We have been doing a series of throwback posts of our conversations with storytellers, artists, poets, academics. These posts are found in our Behind the Books website and are being shared here now in our new home. This particular interview with Christopher Cheng was posted back in 2012.
We are truly privileged to have Chris Cheng with us today. Welcome to GatheringBooks, Chris!
Chris, you seem to be extremely busy recently what with being the National Ambassador for 2012 National Year of Reading, your many overseas presentations, and you have been given the Member of the Year Award for the SCBWI last year too. I know you have been asked this countless of times, but do let me ask it again, how do you manage everything?
I don’t do things that I do not enjoy. I love to do most anything to do with children’s books, where it is talking about them, promoting them, or …. Writing them. I absolutely love sitting down with an idea that has been floating around in my head for weeks and weeks (sometimes months) and then start to see it morph into something that I created – I often ask where did THAT come from!
Do tell us about your latest book Sounds Spooky as illustrated by Sarah Davis.
Sounds Spooky is just the most fun, the most stimulating, the most exotic book that I have created. It came about because one night I heard some really spooky sounds at my house. I live in the inner-city in Sydney and the roof of my house is metal so things tip-toeing across the roof at night are often amplified and imagined! I then thought more and more about some of the spooky sounds that I could hear, that then became list of words and then I had fun and played with those words, and played with those words and kept playing with those words for about 9 or 10 years until I had it just right. Not all picture book manuscripts take that long, another that is coming out later this year happened within weeks! It just depends on the book!
In one of your talks here in Singapore during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, you’ve spoken about your collaboration with Sarah and how amazing that experience was like for you, could you share with us a little bit about that as well.
My illustrator Sarah is a dream. She is a HUGELY talented designer and illustrator. She started with a beautiful pencil sketch that I gave to my publisher and then she decided to create 3D models instead and then photograph them and it was a brilliant piece of creating! Photographing my very own teddy bear … now that was special! How do these illustrators create such wonderful works of art … and they are works of art and should be hung alongside more acclaimed art in galleries and showrooms all around the country. I just loved seeing Sarah’s modeling creations.
What are your thoughts about spooky stories for children? What are some of your other recommended titles for kids and young adults?
Spooky titles are great – especially as they allow the reader to encounter the ‘spooky’ experiences in a non-threatening way. Being scared and learning to cope with it is part of growing up. Just like learning to live with other people, coping with schools and friends and relationships. That said Sounds Spooky has a very strange ‘scary’ twist to it that readers just adore.
We have many many wonderful Australian books popping out at the moment. Some that have come across my desk recently include:
The Violet Mackerel series (Anna Branford and Sarah Davis)
The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon (Aaron Blabey)
The Animal Rescue series (Jackie French)
In your Pocket Cheng History as found in your website, you noted that being a writer is the BEST job in the world, perhaps you could share with our GatheringBooks readers some snippets of why you feel this way.
I get to do what I LOVE doing.
I travel the world talking about children’s books.
I spend time reading kids books,
I get to sit with children (and adults) and share my stories.
I create something that didn’t exist – except in my wacky imagination before I wrote it down.
Reading can be, and most often is, such a personal experience so when people, especially children are reading my books they are letting me into their lives and letting me share parts of me (for there is something of me in every book that I write) with them. And with children I hope that my titles are helping children love books and love the reading experience. Reading also develops well rounded people. It feeds the imagination. It fosters feelings. It encourages thinking, creativity and curiosity.
Tell us about your hometown, Sydney. I was privileged to stay in Sydney myself for two weeks and found it to be a really beautiful place. Share with us how vibrant the writing scene is in Sydney. What are some of the opportunities afforded to you by being there in Australia in terms of collaboration with other artists?
I LOVE my city. And I love where I live … right in the inner-city. I think this is the area that bustles and teems with creative juices. All over the country writers and illustrators meet at different events and festivals and to chit chat about all things to do with kids books. Many of us also meet at associations and smaller gatherings just to critique and share our works. SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is Australia wide and vibrant and every state or territory has their own Writer’s Centres and associations, the Children’s Book Council of Australia is the oldest established body and represented Australia-wide. All the capital cities have writers festivals as do may large and small cities and towns.
Tell us about your travels. What are some of the more recent ones and do share with us a few anecdotes from when you visit other countries.
Late last year I was privileged to appear at Bookaroo Children’s literature festival in New Delhi India. That was a sensory explosion – especially of sight and sound. My first memory of leaving New Delhi airport was the sound of all those car horns and the traffic … and that was at midnight! I was sponsored as well by our Australian government and so they arranged a tour for me to a number of schools in New Delhi, Chandīgarh and Kolkata. That was so invigorating. I loved the kids there … they were full of questions and didn’t want me to stop talking! And travelling by train in India – wow! I have never seen sooooooo many people on a train platform – and they all boarded the train too!
When I travel to new countries I adore sampling the local cuisine (I don’t always like it but I *usually* try it). That said – I don’t like seeing the head of the animal placed in front of me to eat … I know that in many countries that this is such a privilege and so very special (to be offered the head) but it must be from my days working at the zoo that holds me back!
For me too getting in to the schools is vitally important. That is where most of the kids feel comfortable and so I like to be there with them.
And of course travelling to new countries provides me with stimulus for new creative works. I have lots and lots of thoughts floating around, and in my ideas book, from my recent trips to Singapore, Manila and India.
Do share with us a sampler of some of the things/books/activities that we should be expecting from you this year.
I have a new narrative non-fiction picture book that was such a thrill to write. It is about one of my favourite animals. The book is called Pythons (illus. Mark Jackson, Walker Books Australia). I also work creating digital books and I have been working with folks taking some of my out of print titles (sigh, but it does happen) and transferring these into the digital medium. Wow!