play with my imagination, let it go, let it surprise me.
I tried to work on one of these stories but it didn’t excite and I soon grew bored. I began editing my middle grade fiction novel, Hushing Wood instead, and have made fine progress on that. I also worked on a rough for the front cover which I am pleased with.
On Friday in the late afternoon, before going down to Sheila’s delicious dinner, (Sheila comes and cooks for us each night), this sad gorilla turned up on the paper and a story began to form.
The next morning, in that dreamy state between sleep and wakefulness, I saw the book frame by frame and call it, for now, The Runaway Zoo.
It is a work in progress and I do not know where it will lead but it does excite me and that’s the important thing.
Here are a few more illustrations.
I have some other exciting news waiting in the wings but I can’t reveal what it is just yet.
In the meantime here are some ‘random’ illustrations I painted while at Varuna.
Girl with Tiger
The first day of 2016 and I’m sitting at home, alone. It is lovely and peaceful. The local magpies are carolling in the paper bark tree and a single crow caaws in the oaks that line the street. I’m at my desk looking through the door of my writing room down the kitchen to the back garden.
Christmas day was a disaster day. My sister and her family lost their home to the Wye River fires on the Great Ocean Road. As I write this the fires are still burning in the Otway Ranges and other towns are being evacuated. I love Melbourne summer but fear for the people and animals who are at risk to the bushfires.
This is for my sister, brother in law and family. The golden cocker is her dog Billie, the black cocker is my dog Hero. I call it Pool of Tears.
I have painted a lot this past year. Not having a major publication out in 2015 meant that I could spend more time at my painting table. This doesn’t mean that I’m not working on words, just that deadlines are not so pressing.
“The Two Faced Boy” is a short story in a 2015 anthology called Rich and Rare published by Ford Street. The book is a great buy for lovers of short story and for libraries. It has had some fantastic reviews and features many of Australia’s finest writers for young people.
A painting for Christmas and a Christmas Wish
Two Thylacine riding on the backs of deer. They look pretty regal as if they belong to a royal party. I’m not sure if they do. Ideas come and I don’t try and explain why.
The last Tasmanian tiger died in a Hobart zoo in the 1930’s.
I have an impossible wish and that is to bring them back from extinction and have them roam the wilds of Tasmania once more.
Projects on the Go
First up is a new Poppy hardback omnibus of all four stories in one volume, with a magnetic clasp. I can’t wait for this to come out. It will look gorgeous. If I take myself back to when I was eight years old, which is easy for me, I would have treasured something like this. I’ve almost finished writing the extra chapter which takes place 2 years after the final book ended. I’ve enjoyed revisiting my characters, thinking of where their lives would be and how important it is for them to be in Poppy’s life once more. Of course Noni from Poppy at Summerhill had to come back as well as her ‘bad’ brother Joe to add tension to the chapter.
There will also be a short paragraph on what happens to Poppy when she grows up. I wonder who she will marry. You’ll have to wait until November to find out!
Here’s a pic of all four books which will end up as one in the omnibus.
The new Poppy hardback will be out in November 2016!
Two Tales from China
Another project that I have been working on is for Christmas Press Picture Books in which I have retold two ancient Chinese folk tales. Did you know that the first Cinderella story came from China? I found several versions of this story on the internet but they all tended to pander to the western version. And then I discovered the original in Chinese which is more than 1000 years old dating back to the late Tang dynasty. My husband is not Chinese but can read and speak perfectly so he translated it for me. What is interesting about this version is that the focus is not on the girl but on magic – a fish and its magical bones. I believe that when the story is published it might be the very first English translation. The other folk tale is The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd, a story that every Chinese knows.
These two illustrated stories will be published by Christmas Press Picture Books in February 2017.
The Hushing Wood – a novel
This is my major work in progress. The story is finished, now it’s down to the refining. But first I’m changing the point of view from third person subjective to first person and the tense from past tense to present. What’s exciting is that I’m off to the woods of Massachusetts, (must learn how to spell this name without having to google it every time) to do some research.
As with most of my novels I’ll be including black and white illustrations. This is the fun part. Not that writing isn’t but illustrating is by far the easier of the two. I’m also illustrating and designing the cover and have about 10 ideas so far. It will be hard when it comes down to choosing but at least I’ll have the team at Penguin Random who can help with that.
The Hushing Wood will be out in February 2017.
I have wanted to write and illustrate a picture book since I was in my twenties. Finally I think I have a style that I’m happy with so I’m off to Varuna very soon to work on a story. Varuna is a wonderful writers’ retreat in the Blue Mountains, the legacy of Eleanor Dark to the writers of Australia.
Befriend a Child in Detention
And lastly. Thank you to all who supported Befriend a Child in Detention and bought my cards. Together we raised $975!
And don’t forget to pick up an Avant card from public places and send it to our Prime Minister.
Well, that’s a wrap for now.
Happy New Year to you all!
In the words of Neil Gaiman –
…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
I’m a slow reader and being a writer, my eyes grow tired so audiobooks are perfect for me.
I listen while I’m driving, cooking, cleaning, walking. I listen in bed which doesn’t work too well as I tend to fall asleep. But with BorrowBox you can set a timer which helps.
I like mysteries and thrillers and quirky stories – all fuel for my own writing.
Here’s my list for 2015.
The Memory Game – Nicci French
Mr Mercedes – Stephen King
Finders Keepers – Stephen King
The Revival – Stephen King
Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier
Wilderness Tips – Margaret Atwood
Summerhouse with Swimming Pool – Herman Koch
Be Near Me – Andrew O’Hagan
The Butterfly Man – Heather Rose
Speak the Nightbird a Matthew Corbett novel Book 1 – Robert McCammon
The Queen of Bedlam a Matthew Corbett novel Book 2 – Robert McCammon
Mister Slaughter a Matthew Corbett novel Book 3 – Robert McCammon
The Providence Rider a Matthew Corbett novel Book 4 – Robert McCammon
Gone South – Robert McCammon
Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
The River of Souls – Robert McCammon
All the Birds Singing – Evie Wild
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Carry Me Down – MJ Hyland
Thornwood House – Anna Romer
Night Sins – Tami Hoag
Cold Cold Heart – Tami Hoag
The Magicians Lie – Greer Macallister
Colourless Tsukura Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker
The Farm – Tom Rob Smith
Light Between Oceans – ML Stedman
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
The Leopard – Guiseppe di Lampedasa
Savage Girl – Jean Zimmerman
Mercy – Jussi Adler Olsen
Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
Savage Girls and Wild Boys – Michael Newton
Second Life – SJ Watson
Eclipse – John Banville
Winterwood – Patrick McCabe
More Than This – Patrick Ness
Footsteps in the Dark – Georgette Heyer
The Black Ice – Michael Connelly
I have several projects on the go at the moment.
First up is my Our Australian Girl, Poppy series which will come out in November next year in a beautiful new hardback omnibus of all four stories in one volume. What is really lovely is that it will have a magnetic clasp – something that I would have adored as a young girl. Actually I still do.
I am working on a new chapter for this edition. The narrative will begin two years after the final book, Poppy Comes Home finished. There will also be a short paragraph of what happens to Poppy when she grows up.
So the first thing I need to do is reread all four books. As soon as I do that, ideas will appear.
I have just signed and delivered the contract for my latest novel, Hushing Wood – a story about a girl who has reoccurring dreams that she will drown on her twelfth birthday.
Although the novel is written, there is still a long way to go. First thing is to change the story from third person subjective to first person and from past tense to present tense. I put it away for about three months and upon rereading saw that it needed to be more immediate. I felt that Ziggy’s thoughts needed to be more deeply expressed and that’s what first person point of view does. As for changing the tense, I don’t want the reader to know what happens to Ziggy in the end. Does she drown? Is she saved? What is her fate? So present tense is a perfect device for that.
I will also be putting in Ziggy’s drawings throughout the text and designing and illustrating the front cover.
I am very excited to be heading to Massachusetts in the US in May to do some research. I will be living on the edge of the woods. I do hope to see lots of wild animals, especially a bear. That would be the best.
Approximate date of publication for Hushing Wood is February 2017.
I have wanted to write and illustrate a picture book for a long time. At last I think I have a story. Now I have to find the space.
I hope all your endeavours are working out for you.
I hope the year to come will be filled with peace, brilliance and love.
I was interviewed by lovely friend and fellow children’s author and illustrator, Sally Rippin on Triple R. Sally has a regular spot once a month on The Grapevine.