A Ghost in My Suitcase




HIGHLY COMMENDED Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2010

Teacher's Notes

A Ghost in My Suitcase is published by Penguin Books Australia


See the trailer of the PLAY by Barking Gecko Theatre


“Gabrielle Wang’s book, A Ghost in My Suitcase, contrasts the cultures of Asia and Australia, with particular reference to the varying perceptions of the paranormal within these cultures. What made this the stand out book was the premise that no culture is better or worse, just different, in how it perceives and defines reality and the supernatural. It used the idea of the ‘Other’ on more than one level, without ever demonising or valorising one culture over the other. As well, the clarity and style of the prose is well suited to the plot and theme. Wang uses beautifully depicted characters and intricate settings to flesh out this elegant tale about memory, cultural identity, and how these relate to your sense of belonging. This book was chosen as the winner because it rated highly in all the judging criteria. However, a winning book is greater than the sum of its parts. All the necessary elements are well balanced in A Ghost in My Suitcase, but the book transcends those elements and rises into stellar brilliance”



“It is a remarkable achievement to blend so many themes successfully together. This story will have wide appeal to young readers, and is highly recommended.” ~Reading Time

“I Love Your New Book, A Ghost in My Suitcase. It’s The Best I’ve Ever Read!
I’ve Read It 5 Times And Reading it A 6th Now!
I Love The Idea Of Ghost-Hunting And How Celeste And Por Por Go On Adventures Together.” ~ Candice Age 13 

“A Ghost in My Suitcase is an adventure story with many layers. Gabrielle Wang tackles the subject of death poignantly… with a sure, light touch and with grace… and provides humour in the middle of grief and danger. A Ghost in My Suitcase, a poignant engaging read.”~ Sharon Greenaway Magpies

“What appears to be a simplistic novel seemlessly weaves a family mystery, anger, grief and a family profession that defies expectation. Celeste’s grandmother is a ghost catcher through an art that has been passed down through her family. Young readers will love the swords, hand signs and talismans that are the tools of the trade, especially as the key ghost issue of the novel is tied to many of our characters. It’s simply written allowing the characters to speak for themselves and for the reader to absorb the issues naturally. The spookiness of the ghost catching methods will also capture the imaginations are they are beautiful, thrilling and scary. Wang has constructed a great story of grief, culture, family history and ghost hunting in this middle grade novel. A Ghost in the Suitcase is a great story of the strength of family and the importance of family legacy.” ~ Adele Persnickety Snark

“Gabrielle Wang lets me taste Por Por’s delicate homemade dishes, and feel the mist on a poorly lit Shanghai street. I hear the thumps and bangs of unseen foes, and delight at open umbrellas in the old bus when it rains. Gently flowing, easy-to-read prose sets me floating down the river in a water taxi, yet the pulse beats faster as dangers are revealed. I can’t hide behind Por Por when things get complicated. What will happen if Por Por’s powers aren’t enough? Can Celeste save the day with her newly found gifts? You’ll have to read this treasure yourself if you want to find out.” Jo Burnell The Reading Stack

“When Celeste travels to China to visit her grandmother, she uncovers an incredible family secret, and with the secret comes danger and adventure. If she is to save her family and friends, Celeste must learn how to harness her rare and powerful gift. The wonderful descriptions in the book really place the reader in China through the eyes of a twelve year old girl going to the country of her mother for the first time. The illustrations reinforce this point, while being detailed they are small and simple like those a budding young artist might sketch in pencil while thinking how to express the feelings she has in words.”School Life Magazine New Zealand

“Her Mama has died and 13 year old Celeste is taking her ashes back to China, her mother’s ancestral home. Things are different in this country and her grandmother, her Por Por, is not what she expected. Her grandmother has a family gift – she is a ghost catcher. Does Celeste have this gift too? And there is also her Por Por’s adopted child, Ting Ting whom Celeste must get to know and then unite with to confront the ghostly danger ahead. A great story filled with wonderful Chinese culture.”Chris Cheng

“Hi Gabrielle,
I am reading one of your books The Ghost in my Suitcase. It is really interesting it is so interesting i am up to the chapter called The long silken thread i am loving it, it is the only book that i am going to finish because it caught my eye and i have never read a full book so you should be priviledged. After i send you this message i will be up to page 149 i love this book. i was wondering if you could make another book like this but like The world in my hands please i am thinking that i would like to be a writer when i am older because you have just inspired me with this book.~ chloe-lee

The Play 

A ghost in My Suitcase has now been adapted for the stage. I have written a blog post about its development from Page to Stage HERE

And a blog post about the World Premiere in Melbourne HERE


When Celeste travels to China to visit her grandmother, she uncovers an incredible family secret. And with this secret comes danger and adventure. If Celeste is to save her family and friends, she must learn to harness her rare and powerful gift.


During school visits I often get asked who my favourite characters are. The truth is, I like all my characters, even the really nasty ones. But sometimes a character quietly demands to be the star of their own book. This is what happened with the grandma character, Por Por, in a previous book of mine called The Pearl of Tiger Bay. She is a ghost-hunter and I love her for her quirkiness, her intelligence and wisdom. She is old and suffers from dementia and yet her ghost-hunting skills are still so powerful.

Who is Por Por?

I got to wondering about her life in China before she migrated to Australia. Where did she live? Where did she learn her ghost-hunting skills? What was her childhood like? Who did she marry? All these unanswered questions lead me to write A Ghost in My Suitcase. This novel, therefore, is a prequel to The Pearl of Tiger Bay.


The next thing I had to consider was setting. Setting is very important to me because I see every scene in my mind as if I am watching a movie.

The Water Town of Wuzhen

Three years ago, I visited the ancient water town of Wuzhen. It has a history of two thousand years. I knew this was the perfect place to base a ghost story around with its dark alleyways, quaint wooden houses standing in water, beautiful moon bridges and winding canals.

Ghost-Hunting in China

There is a long history of ghost-hunting in China. These sorcerers use special swords, mirrors, hand signs and talismans to trap their prey. I have used the equipment and methods of catching ghosts from books that I have read on the subject and combined these facts with my imagination.

My Heroine, Celeste

The young heroine in the novel is called Celeste. Celeste is a name I have always liked probably because, when I was first learning to talk, my mother would have me repeat it over and over again. She thought the way I said it was cute. It is also appropriate because my heroine is half French, half Chinese.

Taking From Real Life

Much of what I write is from personal experience and none more so than the chapter in the book called “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”. In the 1980’s I studied Chinese painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art, Hangzhou. That summer, we were taken on a field trip to Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province. The experience of the bus ride through the mountains was one I will never forget. Who has ever heard of putting up an umbrella inside a bus to shelter from the pouring rain, or frogs plopping around your feet on the wet floor, or a piglet in the arms of one of the passengers, or a man climbing on board with a bark cape, woven bamboo hat and two baskets of ducks?
I could never have imagined such a bizarre scene. Life is certainly stranger than fiction.

This article I wrote was featured in Penguin Education News

A box of magic pastels, a garden of healing, a fox spirit, a mystical Chinese monastery, a fantastical weather-controlling beast, a water town full of ghosts, and a ghost-hunting granny are but a few of the ideas I have used in my stories.

One cannot help but be influenced by one’s heritage and so I have drawn on mine, delving into the history, philosophy and folk tales of China, and combining these elements with my imagination to write my novels. At the same time, they act as a vehicle to convey my thoughts on deeper human issues.

A Ghost in My Suitcase is about loss and healing, the importance of family and friendship, finding the strength within to overcome emotional and physical difficulties, and the value of older generations in the passing on of knowledge.

But it is also a ghost story.

The idea grew out of a previous novel of mine called The Pearl of Tiger Bay. Por Por (the word for maternal grandmother in Chinese) is a ghost-hunter and was only a minor character in that story. But she had such a strong personality with her humour, quirkiness and courage that she called out to be the star of her own book.

I began to wonder what her life might have been before she migrated to Australia. What was her childhood like? What happened to her husband? How had she become a ghost-hunter? What had been her trials and tribulations? Who was she really?

One of the wondrously mysterious things about writing – and there are many – is that even though the characters are pure inventions, once conceived, they really do take on a life of their own. It is as if, once written into existence, they become real living people who feel free to dictate how the story goes. In fact, all the characters I have invented have become dear friends of mine, even the bad ones.
Therefore I cannot really take credit for inventing Por Por. I provided the mould, she did the rest herself.

Then there was the setting. Shanghai and the water towns in Zhejiang seemed perfect for a ghost story. While I was living in China studying at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art, I often visited Shanghai. This place is haunted by the many ghosts of the past. After losing the Opium wars in the mid 1800’s, China was forced to concede large parts of Shanghai first to Britain, then later to the French, the Americans and the Japanese. In these concessions, Chinese law was powerless. The foreigners built western style mansions, played polo and tennis, ate European food and shopped for western goods in western style shops and Emporiums. They lived and died in an artificial Europe, surrounded by the overwhelming reality of China, its beauty and its squalor.

Wu Zhen, the water town I based the Isle of Clouds on, is an example of this beauty with its narrow flagstone alleys and wooden stilted houses lining canals upon which graceful boats slip to and fro. It is very easy, as there are no cars in Wu Zhen, to imagine yourself there, walking around with the ghosts of a thousand years ago.

And now to my heroine, Celeste – a twelve year old who is embarking on an incredible journey taking her mother’s ashes home to China. In the first few drafts, Celeste was half Chinese, half Italian and her name was Isabella. But then I thought it would be interesting to use the French concession in Shanghai as a backdrop, with its colourful history and its many ghosts, so I changed her name to Celeste. And now you will find that she is half French, half Chinese. Writing is all about going with the flow.

There are three things I know for certain when I begin a novel.
1. My audience
2. The setting
3. That it will end happily

Everything else is left up to choice. I make hundreds of small decisions everyday to do with plot, voice, characters, sentence structure, words, and punctuation.
That’s why, even if it is a rather lonely existence, I will never tire of writing stories. Of course, I always have my characters to keep me company.

And now this book is travelling beyond my wildest dreams. The play by Barking Gecko Theatre has had its Melbourne season. Next stop The Sydney Opera House!



A GHOST IN MY SUITCASE can be purchased online or from your local Australian bookshop