Where were you born?
I was born in Melbourne and am fourth generation Chinese Australian. My great grandfather came to Australia during the Gold Rush in 1853.
What were your favourite subjects?
My favourite subject was art. Maths was my worst subject. I liked biology too because I loved learning about plants and animals.
What were you like when you were growing up?
I was a little shy. I used to draw and paint a lot. When I wasn’t drawing, I would be going on adventures with my best friend, Wendy.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an artist, archaeologist and zoo keeper.
Did you want to be a writer when you were young?
I wanted to illustrate and write picture storybooks since I was a teenager, but never thought I could write a novel until recently.
What did you do when you left school?
I studied Graphic Design at RMIT in Melbourne.
When did you start writing?
In 1999 I had a strange dream and this dream was the inspiration behind my first novel, The Garden of Empress Cassia.
Do you have any pets?
I have a dog called Hero. He is a cocker spaniel. I also have a cockatiel called Cookie.
What are your hobbies?
Traveling, horseriding, tai qi, bush walking, sitting on a quiet beach or on a mountain.
What are the best things about being a writer?
Being able to work at home, creating my own imaginary worlds, meeting young people on school visits, traveling for research and conferences.
How long does it take you to write a book?
At least two years. I do many, many drafts before I even show it to my publisher.
What’s your favourite book that you have written?
I like all the books I write, but if was have to choose a favourite, it would be The Garden of Empress Cassia because it was my first book and it deals with a lot of the problems that I faced as a child.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
All my books are set in the real world, but magically cross over into other dimensions. I draw my inspiration from my imagination, my memories, by observing the world around me and the mythology and philosophy of China.
Is there a connection between all your books?
All my books so far have something to do with Chinese things, because that is my background and it is always best to write about what you know. They also cross backwards and forwards between the real world and magical worlds.
Why did you want to become an author?
I wanted to be an author because I liked to tell stories. In the beginning I told stories with pictures because I was an artist. Now I paint pictures with words.
Some questions from readers
Q: What inspired you to write a ghost in my suitcase and
what made you think of the name Ting Ting?
A: Often a setting is the first thing that inspires me. With A Ghost in My Suitcase it was the water town of Wuzhen I visited one year. I thought it would be an amazing place to set a spooky ghost story. It had all the elements – narrow alleys, ancient buildings and there were no cars.
I always take a great deal of time with names of my characters. Celeste used to be called Isabelle. Ting Ting used to be a male university student called Kai. With choosing Chinese names I’m always careful to pick one that is easily pronounced so I thought Ting Ting was just right.
Q: Can you give me some tips about how you write a story I’m writing one at the minute
A: When you are writing a story, don’t worry about correcting it as you go, just get the story down on paper. You can correct it later on. Think about what your main character wants and make the story all about that. eg wanting a dog but the main character doesn’t get it until the very end of your story.
Do you think it is safe so use real experiences but change it around a bit? Have you ever used real experiences in your writing?
A: I always use real life experiences when I write novels and mix them up with my imagination. It’s the best way to write.
Q: Do you like scary stories? What is your favourite colour? and why do you like writing story?
A: Yes, I love scary stories too. I like sky blue and yellow and red and…. there are too many to name.
I like writing stories because I like going into my imagination and creating my own worlds. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: Why did the fox spirit have sparks shooting out of its tail?
A: Fox spirits are a part of chinese mythology and there are lots of stories about them and their sparks. Some have 9 tails, meaning they are very old and have lived 1000 years. Many cultures talk about fox spirits. In Finland, they used to believe that the northern lights or aurora borealis was made when a fox spirit dragged its tail across the snow and the sparks it made flew up into the sky. This northern lights used to be called fox fire.
Q: Why did the parents (the dad) know what had happened to Jax? How is the time different to the Hidden Monastery than the time in the world?
A: The Abbot had gotten word to the parents that Jax was okay. They didn’t know that he was in the monastery but they knew that he was with the Abbot. And they trusted the Abbot because the mum had met him when Jax was a baby.
Time speeds up in the Hidden Monastery so when you’re learning something, you can learn it ten times faster. But it doesn’t apply to all things. e.g it doesn’t make you grow older faster.
Q: In The Garden of Empress Cassia why did you make the chapter Sweet Dreaming?
A: I called the chapter Sweet Dreaming because Empress Cassia visits Mimi and its like she’s in a beautiful dream.