Book People: Wai Chim
For starters – can we just all pause and take a moment to take in the glory that is the cover of ‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’? It contains all of my favourite colours and one of my favourite foods (dumplings) and the thing with the chopsticks and the noodle? GENIUS. I love cover design! The internals of this one are also top notch…with lovely illustrative pages to start each chapter and text fonts used to great effect.
I’m really chuffed to have Wai on the blog today – I’ve loved all of her writing and I always get quite excited at each new book – there is a spark and freshness to all she writes. ‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ is her first YA novel and I read it in two sittings – quite rare for me these days. I was captivated by the authenticity of the story…and the dumplings. The dumpling descriptions were outstanding, and when I ate at Din Tai Fung in Sydney on the weekend I really did think about main character Anna and her dumpling love!
‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ is an authentic portrayal of growing up in a migrant family and the taboos which can surround issues of mental illness within Australian/Asian families. Like fragrant Asian soups and warm dumplings nourish and comfort the body, Wai’s book nourishes the mind and warms the soul – it really is that good. If it were a dumpling it would be listed under ‘Chefs Recommendations’ on the menu.
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TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WAI CHIM
1.Tell us about your latest book, ‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’.
‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ is a contemporary YA set in Sydney that explores the difficulties, frustrations and emotional roller coaster that comes with having a parent with mental illness. Anna Chiu has quite a traditional Chinese upbringing so the book also interweaves plenty of cultural elements as well as discussions about what it means to be Chinese-Australian. It also deals with some of the cultural stigma that comes with mental health.
2. The Asian-Australian family in your latest book are dealing with some serious mental health issues. When writing YA how do you ensure you delve deeply into a serious issue while maintaining engagement and remaining age appropriate?
Everyday teens have to deal with some really tough issues and as an adult, and as an author, I think it’s important to recognise and acknowledge these situations. For the story, I focused on the heart and the emotions of the situation, putting in as much empathy as I could for every character, all while trying to remain ‘judgement free’. Regardless if they’re an adult or a teen, everyone is trying their absolute hardest and have the best intentions, even if their subsequent actions can be questionable. I think young adults are especially aware of and connect with this concept of trying hard and doing your best and honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if more adults did too!
I’m a huge believer in ‘own voices’ and greater diversity in children’s literature. As a child, I was always drawn to books that featured Asian characters and connected with stories where I could see my own situations play out – where I was able to discover ‘the language’ to talk about what I was experiencing every day. Interestingly, this is my first book that is set in a Western country and not in China, so in many ways this is the most honest book I’ve written as it as draws more directly on my experiences growing up with what I call a ‘hyphenated identity’ (Chinese-American/Chinese-Australian).
4. One for the dumpling lovers out there! In the ‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’, you say ‘Dumplings are the great social equaliser, and so many cultures and communities have some version of meat wrapped in dough, with recipes handed down through generations. It’s one of the reasons I love them so much’ (page 132). Your description of how to eat a soup dumpling was perfect and I wondered if a) you ate a lot of soup dumplings to get this passage just right and b) if you have a few favourite dumpling places to recommend?
I have definitely consumed my share of soup dumplings and sadly my extensive expertise meant I didn’t need to do additional research to get the passage right. 😀 But I definitely think I will have to observe others following the instructions in the passage – for research posterity’s sake!
In terms of favourite dumpling places, there are so many! Din Tai Fung is an absolute favourite as is New Shanghai. And that strip of Liverpool Road in Ashfield that I describe in the book definitely has some amazing dumpling joints; readers who are inner-west locals might recognise which one I’ve ‘fictionalised’ in the text.
5. What are you working on now?
I’m having fun with some ideas at the moment but I’m also taking a tiny bit of a break. It’s the first time in years that I don’t have a writing deadline ahead of me and I’m enjoying the space to play.
6. How did you get started as a writer?
Since I was a teen, I have always kept a notebook and a journal to work through my everyday observations, emotions and thoughts – so in so many ways I have always been a writer. As an adult, I realised I wanted to do this on a bigger scale by telling stories so I started writing manuscripts. One of them turned into the first draft of ‘Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets’ which was submitted to the slush pile at UQP with Kristina Schulz.
7. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
Stay curious. Don’t ever stop learning. Work really hard and be kind.
8. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
Gosh I fall in love with books and characters – across so many different mediums – all the time. So it’s more like what’s your favourite book of the moment (which for me right this second is ‘Jade City’ by Fonda Lee).
9. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
I am what is known I think as a ‘slasher’ – I work full time as a semi-web developer in addition to writing. If I wasn’t writing, I’d be doing something else creative as an outlet, like making stop motion animations of soft toy penguins on Instagram (check out @bogsthepenguin).
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
More love. Less shame. I believe our tendencies to feel shame in ourselves and our ability to cause shame to others are the underlying motivations for many horrendous and atrocious acts.
Bonus 11th question from me (Megan) was…Why do the Chinese words have a mix of both numbers and Chinese characters?
This book uses the Jyutping romanisation system for Cantonese language, which includes numbers that represent tones (inflections). Like many of her Western-born contemporaries (including myself), Anna Chiu speaks and understands colloquial Cantonese but doesn’t know how to read or write the much more complex Chinese characters. I’ve selected Jyutping as a way of representing her use of her Chinese tongue.
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