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Q&A with author & illustrator Gabrielle Wang

Headshot of Gabrielle Wang next to a colourful book cover
25 March 2021

Gabrielle Wang is a Melbourne author who's written more than 20 acclaimed books for children. Her most recent book, Ting Ting the ghost hunter, is a powerful magic realism story about finding yourself, ghost-hunting and Chinese mythology and culture. 

To mark her Children's Storytelling Workshop at the Library, Gabrielle answers some questions for young readers about stories, writing and ... ghosts.

Are your characters made up or based on real people?

Sometimes my characters are made up and sometimes they are real people and sometimes a combination. For example Harry Power, in the Our Australian Girl: Poppy stories, was a real bushranger in Victoria in the 1850’s and '60s. The same goes for my great grandfather Jimmy Chen Ah Kew, who I also included in the books. Even though the novels for this series are historical fiction and the main character, Poppy, is made up, I used real people as well. It’s fun and I love doing the research. Sometimes I see someone in the street or during a school visit and I think, they are perfect for the novel I’m working on at the time. Each one of my main characters though is based on me and many of my experiences.

What are your tips for becoming better at writing stories and drawing pictures?

The only way to get better at anything is through practice. If you like writing stories and want to improve, read and write a lot. If you enjoy the way an author writes, try copying their style even if it’s just a paragraph that you like. The same goes for drawing. In the past, that was the way an artist would learn to paint, they would copy the masters. When I studied Chinese painting in China this was how I was taught and I’m constantly looking at picture book illustrators that I like, to gain inspiration.

What were your favourite books and authors when you were a child?

When I first began to read by myself I loved the Milly Molly Mandy series by Joyce Lancester Brisley and The Secret Seven and Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. My favourite book of Enid Blyton’s was The magic faraway tree because it is set in the real world but crosses into other worlds. It is the book that inspired me to write, and I still have my childhood copy. These are the types of stories I like to write, ones that are not quite real and not quite fantasy.

I also used to love reading books about dogs and horses like Lassie come home, My friend Flicker and The silver brumby.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an artist, archaeologist or zoologist.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I saw the ghost of my dog Saffy soon after she died, so I do believe. She had come to say goodbye to me. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever had. I will never forget it.

Please tell us about your favourite Chinese folk tale and why it’s special to you.

The magic fishbones is an ancient Chinese folk tale that some say the Cinderella story came from. Like Cinderella, a young girl is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister and has to work from dawn to dusk. Her best friend is a beautiful golden fish that her father gave her before he died. But this fish is magical.

The other story is The weaver girl and the cowherd. It is one of the four great fables of China. It is a love story celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month on the Chinese calendar called the Qixi Festival when lovers look up to the heavens.

If you are interested in reading these two stories, I re-told them both in a book called Two enchanted tales from Old China.