Author Interview: Christopher Cheng

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Today, let's get to know award winning Australian children's book author Christopher Cheng. I've asked Chris a few questions so that he can introduce himself and his work to readers of Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind.

Thank you so much for sharing, Chris!

What was it like growing up Asian Australian? How has the experience informed, influenced, and/or inspired your work as a writer for young readers?

My dad is from Hong Kong and my mother was born here of European ancestry. I have the best of both worlds being half Australian born Chinese. I got to live in Australia but travel to Hong Kong regularly as a kid, meeting relatives and having just the best fun!!!! Growing up I was in a school with kids whose parents were of a range of different heritages. There were though only a few of Chinese ancestry and I would think that it is true to say that I really didn't think that I was much different to any of the other kids - although I did have a Chinese name! Now as I travel throughout Australian country towns I am on the lookout for evidence of the Chinese immigrants - especially in the names written on the buildings in the towns. Even the cemeteries where the Chinese were buried, those were either Chinese who didn't need to have their {remains} sent back to be with their ancestors. Australia was their home now. They were amazing folk and maybe I think it would have caused just a bit of concern for their ancestors back in China!!!

What is it like being an Asian Australian writer for young readers? What are the challenges and rewards?

I LOVE being who I am - an Asian Australian writer. Being half Chinese I have a unique view of the Chinese 'story'. Many of the cultural mores I know and I think that can add that insight to the stories I write. I certainly didn't grow up knowing the festivals and all the procedures and processes although on our frequents trips to Hong Kong as a child I was fascinated by the rituals and the happenings - my grandfather's property even had a Buddhist temple on it and I remember the early morning calls and chants. I vividly remembers the wafting smells of the incense and all those offerings! The family still own the property and the residence there! As I have grown older I have become more and more fascinated by the Chinese life and the culture and the rituals - the festivals and the celebrations I adore.

One of the other really amazing things that has been welded to my brain when my first historical fiction novel came out happened in one of the schools where I was conducting an author visit / writing workshop. This school had quite a large number of Asian students. One of the boys came up to me and asked me to sign the book - which of course I love doing - and then he leant close and whispered to me ... I really love what you write - you write for boys like ME! Talk about getting instant goosebumps ... I had to take a sip of water and would I have been permitted to give him a hug it would have been done so.

Can you tell us a bit about the books you have written featuring Asian Australian characters?

I have especially loved writing my historical fiction stories of the Chinese Diaspora. I have three at the moment, New Gold Mountain, The Melting Pot and Seams of Gold.

The first two titles are based on incidents that actually did happen here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They are very true to the facts - written in diary form. The characters of course are made up but I even used the names of Chinese immigrants here in Australia - I found those names on the documents in our oldest library. The third is more an amalgamation of bits and pieces I gathered.

What a wonderful story of these Chinese immigrants. So much of Australia, and a few years earlier the United states of America, was built on the back of the Chinese worker. The Chinese here were brilliant traders and extremely clever at extracting the gold. They were ingenious.

When I am writing I spend HUGE amounts of time (read lots, read weeks and weeks, read weeks and months) researching the facts behind the story. This has two benefits ...


I get to gather more and more factual material, I love to find out the weather conditions at the time. I read copies of the local papers that were printed, I love delving into the government archives (and no it is not to inhale the musty smell of all those old papers and documents!). I get fascinated about the real life characters that I uncover - what they were doing, how they lived and more.

and TWO

When I FINALLY get down to writing the story it is mostly formulated already. I simply have to write down the words. Through all that research my fictional characters are forming. The story just flows from my head and out through the keyboard ... I will though have already been gathering notes and scribbling those in my Made-In-China red spined book we get nice and cheap from the newsagent here! And the plan for the story will have already been scribbled, mind map style, onto my wardrobe wall, so the actual story writing just falls out - mostly. Of course then there is the editing part which I HATE! But thankfully I have great editors.

PS ... I have the BEST job in the world!!!!!

Thank you again, Chris! =D


My beautiful cousin Kate, who lives in Manama, Bahrain, has sent me a copy of Abdullah and His Grandfather, written by Andy McNab and illustrated by Patricia Al Fakhri. I can't wait to read it and blog about it!

Abdullah and His Grandfather was published in 2008 by Jerboa Books. Jerboa Books is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and is dedicated to producing top quality children's books with a focus on Arabia. I am so glad to have discovered this publisher!

Mardel of Rabid Reader has given Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind a Beautiful Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Mardel!

By the way folks, Mardel is a really youthful and cool grandmother! :o)

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