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An update finally – and what’s coming next!

It’s been a while – a long while. Major apologies, I’ve been busy with a few personal things to be updating the blog. :)

A 'personal update' - I got hitched! :)

But aside from sharing exciting life milestones, I wanted to provide an update on what I’ve been working on. It’s a project that I am so, so amazed and thrilled (and a bit scared!) to be bringing together with the help and support of an amazing powerhouse team that sees the potential of what is at this moment, very much a work in progress.

The Freedom Swimmers

Between 1958 and 1973, thousands of Chinese youths braved shark infested waters, not to mention severe punishment if they were captured, to make the grueling long swim from Mainland China to Hong Kong. These youths were risking life and limb to escape poverty, social immobility and political persecution, with the hopes of discovering greater opportunity and freedom in the then-British colony. Collectively, they were known in the media as the ‘Freedom Swimmers’.

And one of them was my father.

I am thrilled to formally announce that Allen & Unwin have purchased my work in progress, The Freedom Swimmer (working title), a YA novel set in China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. It is (for the time being) the story of two friends, from very different backgrounds, coming of age in a fraught political and socio-economic climate.

The journey of writing this book is of course a deeply personal one for me. My father hasn’t returned to China since he set off for that big swim one fateful evening back in 1972. Today, he lives a simple life in New York, having recently retired from his longstanding job as a chef in a Chinese restaurant. He’s a shy man, strong and resilient, and when I told him I was writing this book – the first words out of his mouth were those of great fatherly concern.

‘Should you be writing about something that’s bad?’

The story right now is only very loosely based on his experiences – it is after all a work of fiction. But the process of researching and understanding this very significant point in history has taken me on a kind of crazy emotional and intellectually boggling trip. The characters in play, the political climate, past ghosts, the extreme poverty and living conditions – it’s so out of reach and almost unfathomable to me, a world away from my very privileged and safe American upbringing.

And it’s that world’s difference that my father sought, it’s what he dreamed of giving me. It was what spurred him on when he dove into those churning waters so many years ago. And I am amazingly humbled by this incredible man and beyond proud to call him my father.

I look forward to giving you a glimpse of the journey in 2016.


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Posted in Asia Literacy, Life and stuff, Publishing, Writing

Updates and general shenanigans

Wow! It’s the end of the July – just how did this happen??

While I’ve been fending off the cold Sydney weather (is it just me or is it colder this year than before? Or have I just acclimatised too much – where’s that NYker grit?) I’ve also been extremely busy and blessed with some fantastic author-y events and updates.

First and foremost, I had the pleasure of doing some author visits, including running fun workshops with the great kids at Cabramatta Public School. They were all super engaged and we came up with some hilarious ideas for characters – and I loved the questions coming in from the group. I definitely had a great time – thank you so much for having me along!

Thanks for your FABULOUS artwork Cabramatta PS! :)

Later that month, I had the privilege to speak with educators at the Asia Education Foundation National Conference as part of their TeachMeet program. It was thrilling to hear how schools are incorporating the Cross Curriculum Priority Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia into their programmes. I was especially interested to hear how educators are letting students take the lead on their language learning. It’s really exciting to see how creative and switched on everyone can be.

I also had the absolute pleasure to be part of the Culture, Place and Identity in Children’s Literature panel at the NSW Writers’ Center Kids and YA Festival later that month. This festival has a very special place in my heart – as it was one of the first I had ever attended to learn about the craft of children’s storytelling. It was so thrilling to be able to speak to aspiring writers now with the shoe on the other foot. :) I hope the attendees took away some good information – it was an absolutely delightful session. I was so incredibly humbled to be sitting on the panel with the fabulous Boori Monty Pryor, the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate – he had such wonderful experiences to share about his extensive experience working with kids. I was fascinated by Sarah Ayoub’s story about writing from her mono-cultural background growing up and Wendy Fitzgerald did a wonderful job chairing the session. (And a super congratulations to the amazing Aleesah Darlison for curating such an incredible festival programme!)

I talk with my hands!! :-P

There have been so many more highlights and happenings I can’t even begin to count – a special thank you to Lake Mac FAW for having me down for the day as well!

Jan from Lake Mac FAW with her beautiful chooks! Thanks for having me.

(Okay…now I can kind of see how it’s the end of July already. :) )

And of course – of course – Chook Chook: Saving the Farm is out now! I have to extend a giant THANK YOU to the booksellers, retailers, reviewers and of course readers that have been so incredible supportive of the series – you all ROCK AWESOME SAUCE!



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Posted in Publishing, Writing

Chook Chook: Saving the Farm is out in July

Here it is! The final tale in the Chook Chook series. I think they just look so great together.

Now you can pre-order titles directly from the site – and best of all I’ll sign them for FREE! Just visit the Shop, complete your order via PayPal and be sure to specify the recipient if you want the book signed.

Posted in Publishing

Writing Processes Blog Tour

Here we go! I was actually thrice tagged for this tour, first by the lovely Tania McCartney and then fellow UQP author Kathryn Apel (whose first verse novel comes out this year!) I had to refuse these two lovely ladies as I was away in Hawaii at the time and was sure I wasn’t going to be writing a blog post on a sandy beach in Waikiki.

Finally, the amazingly talented Aleesah Darlison caught up with me post-holiday and post-Somerset bliss, so of course I couldn’t refuse again! So here we go.

Aleesah Darlison writes picture books and novels for boys and girls of all ages.

Aleesah’s picture books include Little Meerkat, Bearly There, Puggle’s Problem (NSW PRC) and Warambi (2012 CBCA Notable Book Non-Fiction; 2012 Wilderness Society Award for Children’s Literature Shortlist; NSW, QLD & SA PRC). Her chapter books include Fangs and Little Good Wolf (VIC PRC). Her novels and popular series are I Dare You, the Unicorn Riders Series (SA PRC), theTotally Twins Series (NSW & SA PRC). Her latest is the Ash Rover Series and you can read more about her experience writing it on her own Writing Processes Blog and her website

When Aleesah’s not writing entertaining and inspiring stories for children, she’s usually looking after her three energetic offspring and her frisky fox terrier, Floyd.

And on to my bit!

1. What am I working on?

I’m very excited to say that I completed the very last bit of editing and revisions for the third book in the Chook Chook series called Chook Chook: Saving the Farm. My wonderful editor Kristy along with the very talented illustrator/designer Aileen Lord have been working hard to make sure this last book delivers everything you could be looking for in a final chapter – and I think we’ve done a fabulous job! I can’t wait for you all to see it come July!



Other than that, I’m really excited to be working on a new project, a manuscript for Young Adults. I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s very, very early stages, but I’ll say that it’s set in China and draws heavily on some very important events in history that have a deep personal significance to me. (Ooh is that a good enough of a teaser? Maybe  that should go in my synopsis to the publishers, yeah? 😉 )

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since releasing the Chook Chook books out there, I’ve learned so so much about what it means to tell a story and what I’m trying to accomplish in my funny little books about Mei and chooks.

My books are cultural, but what I also try to do in my work is bridge the gap that makes us consider ‘the other’. Sure, Mei’s world is different to our everyday, but her thoughts, feelings, reactions and emotions are so familiar that I think, well I hope, that children can read her and instantly feel as if they’re a part of her life. I’ve taken bits of America, Australia and China and woven together a story of family, love and heart that I hope resonates across cultural, political and lingual differences.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Writing for me is a way to understand deep truths about human nature and to make sense of the world around me. More recently, my writing has a been a way to explore my own identity and background. I love finding out about my own heritage and connecting the dots between what my parents taught me and my own intellectual curiosity and research. The downside is all this research has made me the annoying ‘know-it-all’ in my family circle, even though my Chinese is worse than everyone else’s!

4. How does my writing process work? 

My work starts with an underlying theme or a concept. I then map out main characters in some notes: what they’re like, their motivations and their relationships to each other. I then write down an overall summary, the blurb of where I think the story is headed. In doing this, I kind of instinctively know where I want these characters to go and how they’ll arc through their journey.

Other than that, it gets pretty muddled. I generally just start writing until I write myself into a corner and then have to research my way out! A lot of the time, I’ll have to backtrack completely (and scrap heaps of work!) because my research revealed a fundamental flaw or I came up with a better way for things to work. Aside from that initial story arc and synopsis (which I tend to stick to), I’m not much of  a planner and just know what’s coming up in the next scene or two – but miraculously, it seems to more or less work out how I wanted in the end!

So who’s up next??

Following up on my Somerset experience, I really wanted to work with emerging writers and find out more their writing processes. And I’ve got some promising ones for you to discover.
First up, is a good friend and supporter, Ian McLean. Ian is a well-known face and avid supporter of children’s books and he’s been doing some great work in developing his own writing as well – most importantly he joined our amazing writing group!!  I’ve seen some great WIPs, but I’ll let him tell you more. :) You can view some of his fab ideas on his blog.

I also wanted to introduce you all to the fabulous Julia Pillai, she’s studying Arts/Visual Arts at Monash University. This young writer has a lot of amazing ideas and observations that she shares on her blog while editing a play that she wrote which went through a performed reading with Monash University Student Theatre just last week (congrats!) – all of this, between volunteering and advocating a number of incredibly worthwhile causes.

Over to you! Thanks for reading!


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Posted in Publishing, Writing

Somerset Wrap Up and Writers of the Future

Wow just wow. I had an amazing time at the Somerset Celebration of Literature up in the Gold Coast last week. I was blown away by the generosity of the staff, the volunteers and the amazing author talent!! And everyone was so incredibly lovely, nice and welcoming to a nervous newbie like me.

My first festival - look the badge makes it official!

I met so many fabulous writers – including my total fan-girl moment meeting Gabrielle Wang for the first time. It’s probably no surprise that I absolutely ADORE her work and the beautiful way she incorporates elements of Chinese culture into her stories. And there were so many other amazing writers whose work I have always admired including the adorable AJ Betts, Jacqueline Harvey, Tristan Bancks and more.

With the gorgeous Rosanne Hawke and the beautiful book cakes. *nom nom nom*

Hilariously multi-talented duo, Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, had the kids in stitches. (And me feeling queasy about my own session!)

The amazing Claire Zorn explaining what it's like to write about a nuclear winter. I think I'm in desperate need of some survival tips.

Here's my session. The kids were so wonderful and engaged - really helped me through!

And my lovely team of protocols who helped me throughout the three days! You guys were absolute stars.

Writers of the future

What surprised me more than anything else was the extraordinary young talent that the festival also attracted. The kids were fantastic, so switched on and engaged.

I had the absolute honour to check out the session entitled ‘Meet the Novella Finalists‘. It included two young poets and three novella finalists from across the country. All 5 of them read their work aloud.

And they blew my socks off!

Seriously, wow! I can’t believe how intelligent, talented and disciplined these young adults are about their writing. They’re eons ahead of so many adults aspiring to be authors. They’re thoughtful, observant and insightful. They’re hard working, humble and grateful. They’re willing to go the extra mile to write and re-write and re-write again to create something worthwhile.

These young people come from that pure place of creation and imagination. They’re work was wonderfully rich and emotive. And I’m really hoping that they’ll keep at it – that they’ll keep writing and working hard on their craft. Because the world is waiting for it.

Congratulations to all of the finalists – you truly are all winners!

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Posted in Publishing, Writing

A Brave New World in Social Media – but I thought it was all about me

Sell Art Online

So this is purely an observation, but I thought I had to get it out and I’m curious to know what others think.

My Twitter App has been driving me mental. Last week I updated to some new version and suddenly my phone is going bonkers telling me ‘@so-and-so and 8 others are now following @somerandomperson’.

And I’m just like WTF??? GET OFF MY SCREEN.

I finally found the ‘secret settings’ to turn these types of notifications off (thanks to this article I found on Android but worked for iOS as well.) But then it got me thinking, has social media come full circle?

I remember when I first got into the digital marketing game, every early adopter/expert/guru/ninja was touting the same mantra, ‘Listen’ first. ‘It’s about the user not the product’. ‘You have to engage with tweeters/bloggers/influencers by making it about them, NOT about you’. The key takeaway, to some degree, was that you had to appeal to the ego and interest in one’s self. That’s what made ‘mentions’ so much fun – other people were talking to or about little ol’ ME! And that’s what I was interested in – how things affected ME!

So…fast forward to 2014 and what’s going on? My Notifications are about some randoms that Twitter thinks I should care about, mostly in an effort to boost their metrics and the connectivity between its users.

Am I the only person who thinks there’s a contradiction here?

The thing that I can’t wrap my head around is, from a monetisation/engagement standpoint, networks like Twitter would love it if every single one of its users was super popular and connected with everyone else. That’s the only way to ensure the success of their product. But we as individual human beings, seek uniqueness and specialness. We want to feel ‘popular’, ‘loved’, ‘advanced’ – beyond just being merely ‘included’.

It’s the same with other channels like Facebook or even searching for stuff on Google. Suddenly, I don’t really feel like these channels are about ‘me’ or what I’m interested in anymore, they’re about showing me something that someone else has paid to show me. They don’t actually care about ME even though I’ve given them heaps of data (willingly or not) about who I am and what my interests are. You see, as much as I do worry about privacy and giving away too much – ultimately, I still don’t feel like these channels know anything about ME. They know what some of my interests are but they lump me into the same camp as every other person who happens to like ogling cute animals on the internet or to read books and write. But at the end of the day, it hardly feels like any of this is about me.

I never thought I’d say it, but I’d love to go back to the good ol’ days of social media and online marketing, where #followfriday was curated by a human who told me a group of randoms I should follow. And often I did just that. It’s not because they knew me at all, but at least I happened to be one of the 10 accounts they mentioned, so hey!

(See, it was always just about me. :) )

Image: I am a Dead Bird

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Posted in Life and stuff

Sorry for being a Flake

Confession time. I’m definitely not proud of it and I have to own up to it, so here we go.

I can often be a total flake.

Okay, just a quick caveat, I’m a repetitive flake in very specific ways. This is why I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions and other goals because I know I’d flake out of them and just end up hating myself.

These are the types of things I flake out of ALL THE TIME:

1. Creative Challenges – writer’s circles, drawing challenges, things that require me to produce something on regular intervals. I’m terrible at these. And the thing is – I start with so much enthusiasm and really enjoy it and then totally run out of steam. Or I suffer some sort of fatigue. It’s not just the production part but the participation part of admiring everyone else’s awesome creations. Not that I don’t love them all but at some point my brain shuts off or it becomes immune to leaving positive commentary and ‘likes’.

The worst part is, I usually flake after 4-5 goes at whatever the challenge is and then get super busy with something and fade away. And the challenge keeps going and I want to take part again, but I feel super awkward about it! Like what’s the best way to do a sheepish, ‘Hello, I’m back. Sorry I was a flake, not that you guys should have really noticed I was gone.’ Um can I bake you some virtual cookies?’

2. Calling people back – for those people who don’t know me very well, I’m really bad at the phone. I hate it with a passion. I’m the one who ends up talking to herself because the line’s cut off and I had no idea? And I always feel self-conscious about talking and not being able to see the other person’s reaction. Like am I boring them to death, am I even making some sort of logical sense? Why won’t you say something?! (oh, you’re listening…)

I HATE the phone.

hate phone

Yes awkward penguin, yes.

Image credit.

What I hate even more is calling someone back. Because then I’m possibly inconveniencing you and chances are since I’m calling you back, whatever you wanted to talk about is probably super old news and irrelevant now but I have no way of knowing. Maybe you were just bored and wanted to chat or maybe there was a real problem and you’re still waiting for my help. There’s no way for me to know and if it was the first one, that’s just super awkward because there’s no point in chatting now but I’ve returned the phone call so we kind of feel we have to not waste that effort – and I end up being on the phone – which I hate.

So I’m a flake when it comes to calling people back. If at all possible, and I will love you to a hundred million pieces, perhaps you could just send a text, pretty please? :)

3. Birthdays & special occasions – okay this one is just silly. I have the best of intentions when it comes to remembering birthdays and dates. The thing is, I actually have a pretty good memory for dates and can recall most people’s birthdays/anniversaries etc that matter.

My challenge is remembering the occasion at the correct time. I never remember to wish people a Happy Birthday on the Actual day. I just won’t know what day it is. And yes, I know I can put it my calendar. But this is usually what happens:

Calendar Alert 9:00 AM: It’s dad’s birthday.
Me: Oh yeah, I should call him. But wait, it’s 7:00 PM in the US right now, he’s probably eating dinner or working the super busy dinner shift at the restaurant. I’ll call him later when it’s more convenient… *DISMISS ALERT*
7 Hours later: Oh shoot. I still have to call my dad. It’s now…*Does math in head* 3:00 AM…darn it.

(Yes, I am also aware that 7 hours later probably wouldn’t make it 3:00 AM…but that’s how bad I am at these things).
(EDIT: Come to think of it, maybe this one has a bit to do with hating the phone…hmmmm)

So special days and occasions – I am the primo flake.

And I’m sure there’s more. And that’s the other thing, I’m bad at making lists and writing detailed blog posts. I kind of just want to give you the basic idea and leave it at that rather than hash out all the squirmy, awkward details.

So can we do that, pretty please?? :)

And to everyone I’ve ever flaked out on as above or in some other way, I really really want to say:

I’m sorry. Here are some virtual cookies.

Image Credit.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Life and stuff

The life and times of a ‘slasher’

So it’s been a long while since I’ve updated – it’s been a hectic start to 2014. Chook Chook 3 is well on its way with the lovely team at UQP helping me with structural edits to get the story into tip-top shape – I’m excited for you all to read it later in the year. I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a medley of fantastic writer/author events including SCBWI Inside Story as well as the CBCA Illawara-South Coast Kids’ Day Out. It’s been fantastic meeting with kids, other authors and all of the wonderful kids’ book advocates out there, from the teacher-librarians to the parents and volunteers- it’s a wonderful industry to be in!

The other reason for my busy schedule is I’ve been looking after my ‘other career’ – well related career. Next week I’ll be starting a new role as a part-time content strategist for an ecommerce provider. I’m pretty stoked about this because while I’ve spent most of 2013 focusing on my writing (and getting a lot done!), I’ve kind of felt a bit out of the loop in the online marketing world of things. I’ve always loved content strategy and trying to find ways for businesses to meaningfully connect with their audiences through valuable and useful content. You see, I don’t think it has to be all boring banner ads and disruptive sales-y advertisements clogging our Facebook feeds. I really believe that businesses can provide and contribute to useful and meaningful conversations that can improve our lives – but we just have to discover the right way to communicate effectively.

So this year, I’m going to commit myself to being a ‘slasher’ – not THAT kind of slasher. But to embrace my dual nature in my career, and my life. So yes folks, I’m a writer SLASH author SLASH content strategist. And maybe I’ll add SLASH foodie SLASH professional dog ogler SLASH kitten cuddler. Here’s hoping.


Posted in content, Writing

Maybe we all just need a little love…

A beautiful Christmas tale, with a very important message.

I feel so amazingly blessed to be surrounded by friends and family, both near and far. To have met so many incredible and amazing people that have touched my life in a positive way.

So in the spirit of needing a little love – a very Merry Christmas everyone and here’s to a joyous holiday.

Posted in Life and stuff

Reviews and more exciting news (Chook Chook #3)

Oh gosh – it’s September already. This time last year, I was super nervous/anxious/excited about my first book ever hitting the bookshelves for the world to see. I cant’ believe it’s already 12 months later – and so so much has happened in this short time!

First and foremost, I have to say THANK YOU to all of the lovely people that have been a part of the release of the Chook Chook: Little and Lo in the City. It has been an absolute whirlwind, from the book party to some of the great feedback that’s been coming in about this second installment.

Chook Chook Book Party

Very excited about the Chook Chook Book Party

I’ve been incredibly stoked to spot a number of kind and generous reviews of the title – including my first author photo shoot.

Chook Chook Wai Chim

Chooks make me super happy!

Clearly, I was over the moon about it!

In other tremendously exciting news – Little and Lo will be back! That’s right – the final chapter of Chook Chook will be published by UQP in 2014! This adventure will be a big one and a lot more will be at stake – so stay tuned.

Thanks again for all your wonderful support – you guys rock. :)

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Posted in Publishing, Writing