“I feel I am still a kid….it is the best thing about being kids’ author”
–says AF Christopher Cheng on his recent visit to India at the launch of his picture book Water in Hindi and Tamil languages by National Book Trust, India. National Book Trust, India recently launched a picture book Water in Hindi and Tamil, by Christopher Cheng, a celebrated children author from Australia. Feeling excited about the launch he said, “Although I do not know which one is Hindi and which one is Tamil. What’s more? It is available at all good bookstores in India – well at least from the National Book Trust, India. How wonderful it is to hold this new edition in my hands!” A lovely gathering of people were there to celebrate the launch, and after introductions and greetings – and unwrapping the actual translated books – there was the reading of Water in English, Hindi and Tamil, page by page in tandem by Dr MA Sikandar, director NBT, India. Then it was time for Chris to present a very short 20 minute talk on children’s books and publishing in Australia.
Christopher Cheng is the award winning author of more than 40 children’s books in print and digital formats including the picture books One Child, Sounds Spooky and Water. He has also written the historical fiction titles New Gold Mountain and The Melting Pot and non-fiction titles like 30 Amazing Australian Animals and Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations. He is co-chair of the International Advisory Board for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international advisory board member for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFChristopher) and a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for Children’s Literature.
During his recent visit to India, Smita Dwivedi (SD) got opportunity to interact with him and here she brings funny side of this celebrated author.
SD: Are your characters inspired from real life?
Christopher: Sometimes I certainly do. Most of my fiction characters are based on people I know – not just one person but bits and pieces from a few people. I have a book of names that I sometimes use but as I create a character in my head, I create their name based often on what that character is doing … so that it is an Ashley character or she acts like a Sarah.
SD: How do you come up with your ideas for the books?
Christopher: Sometimes I am given the idea by the publisher who asks me to write for a series and I might discuss the concept with my wife and she helps me with ideas. Sometimes an object stimulates a writing idea. At times, I just wake up in the middle of the night and seem to know what to write next. And then I have a few books full of my observations and recollections that ‘could’ become ideas for stories.
SD: How do you decide where to begin?
Christopher: For me, it is usually getting the story plotted out and then starting where I feel most comfortable. Usually that is the beginning, but sometimes I have written the end of the book first (because I was afraid of forgetting the end after thinking about the book for so long) and then I went back to the start.
SD: How long does it take to write a book?
Christopher: How long is a piece of string? It really depends on the book but for all books it is not simply sitting down to write the story. There is the research and the blending and cooking time before the actual writing begins. Of course once the draft is completed, I start at the beginning again and edit the entire story. Often it takes a few more complete rewrites, maybe six or seven, before the book is cooked! One of my picture books has taken years to complete!
SD: If you get stuck for an idea, what do you do?
Christopher: I probably jump to another piece of writing I am working on – it could be another book or it might even be research. But I do spend heaps of time researching and plotting and planning so often when I am physically writing, it flows out … that is because I have planned the book out before I begin.
SD: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Christopher: That would definitely have to be the editing … but that is part of the craft. I can write a lot of material for a story and then have to go through the editing process. Sometimes this may take five or more rewrites before I am ready to send it to the editor … who then tells me that the story is wonderful but it requires a little more finessing.
SD: Where and how do you write?
Christopher: In my office surrounded by books with my computer. I have a wardrobe mirror that is my planning wall (at the moment it has a map of George Street, Sydney 1910). My desk is a huge old desk that came from a station master’s office. There is a telephone close by (although I often don’t answer it) and often a CD player playing music – classical or jazz. Before I start the writing, I must have all domestic duties done. Turning on the computer, having all my reference books close at hand (I hate having to search for something in spite of my having in the house), taking a break from the computer screen and keyboard every 20 minutes (I sometimes set my computer alarm to chime for breaks), having jazz or classical music wafting in the background … but no other distractions.
SD: Which is your best book so far?
Christopher: The next book SD: What else you do besides writing? Christopher: When my wife is home, we do lot of things together – go to movies, read books, long walks, we totally enjoy being together. I am the domestic help at home so I love to spend time cooking in the kitchen trying out new recipes that I might have seen in a magazine or a new cookbook. I do the washing and the vacuuming too. If my house is dirty, I can’t concentrate on my writing.
SD: What advices can you offer aspiring authors?
Christopher: Write every day, be observant, plan your stories and enjoy what you do.