Gabrielle Wang is an award-winning author and illustrator born in Melbourne of Chinese heritage. Her latest book is Meet Poppy, the first in a series of junior novels about a girl growing up during the Victoran gold rush.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I read a lot of dog and horse books when I was young. I was crazy about them – White Fang, Call of the Wild, Green Grass of Wyoming, My Friend Flicka, Lassie Come Home, to name just a few. Of course I loved Enid Blyton, especially the Secret Seven and Famous Five series. My mother instilled in me a love of books. When we were small she would read to us every night. We had a library of good adult books in our house that I read as a teenager – DH Lawrence, Gunther Grass, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Herman Hesse…. But the one book that I will always remember with love and affection is The Magic Faraway Tree. And I still have my original copy.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I didn’t discover that I loved to write until I was in my thirties. I was never good at writing at school. In fact I failed Year 12 English so I had to repeat the year again in order to get into Graphic Design at RMIT. All my life I wanted to be an artist. It wasn’t until later that I became interested in writing and illustrating picture books. I sent a few manuscripts off to publishers but was unsuccessful and gave it away. But the dream was always there. I hope my words transport, inform, provoke and evoke. I hope my reader catches a glimpse into another culture and sees the world through the eyes of someone who may be different.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I always read for pleasure unless it is for research. I don’t particularly like researching but a book can’t survive without it. I’ve read too many novels where the author has failed in this area. If a book doesn’t grab me from the start, I won’t persevere with it. There are too many good books out there that I want to spend my time with. But as a writer, part of me is still on the job. I might be enjoying the characters and the plot, but ideas for my own stories are always snapping in my brain.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I tend not to read a book that has the same subject matter as the one I’m working on. For example, when I was writing The Hidden Monastery about a boy and a mythical Chinese creature, I steered away from books about dragons like Carole Wilkinson’s Dragonkeeper.
As I mentioned above, sometimes a paragraph or page in the book I’m reading will spark off a completely new idea that I might be able to use in my WIP.*
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I love the way this book is set in the real world but travels into other dimensions. Most of my books do the same and I owe it all to Enid. The Chuangzi by Chuangzi and Tao de Jing by Laozi. I often use the way of the Tao in my writing. Any book by Ray Bradbury and Raold Dahl for their inventiveness, boundless imagination and twists.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
Ursula Le Guinn’s wonderful adaptation of the Tao De Jing by Laozi. I like the way Le Guinn has interpreted this incredible book.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Unique voice, great characters, exciting plot, beautiful lyrical prose, descriptions, philosophical ideas.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Boring, unoriginal, no layering, one dimensional characters, poorly researched, endless rambling instead of keeping to the story.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I have too many to mention. I have just finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and really really enjoyed it. I loved the voice, the ideas and the story. I do like Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
I would like to rephrase this question to ‘If you had to list them, what are some of your favourite books?
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The World of Nasruddin by Idries Shah
The Windup Girl Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Cloud Street by Tim Winton
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castenada
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Kahlila and Dimna – Tales of Friendship and Betrayal
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. This is a children’s book. I loved Appelt’s beautiful lyrical writing and the ancient feel of this story and the steamy setting of the everglades.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I always have an audio book on the go. This way I can read several books at once. I tend to zoom through an audio book because I can listen to it while walking the dog or cooking the dinner. And it’s easy on the eyes. The book beside my bed is always a slow read no matter what it is. I have an ipad and have downloaded a few books onto that. But for me it will never replace the simple elegance and feel of a ‘real’ book. On the plus side - More people might read because young people are used to interacting with screens, ebooks are cheaper and have less impact on the environment. I think print books will eventually die out but it will take a while and thankfully not be in my lifetime.
In her twenties Gabrielle went in search of her roots living in both China and Taiwan where she studied Chinese language and painting. Her stories are a blend of Chinese and Western culture with a touch of fantasy. She has twice won the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s fiction, and her books have been named Notable Books in the Children’s Book of the Year Awards, and shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. She is published internationally in the UK, US, South America, Korea and China. Her books include The Garden of Empress Cassia, The Lion Drummer, A Ghost in My Suitcase and Little Paradise.
You can read more about Gabrielle at http://www.gabriellewang.com/
(* work in progress)