Our chat with Christina…
I’ve always been an avid reader and I had always dreamt about writing, but it wasn’t until I had my own children and was immersed in the world of children’s books, did I start to spend much of my free time writing. It clicked when my daughter was in kindergarten and the Chinese teacher told them about the legend of Chang’e and Hou Yi and the Mid-Autumn Festival. I was fascinated by this folktale, which I knew nothing about, so I ran out to find a picture book about it to read to her, but couldn’t find anything. On a whim, I decided to write one myself. Initially, the idea was to write a picture book just for my own family, but as it developed, I thought it was something that I would like to share, that would perhaps spark an interest in Chinese culture in young children.
After I wrote the initial story, I found a local illustrator, Pearl Law, whose edgy and bright illustrations I loved, and less than 6 months later, I self-published the book in Hong Kong. The schools and bookshops are very supportive of local authors. About a month afterwards, I met with author Susan Blumberg-Kason, who was giving a writing workshop in Hong Kong as part of her book tour for Good Chinese Wife. One of the tips Susan gave was to make friends with other authors. So, after her talk, I got up the courage to go speak with her and tell her about my self-published book. She was so kind with her encouragement and generously introduced me to her agent. After a few emails, her agent, the wonderful Carrie Pestritto, signed me. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to go through the roller coaster of querying agents. However, there are still the ups and downs of submitting to publishers.
I was doing a reading in a bookshop in my hometown. One of the bookshop employees, a 16-year-old student, was flipping through my book and she started to cry. She told me that the Ah-ma in the story reminded her of her own Chinese grandmother, and she was overwhelmed not only to see a family that looked like hers in a book, but also one doing culturally specific things, like sharing mooncakes, just like her family did. It is so important that children grow up seeing books with diverse characters that reflect the world around them.
I have always loved Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It’s a timeless classic – I read it as a young girl and have just re-read it recently. I think Anne Shirley is a great role model – strong, intelligent, and courageous. Even though she was a poor orphan, she would remain positive; when girls were supposed to learn to be good homemakers, she received a scholarship and went to university; and when others questioned her or tried to put her down, she was always true to herself.
Go out and get involved in local writing groups and attend workshops, such as those offered with SCBWI. These give you a chance to meet people striving for the same goal, so you can share your experiences and give each other support. Don’t be shy about joining a critique group – it’s always difficult to hear feedback on your writing, but it will only help strengthen your story. Through my local SCBWI chapter and volunteering with the HK Lit Fest, I’ve had to opportunity to meet established authors, many of whom have been very generous with their words of advice and encouragement. I’ve had the chance to sit down and chat with exceptional writers, most notably Grace Lin, Jason Reynolds, and Lauren Child.