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Wai Chim.

It's been more than seven years since I first discovered Little and Lo dancing among the wildflowers of my imagination. My experience of bringing Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets from the page and to a book is probably a typical one, but to me it's been absolutely incredible. I still wake up most days in utter disbelief!

Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets is inspired by a traditional Cantonese nursery rhyme that I learned at a very young age and one that many other Cantonese children will be familiar with. My mother tells stories about me running around reciting this rhyme with pride to my aunts and uncles on a visit to Hong Kong. Chook Chook also draws on the stories of my mum and dad growing up in the semi-rural parts of China and Hong Kong, from the hustle and bustle of the markets to the tradition of food and family meals, which the 'Ma' in my book takes such care to prepare.

When I was growing up in the US, my mum and dad were very careful to instill many traditional Chinese values in my upbringing. I suspect that it was because they wanted to ensure I kept true to my culture plus it was the only way they knew how to raise a child in America. We spoke Cantonese at home, ate traditional Chinese dishes and my dad worked in a Chinese restaurant six days a week and he never had the usual public holidays off, not even Christmas. The exception was Thanksgiving because no red-blooded American ate at a Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving.

When I first came to Australia, for a while my goal was to become a writer. I enrolled in a few writing courses and did a semester at the University of Sydney and started working on a few children's book projects. I was exceptionally driven and came up with story after story, some good, some less good, some, well ... pretty rotten. But that was all part of the fun.

I originally wrote the manuscript for Chook Chook with a particular publisher in mind but I found out that they had actually closed their doors by the time I completed the work, so I bundled Mei, Little and Lo into the proverbial bottom drawer without so much as a peep. By then, I'd started working at my first proper job (so to speak) at an environmental publication where I wrote about organic fashion and sustainable building design. Since I was now writing for my work, I felt that maybe I had already achieved my goal. It seemed like it was time to put away my immature fantasies of being a children's writer.

Fast forward five years to 2011 I was now writing for brands online at a digital marketing agency. I saw a tweet from the Sydney Writers' Centre that the University of Queensland Press was accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I thought maybe it was time to give my creative writing another go. I de-ruffled Little and Lo's feathers and shipped them off to Queensland.

This simple act reawakened my love for creative story. I started to write a few other projects, joined a writers' group and rediscovered a passion and thrill for creating characters and crafting worlds for them. It was 'writing' but on a whole other level I had forgotten about--and I loved every minute of it!

Eighteen months later, the chickens have now found a home dancing on bookshelves. Also, I've started a collection of photos that my friends have taken with their mobile phones of my book in the bookstores. I think there's good potential to set up a Tumblr or Pinterest board for them: Chook Chook spotted in the wild! (Review p28)

Also Available

Australian and World Records 2013 Jenifer Corr Morse (Scholastic $13.99 pbk)

Lonely Planet (not-For-Parents) China & Britain Everything you ever wanted to know (A$19.99/NZ$20.00 pbk)


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Title Annotation:plus the Younger Reader
Publication:Reading Time
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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