This week I asked Joyce Chng some questions about her new picturebook, Dragon Dancer, and learnt about her home country of Singapore and her special love of dragons. I also found out what sends shivers down her spine…
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about where you live?
I am a Singaporean author. I write science fiction and fantasy, also a fair bit of Young Adult science fiction. I have recently completed a Young Adult/Middle Grade fantasy set in Qing China. Singapore is an island, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is a multicultural country with many races and ethnic groups. We celebrate many festivals and traditions, due to the legacy of our immigrant forebears. I am Chinese, so I celebrate many festivals based on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Dragon Dancer is a story about a boy called Yao, who is a friend to a dragon who may or may not be real. Yao and Shen Long go dragon dancing. Shen Long chases the bad luck away, because it is Chinese New Year.
Why dragons? Why Chinese New Year?
I love dragons! And dragons are auspicious creatures, bringers of good luck and symbols of strength. Chinese New Year is one of the major lunar festivals on the calendar and one of my favourites. You get to wear new clothes and shoes, eat delicious delicacies and for children, get red packets filled with money. We also call Chinese New Year Chun Jie, which means Spring Festival.
Do you think your cultural and ethnic background influences your writing?
I think it does. When I write – say – a short story, I end up weaving the traditions into the tale. For example, in Rider, my YA science fiction novel, the main character is of Asian/Chinese descent, and throughout the story there are references to food, festivals and cultural practices. Some practices I remember from my childhood, like the use of fresh flowers to wash away bad or ill luck.
What do you think of Jérémy Pailler’s illustrations for Dragon Dancer?
I think they are gorgeous! They lift the story into another stratosphere! Do you know that I was born in the year of the Rabbit? There is an illustration where a rabbit watches Yao and Shen Long. That just sends shivers down my spine!
I just hope that readers will enjoy the story as it is. Perhaps a message that it is alright to be afraid, to feel unsure. Perhaps a message that courage is also found on the inside. Yao doesn’t want to disappoint his grandfather, so perhaps a message about learning to respect our elders. And most of all, readers can learn how much Chinese New Year means to the Chinese.
Do you think children living in Singapore and children living in the UK will appreciate the story in different ways?
I would think so. The Chinese children living in Singapore live in a culture where they do get to celebrate Chinese New Year and other Chinese festivals. But I think it is a good way to encourage them to read about Chinese New Year from a different perspective. We have books on food, festivals, Chinese gods, lion dances – why not dragon dances? As for children in the UK, I think they would appreciate it because it tells them a story about Chinese culture and how a Chinese boy experiences it with his friend, a dragon. Furthermore, dragon dances are not just dragon dances. To me, a dragon becomes real when the music of the drums starts.
Definitely it is important! I think children can learn about cultures other than their own when they read books.
When you’re not writing picturebooks, what literary genres particularly appeal to you?
Science fiction and fantasy. Urban/contemporary fantasy. Steampunk.
Finally, can you give any aspiring authors any tips for their writing?
Write. Do not be afraid to fail. Write even more. Submit even more. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Write and write and write.