THE READING STACK A GHOST IN MY SUITCASE Winner of the 2009 Aurealis Award Best Children’s Novel Puffin Books (a subsidiary of Penguin). Australian, Junior, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $16.95 Guest Reviewer – Jo Burnell When twelve-year-old Celeste travels to China to visit her grandmother, she carries her mother’s ashes. A feeling of expectation hovers. Is […]
Last night in Brisbane, the winners of the Aurealis Awards for 2009 were announced at a special awards ceremony in the Judith Wright Centre. My book, A Ghost in My Suitcase was awarded Best Children’s Novel. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend but I followed the announcement of each winner on Twitter, which was almost as exciting […]
Sometimes you come to a place in your writing and there seems to be no obvious direction to take. The story has been rolling along but suddenly you come to a roadblock. That’s when you let your main character take over. He or she will tell you where they want to go. They have an […]
This is chocolate torte is quick and simple. INGREDIENTS 125 gms unsalted butter 125 gms drinking chocolate  3/4 cup 125 gms almond meal or hazelnut meal 125 gms castor sugar  1/2 cup 3 free range eggs METHOD Beat all ingredients together until smooth Bake for 40 to  50 mins at 180 degrees C. Sprinkle with […]
I have just returned from a research trip to the area around Wahgunyah and Beechworth where my great grandfather settled when he came from China to Australia in 1853. It is a beautiful part of Victoria and is a significant gold mining region. Beechworth has been extremely well preserved and still carries the old world […]
Christmas means Family, Friends and Fine Food. Of course, being Chinese, family is of primary importance and next comes food. If you have ever been to a Chinese family dinner you might find that we always discuss each dish as it comes out. Or if not each dish then something to do with food. We […]
Everyone works to the beat of their own drum. Everyone has tools that they like to use. The following are some that I have found most useful. Laptop or Computer It goes without saying that a computer is essential in this day and age. I do almost all my writing on my laptop unless I […]
I’ve been too busy with my current project to blog lately. I have to complete the first draft of my novel before Christmas so I’m working on a chapter a day which averages to about 1100 words, and it seems to be going well. I would never show anyone my first draft. I have written […]
DO TREES LAY EGGS? This one did – a golden one. When writing a novel, especially an historic one, there are so many interesting facts you learn along the way. This is one I learnt this morning. I was able to use in my chapter too. The Welcome Stranger, a gold nugget that weighed 210 […]
It takes a particular personality type to be an author. Do you make the grade? The following are some of the essential ingredients. 1. Are you a seeker after truth? 2. Are you tenacious? 3. Are you patient? 4. Are you a dreamer? 5. Are you a perfectionist when it comes to words? 6. Do […]
Note To Self: Never answer fan mail when you’re tired. This is what I almost sent off to a young fan the other day: ‘Dear Stephanie, Thank you for writing and telling me how much you love my boobs.’ This was very funny and I’m so glad I re-read it before pressing the send button. […]
STIR FRIED SWEETCORN This is one of my favourite dishes because it’s easy and delicious. I love the crunchy, sweet taste of the corn. Ingredients: 3 corn on the cob 1 T chopped spring onions 11/2 T cooking oil (I use light olive oil) ½ t salt Method: Wash the corn. Stand a corncob on […]
It’s been a hectic few weeks with a panel discussion on story telling at the Victorian State Library, a meet the artist’s day at the beautiful Dromkeen, then I flew off to Cairns for the Cairns Literary Festival at Trinity Bay High School. The kids there were great and the older students from years 10-12 […]
For the past 2 weeks my kitchen table has looked like this. My family has had to eat their meals between first pages and old manuscripts of Little Paradise. At least there’s no lack of reading material. I don’t have a big office and you need a lot of table space at this stage of […]
Writing is hard work. There are many stages in the life of a novel, from first drafts (of which there are too many to count), to structural edit, to copy edit, to cover design, to first pages, second pages, third pages and then final print. Of course many of the work is invisible and hard […]
This is the finished front and back covers for Little Paradise. The girl in the photograph is my mum taken in 1944 when she was 20. On the back is the blurb and a fashion illustration that my mum drew when she was 14. She was crazy about fashion. The end papers will feature more […]
My daughter just told me that I’m ahead of the game. The real name for poo catchers is Harem pants and they are the very latest thing. So I just retrieved my poo…I mean Harem pants from the bin and am proudly wearing them once again.
Being a writer means that I sit on my bottom a lot which means that I wear only comfortable clothing. I live in my polar fleece top, tracksuit pants and Ugg boots. But yesterday my daughter told me that my eight-year old Target tracksuit pants look like ‘poo catchers’ – a term I discovered young […]
When I am browsing in a bookshop, I often pick up a book because of its cover. Then I look at the title, then read the blurb and if I’m still interested, I’ll turn to the first page to get a taste of what’s inside. The cover of a book is of utmost importance. It […]
The secret of writing is simple. All it involves is placing one word after the other to form a sentence. Then place one sentence after the other to form a paragraph. Then one paragraph after the other to form a chapter. And by the end of it all, you have a novel. Of course this […]
These are so delicious. They are crispy around the edges and so light it’s hard to know when to stop eating them. Best served with maple syrup. Ingredients I cup self-raising flour I 1/2 cups milk 6 tablespoons melted butter pinch of salt 1 tablespoon castor sugar 2 free range eggs Method Mix the flour, […]
This dish is delicious served hot or cold. Ingredients: 1 eggplant Sauce: 1 tablespoon oil 1 tablespoon sesame oil 2 cloves of garlic, minced 1 tablespoon peeled ginger, minced 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 2 tablespoon light soy sauce 1 tablespoon sugar Wash eggplant and cut off stem. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and […]
I love writing because each story is like opening a golden door to the unknown. I love its slipperiness, its unpredictability, the way it has taught me about life, about death, about people. I love finding a new voice to write in. At first this voice is just a whisper, a shimmer inside your brain. […]
After finally finishing Little Paradise I thought I would never write another historical novel again. But this was not to be. Along came an opportunity to write a series of four novels set in the Victorian goldfields. And every writer knows that it’s all about opportunity. I couldn’t let this one pass me by. My […]
This roast chicken is so easy to prepare and is deliciously moist because it is roasted over a pan of water. INGREDIENTS 1 free range chicken dark soya sauce (Mushroom soy is best because it makes the chicken a beautiful golden brown) 2 cloves of garlic 2 slices fresh ginger 2 spring onions salt METHOD […]
In my novel The Hidden Monastery I used a fox spirit as the antagonist in the story. These pesky creatures can morph into humans. Here are some foxy tales. In China there are many tales about Hu Li Jing or Fox Spirits. It is said that they acquired shape-shifting qualities after meditating in mountain caves […]
My mum’s 85th birthday tea party. If there was sound to this photo you would hear in the background the Collingwood Footy song which my family are all avid supporters of. This is because my grandfather worked at the Victoria market & everyone there barracked for the Magpies. I was once asked to fill in […]
The name of this dessert says it all. It’s so easy, quick, and an all time fave of mine and my family’s going right back to when I was little. Sorry, but I forgot to take the photo before everyone got stuck into it. This one serving was all that was left. You have to […]
Here is the sky at 6am from my back garden. It only lasted for about 5 minutes. So thankful I was up early. The sound effects were incredible too, amplified on the still Spring air – magpies warbling, doves cooing, a butcher bird carolling, a wattle bird cackling, minor birds squawking.
One of the questions I was asked at a recent school visit was Can you write two books at the same time? Yes I can, but they have to be of different genres. For example I can work on a picture book and a junior novel, or a picture book and a YA novel but […]
I remember when my kids were small, seeing boys driving in their cars sporting the tell tale P plates on the front and back windows, and my immediate thought was that they were hoons. If I passed a group of these boys in the street, I would feel uneasy, not knowing what was going on […]
This is my dog, Saffy. She is 12 years old, quite an old lady really, in fact she’s the same age as my mum if you counted her age in dog years. I needed Saffy to pose for a photograph on a skateboard. When I placed her on the board she didn’t want to stand […]
I have an author friend who told me that when he was a judge on a panel to award literary grants to Australian authors he immediately weeded out all entries that were written in the genre of fantasy or science fiction, discounting them as being non-literary. I was dismayed. Would he have tossed out Lord […]
This odd spot appeared in The Age British naturalist Sir David Attenborough is honoured that a giant rat-eating pitcher plant has been named after him. It could  have been worse, earlier this year three species of slime-mould beetle were named after George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
To view the full article go to.
It was such a pleasure visiting St Aquinas College in Ringwood these past two days. The Year 9’s were great – interesting, fun, and extremely well mannered. What more can I say but thanks guys. And thanks too for the input on the covers for Little Paradise.
Looking through the window Looking at old black and white photographs is like looking through a window in time. But if you open that window and let your mind wander inside the picture, the whole scene can come alive as if watching a movie. This is what I did when I was researching 1940’s Shanghai […]
What is your comfort zone? I notice the trend of YA novels these days is to write in the 1st person – ie using ‘I’. This sets up an intimacy with your reader as if you are talking only to them. Kate Grenville says, ‘First person can give a force, an immediacy, an idiosyncratic and […]
Last week my editor gave me back the copy edit for Little Paradise plus pages of notes. This is the Chan Buddhist – Chan means Zen in Chinese – stage in the evolution of a book where every word in every sentence is considered for its value to the story. I love this part of […]
What a great time I had at Voices on the Coast last week. The festival is held every year in Mooloolaba, Queensland (love saying that word – just rolls off the tongue). What I enjoy about writing festivals, and especially those for children, is being able to meet my young readers, visit new places, and […]
I have just returned from a Desert Writers walk lead by Raymond Hawkins of Into the Blue Creative Walks with writing workshops facilitated by Sydney based author Jan Cornall. The walk took us along sections of the Larapinta trail through some of the most beautiful country in the world. Lying in my swag on a […]
Robert Mckee is considered the guru of Story and every novelist should have a copy of his book in their shelves.  He was in Melbourne over the weekend to deliver his gruelling but inspirational three days of lectures. This is the second time I have attended his seminar, the first was back in 2003. (John […]
As writers of fiction, there are many things that we are in control of. We’re like God playing with the lives of our characters, deciding when they should suffer and when they should be happy. We create settings, devise plots and subplots, we place obstacles in their way. In short, our job is to make […]
It’s amazing how tight writing becomes when you remove the adverbs. I know, it’s been mentioned time and again in all the writing books, but I’m a slow learner or perhaps I wasn’t ready for that major piece of advice. It took a writer friend to sit down with me and go through five chapters […]
With grown up children still at home, (twenty and twenty-two) but living their separate lives with university and work, it is a rare occasion these days that we as a family – mama, baba, big sister (jie jie) and little brother (di di) –  are in the house at the same time. So I rejoice […]
While collecting ancient Chinese poems to include in my YA novel, Little Paradise, I came across this one by the famous poet, Bo Zhu Yi  (722-846). Reading it made me realise that those writers who penned their works before the invention of the printing press, before publishers came into being, before the spread of literacy, […]
Between the age of 6 and 12 life was full of adventures. In one day my friend and I might have ridden across the desert on our horses (mine was always a palamino), fought the baddies in the jungles of South America, sung at the tops of our voices in the Armadale railway station – […]
When I first went to live in Taiwan to study Chinese, I met a local girl called Peggy. She was around the same age, about twenty-two, with a wide, generous smile. I liked her very much. One day, her parents invited me home for dinner. It was her birthday. I spent the whole day looking […]
When my son was a little boy he wanted to be a truck or a crocodile when he grew up. Oh, to have the creativity of a child, the boundless mind without compartments. The Taoist philosopher, Lao zi says that we must get back to this childlike state, to be like an uncarved block of […]
I hadn’t done any life drawing since I left art school so I was pretty rusty when I started it up again at the beginning of the year. More often than not I find it frustrating, but sometimes the conte or charcoal or brush does what I want it to do. It’s a lot like […]
I spent a lovely morning talking with the girls from Ivanhoe Girls Grammar. There were many talented writers and artists in the groups and lots of enthusiastic readers.
There is an agreement between Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) and Australian educational institutions in regard to websites. If you have a website and an Australian educational institution reproduces some of the content off your site, you may be entitled to receive payment through CAL. I am about to add this new page to my website. […]
I know many writers who keep extensive diaries writing in them everyday. I find it hard to keep one and always have. I remember when 5 year diaries were the fashion for birthday presents and I wrote for five years straight around the age of 10. But I only wrote down mundane things never anything […]
The beauty of Cradle Mountain can never be captured on film but here’s just a small taste
I am off to Cradle Mountain in Tasmania for a few days. It’s cold in Melbourne, it will be colder down there being that much closer to Antartica. But the beauty and serenity of the place will sure make up for it. See you when I get back.
Just when I thought I had come to the end of my novel, Little Paradise, and had even gone out to a French restaurant to celebrate, I have now found that I still need to write two more chapters. It’s so tempting to rush an ending. But my duty to the novel and to my […]
It was very nice to find my blog, A Passing Whisper, on the list of the Top 50 Aussie Writers Blogs. You can see the whole list at
If you have a website or are setting one up, it’s really important that you’re able to change the information contained within it without having to ask the web designer to do it for you. My web designer and nephew, Jin, used WordPress to create my website. And now I can add new pages and […]
I am a very slow reader and a subvocalizer. That’s someone who has to say each word out aloud in their head. Until I met my husband, I thought that everyone subvocalized. I’m not sure if it was the way I was taught to read when I was young, or whether it is the way my brain […]
As I sit in my small office in a suburb of Melbourne, I think back to my nine days of solitary writing time at Lorne. While I was there, I could feel the space inside my head expanding with each day until, in the end it was as if I had a huge head like […]
I am on a solitary writing retreat at Lorne, a seaside town on the south east coast of Australia. This area is one of the most beautiful places in the world – a land where mountains meet the sea. It is rugged, the beaches are pristine. It is a surfer’s paradise. The house is set […]
I was thrilled to hear that The Lion Drummer has been named a Notable Book in the 2009 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards. My congratulations to Andrew Mclean who created the beautiful illustrations.
Out of the six books I have written so far only three have had titles that were perfect from the start. The Garden of Empress Cassia could not have been called anything else. The same goes for A Ghost in My Suitcase and The Lion Drummer. But the title, The Pearl of Tiger Bay was […]
Being locked away with your novel is a little like being a mother with a newborn baby. In both cases you can feel isolated and exhausted. I have been been writing 8 or 9 hours a day lately in order to keep to my deadline which is set for June. When my babies were very […]
I buried our last remaining guinea pig, Ratty in our garden this morning. We bought him from the RSPCA six years ago. When we arrived at the centre there were two little, very scared guinea pigs huddled together in a corner of an enclosure. One was black and white, the other dark brown. How could […]
Yesterday we had our monthly writers’ circle. We always start off with a 20 minute writing exercise, just to get us in the mood. Then we move onto either workshopping each other’s stories or discussing things like contracts or agents or whatever a member happens to bring up. And of course we couldn’t survive without […]
A man in jeans, T shirt and baseball cap, stood in the Washington Metro. He took out his violin, threw some loose change into his violin case and began to play.  It was rush hour, 7.51am. The violinist began with Bach’s Chaconne, one of the composer’s most complex pieces. 63 people passed by before someone […]
Literacy Empowers People. Shadow Forest Authors gets books to places where children are most disadvantaged. If you are a published author, please consider donating a copy of your book to one of the named beneficiaries. One small act can make a world of difference. From Shadow Forest Authors website: Our mission at SFA, to encourage every […]
If you want to see how big the Millennium Dragon is, you can visit him at the Chinese Museum in Melbourne.
I haven’t made a patchwork quilt since my daughter was a baby. It was heaps of work and in the end, I only made a quilt the size of  a cot. The other day, while I was walking my dog in the park, I went inside a shop that sold everything related to patchwork. I […]
Since having kids, I’ve learnt that being highly organised is the only way I can cope with my two passions – my children and my writing. When they were small, I would try and have most of the dinner cooked before I took them to school. Then I could devote my day to my stories […]
I read an article in The Age this morning about Ernest Hemingway penning stories in cafes. I discovered the beauty of writing in cafes when I was in Brisbane on a month long May Gibbs Residency last year. It was truly wonderful having ME all to myself 24/7 – living with my characters and the […]
Are you more right brain than left brain? Take the Right brain vs Left brain Creativity Test and see how you score It will take you about 10 minutes to complete. Let me know how you scored. I was slightly more right brain which I’m glad about as I consider myself a creative person. Do […]
When I thought I was safe at home…. A study has been conducted by Queensland University of Technology into laser printers. It seems that some printers can emit dangerous ultrafine particles into the air.  A range of printers were tested, some with no emissions, some with low, medium and high emissions. Unfortunately, the brand of […]
I had a lot of fun yesterday at the launch of my new book A Ghost in My Suitcase. Here are some photos from the launch. More will be posted on the Ghost in My Suitcase page of this website. Thank you to all who came. This is the beautiful fishpond chocolate cake made by […]
My new book  A Ghost in My Suitcase will be launched here in Melbourne tomorrow. Everyone is welcome.  Come along and help me celebrate. I hope to see some of you there.
It seems that almost everyone I talk to here in Melbourne knows someone who has either lost their life, or their home, or been affected in some way by the recent bushfires throughout Victoria. I went to taiqi this morning and one of my classmates told me that her brother lost everything except his car […]
With 3a water restrictions in place throughout Melbourne and with the on going drought worsening, I decided to try my sister-in-law’s method of car washing. I found it worked like a dream! All you need is half a teaspoon of  Martha Gardner’s Wool Mix in half a bucket of water and a cloth. I use […]
People often ask me about the dog I’m holding in the photo on my website. Let me tell you a little about her. Saffy is a golden cocker spaniel. She is 12 years old which is 84 in human years. I got Saffy as an 8 week old puppy from Ararat. She was very easy […]
Thank you to my nephew Jin, who revamped my website. I think it looks fantastic.
My latest book,A Ghost in My Suitcase came out last Monday. Be one of the first people to write a review. The best ones will be published on this website. Please include your first name and your age.
Someone wrote to me saying how she appreciated my handling of the topic of death and grief in my new novel A Ghost in My Suitcase. She asked what inspired me to write about these sensitive issues? Death IS a very sensitive issue, but perhaps more so in Australia than in China. The Chinese view […]
1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 Those born in the Year of the Ox are hardworking, well balanced, patient, honest, and persevering. They are very responsible and thrifty and are natural born leaders. Oxen love a sense of order and will apply themselves wholeheartedly until the job is done. They love nature and […]
In this painting of a water buffalo I used a Chinese paint brush and ink on Chinese water colour paper. The paper is very absorbant so you need to work really fast. I like working with this medium but it means you can’t make any mistakes because every brushstroke is visible. See if you can […]
Three new things I did when I was in America: Walk across a frozen stream Visit a town where nobody locks their doors and leave the keys in their cars Being stuck in a snow storm in an aeroplane on the runway in Boston for four hours
Have just received an advanced copy of A Ghost in My Suitcase. This is always a very exciting time for an author. Even though it is not in the bookshops yet, it has already been reprinted. The girl on the front cover is my cousin’s daughter. She is so excited to be on the cover […]
On Sunday I’m off to America, to Los Angeles and Boston. The trip is not connected with my writing, but  I will be doing a lot of writing on the way. Even when you’re supposed to be on holidays a writer’s mind never rests. It will be freezing in Boston. I’ve heard it’s snowing there […]
I had a wonderful morning at Camberwell South talking to the grade fives and sixes. Some pieces of great writing came out of the talks and wonderful drawings of Peng too.
This is the cover for my next book, A Ghost in My Suitcase. It’s a story about a girl called Celeste who inherits a very powerful gift – the gift of ghost-hunting. If you’ve read The Pearl of Tiger Bay, Por Por, the ghost-hunting grandma also stars in this new book. The girl on the […]
Every now and then articles appear in the newspaper that are out of the ordinary. I like these little stories. They break us out of our traditional ways of thinking. Strange things do happen in the world. Stories like these can also be used as inspiration for a novel and they can change the way […]
This morning all the ambassadors for the Vic Premier’s Reading Challenge, and I am one of them, were invited to the Great Hall in the National Gallery for a special presentation. The schools whose students read the most books were given a special certificate by the Premier. It was great to see so many enthusiastic […]
It is a nice change from writing to be doing the illustrations for A Ghost in My Suitcase. These black and white pencil and ink drawings will be dotted throughout the text as in a previous novel of mine, The Pearl of Tiger Bay. The first illustration is Celeste’s business card. The second is of […]
Who were/are your writing inspirations 1. I’m inspired by Chinese philosophers like Laozi and Zhuangzi. I like to use some of their thoughts in my books. They talk about peace and harmony and going with the flow. Where do your ideas come from for your books? 2. I write from my personal experiences because I’ve […]
It was very strange but for about a year while I was writing the first draft of my new young adult novel Little Paradise, I did not remember having one dream. As soon as I sent the manuscript off to my publishers though, that very night I began to dream again, and have done so […]
Now that i’ve basically finished A Ghost in My Suitcase, I’m doing the small black and white pencil illustrations that will be inserted into the text. There will be about two illustrations per chapter and each one takes about half an hour to complete although that also depends on how complicated they are, or if […]
It was great visiting schools for Book Week. I always enjoy meeting my readers and all the students did some wonderful writing and drawing during the sessions. My new novel, A Ghost in My Suitcase is progressing well. I sent the second draft to my publishers on Monday which was a big improvement on the […]
Every now and then articles appear in the newspaper that are extra ordinary. I like these little stories. They break us out of our traditional ways of thinking. Strange things do happen in the world. Stories like these can also be used as inspiration for a novel but more importantly, they can change the way […]
A Stowaway’s Short Trip A thirteen year old boy wanted to see Iceland so he stowed away on a fishing trawler. Seventeen hours later the trawler moved to the next dock for repairs. The boy went home.