Gabrielle Wang is an award winning author and illustrator of junior fiction and Young Adult novels. She was born in Melbourne of Chinese heritage. Her great grandfather came to Australia during the Victorian Gold Rush in 1853. As a result, Gabrielle’s books are a blend of both Australian and Chinese culture with a touch of fantasy. Her first novel The Garden of Empress Cassia won the 2002 Aurealis Award, was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and was a CBCA Notable Book. Her second novel The Pearl of Tiger Bay was shortlisted for the 2004 Aurealis Award. Her other novels include The Hidden Monastery and The Lion Drummer which has been named a Notable Book in the 2009 CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Gabrielle’s latest junior novel, A Ghost in My Suitcase, won the 2009 Aurealis Award Best Children’s Novel. Her latest books in 2010 are a picture book, The Race For the Chinese Zodiac, and a young adult novel, Little Paradise. For more detailed information visit Gabrielle’s website.
1. A Ghost in my Suitcase won the Aurealis for best Children’s Novel for 2009 – congratulations! It’s a prequel to The Pearl of Tiger Bay, this time focussing more on the grandma character. Do you think the two books will appeal to the same readership? Do you often get the itch to explore secondary characters in more detail, or was it a surprise to revisit this character?
Both A Ghost in My Suitcase and The Pearl of Tiger Bay are for the same readership ie 8 -12 year olds. Often while writing a story you discover a character that is too good to remain in the background. The character of Por Por, or Chinese grandma, was so strong in The Pearl of Tiger that she cried out to be the centre of her own story. I used her therefore as a major character in A Ghost in My Suitcase. Characters are funny creatures. You think they come out of your own imagination, but I’m not so sure anymore. While I was writing A Ghost in My Suitcase, Ting Ting began life as a male university student called Kai. But there wasn’t any tension between him and Little Cloud, my main character. As soon as I turned ‘him’ into ‘her’ – a sullen fifteen-year old girl – the story suddenly took off because she was so feisty. And again in my new Young Adult novel, Little Paradise, one of the characters told me he had to die, so I killed him off which later became a major plot point.
2. You’re Chinese Australian, and grew up in Melbourne at a time when there weren’t many Asian faces around. How has your childhood affected your writing and your art? Do you think that having that two cultures to draw from has been an advantage, creatively speaking?
Initially it was very hard being the only Asian in my school, and hardly seeing an Asian face in the street except in Chinatown. It took me a long time to realize that having two cultures was something to be proud of. But then again, if I hadn’t had those experiences of alienation, I probably would not be a writer now. A common theme that runs through all my books is the search for one’s identity. The other is creativity because I was an artist before I became a writer. My attitude towards being Chinese changed when I went to RMIT where I studied graphic design. We were all art students and we all wanted to be different, so we celebrated our differences. Later I went on to study Chinese language, then painting and calligraphy at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou for two years, and again I was the outsider, but that’s another story.
3. You have two new books out now, or very soon – Race for the Chinese Zodiac (for which the pictures look incredible!) and Little Paradise. Will we see more picture books from you in the future? What ideas or settings are you thinking about at the moment, for new stories?
I would like to write another picture book and this time illustrate it myself. Sally Rippin and Regine Arbos did a fantastic job with the illustrations of The Race for the Chinese Zodiac. Illustrating takes time so I create small pencil drawings and insert them amongst the text in my novels. At the moment I’m working on a series of four novels but they are not in the speculative fiction genre, they are historical fiction for 8- 10year olds. I’m longing to get back to speculative fiction though because that’s what I love writing.
4. With Aussiecon4 coming up this year, there has been a lot of buzz about nominating Australians for the Hugo awards. Do you read much within the Australian speculative fiction scene?
Not as much as I would like to. I read mostly children’s or YA.
Are there Australians you would like to see nominated for a Hugo this year?
We have so many great authors, but for this year, how about Margo Lanagan?
5. Will you be attending Aussiecon4 in September? If you are, what are you most looking forward to?
I am planning on going. It will be a break from this series of four novels I’m working on: one novel every three months during this year.
What I am looking forward to there? Of course, besides the great program, what I really like to see are all the fantastic costumes worn by the attendees!