Hello everyone, I’m so excited for this author Q&A because it’s with an author who wrote about Asian folktales, the folktales that I grew up with and SHE GREW UP WITH as well! We have so many things in common already. If you wanna check out my review on The Girl Who Became A Goddess: Familiar Asian Folktales, you could click the image below or HERE.
Without further ado, let’s get into the questions!
1. What made you come up with the idea of writing about Asian folktales and myths?
I have always wanted them to experience the delight I enjoyed as I grew up hearing these tales. This was a project that I had always planned one day to do.
2. How long did it take to gather all the information you needed and how did you pick what tales to include in this book?
About 3-4 months. When I decided to write the book, I picked the 21st of May for publication as it was the International Day of Diversity. I probably would have made the book longer if I had more time, but I was working to a deadline.Books take time to be published. In this case, I had to send the manuscript to an editor and then to a second editor, Dr Mark McLeod, to write the foreword. Mark is a very busy man so even though I finished the manuscript months before the deadline, I had to give him time to read the manuscript and to write the foreword. The manuscript also had to be sent to a sensitivity reader.
I will always be greatly indebted to Mark for agreeing to write the foreword. And to Libby Gleeson, who is Australia’s foremost children’s author, and to JG Faherty, another award-winning author, for their support and encouragement.
Each story chosen had to be one I grew up with. I also had to like the story. Lastly, the story had to come from someplace I felt connected to. I was raised in Singapore and Malaysia, and of course, my ancestors are from Singapore, China and Malaysia.
3. Why The Girl Who Became a Goddess and not other folktales instead? Is there a special reason?
I knew about Sang Kancil from school, similarly with the other stories, but the Legend of Chang E was special because of the yellow decorative plate that hung on the walls of my parents’ house. That plate made me feel connected. It was as if the world of the legend resided in my home.
I write about girls who save the world, and Chang E is one girl who really saved the world. Had she not swallowed the pill of Immortality and flown to the moon so many lives would have been lost from Hou Yi’s disastrous wars, when he later became a despot.
4. What do you hope to achieve by writing this book?
That my children read the book, and to experience vicariously the delight I had when I was told these tales. And if possible, for them to know where their mother came from – I don’t just mean to know Singapore and Malaysia – what made her who she is today.
5. As I started reading the book, I noticed there were lots of explanations regarding the origin of the stories. If you don’t mind to share with us, why are those explanations necessary?
I did not put the explanations in for Asians. Or Europeans. I inserted those explanations for two Eurasians: my children.My children are not interested in their parents’ culture. Maybe it is a boy thing? But I hope one day that they will be. I might not be around when they are. These explanations are for them.
6. In my review of the ARC, I mentioned about the way the stories are being organized and my question is, is there any specific way for you as an author and your team in organizing the stories in the book?
Organizing the stories was a headache. I chose this order and I am glad my editor, Amanda, agreed. I chose Sang Kancil because I just had to start with him. He is my hero and I adored him as a child.I still do.
I am proud of my heritage. I want the world to know that just because places like Singapore and Malaysia are small, that they are not insignificant. We are like Sang Kancil, minor and hardly noticed, but we are brave and clever. We thrive.
The next story was the one I had the most vivid memories of because the Pontianak terrified me and still does. Just hearing the word Pontianak-
As I was born in Singapore, I then placed Red Hill next. I felt I couldn’t wait any longer. That story chills me each time I hear it. I still feel for that poor boy who was sacrificed.
After all that horror, I inserted Stone Soup because it had a pleasant ending. The Legend of Gunung Ledang followed for the same reason. Then it was back to horror again with The Cricket Son which was placed next to the title story The Girl Who Became a Goddess partly because they both originated from China.
I ended with The Girl Who Became a Goddess because that was the longest story and the reason for the book’s title. The story should have been half its size but as I kept writing, the story grew and grew.
Like most Chinese, I knew a little about Chang E and as I wrote about her, I felt her struggles. She was a girl born in a time where women had to know their place and yet she made her mark on the world. She was not afraid to speak out or to fight.
7. How do you relate yourself with all the folktales you’ve included in the book and what’s your favourite Asian folktale?
I have lots of favourite folktales, and not all of them are from Asia. My favourite Asian folktale is from Tibet – The Angry Gods by Chia Hearn Chek from the Moongate Collection.Mr Chia was my art teacher at junior college. He was the first person to encourage me in my writing. He paid me my first dollar as a writer.
The Angry Gods had always been a favourite folktale of mine even before I went to junior college and met Mr Chia. I loved it because of the beautiful romance. It is about a lovely girl, Drolma, whose parents wanted to marry her off. But the parents followed the advice of the god whose voice they heard in the temple, not realizing it was a crook who had been hiding behind the statue.
The voice told them to look out for a man carrying a cockerel.
The next day, the parents saw a man carrying a cockerel. That was the crook. To the girl’s dismay, she was forced into a basket and carried far away from her home and family.
After journeying some distance, the crook stopped to have a rest. This was when the girl’s crying reached the ears of a young hunter. The hunter helped Drolma escape and placed his hunting dog in the basket. Then he took Drolma back to her parents.
When the crook woke up, he continued home. Once he was in the safety of his house, he opened the basket. At once the hunter’s dog jumped out and attacked him. Then the dog escaped back to his owner. The next day, the neighbours were surprised to see that the crook’s house had been torn apart and the crook dead. They believed that somehow the crook must have angered the gods.
The story has a happy ending for Drolma who fell in love with the hunter. They married and the next day the parents returned to the temple to thank the gods. For if it had not been for their advice, Drolma would never have met her husband.
I love the irony!
8. Do you have any plan in writing more books about Asia?
Yes, at least one more collection of folktales although I am not sure of the publication date. I am currently gathering ideas.Also, in 2020 I am planning to publish my epic fantasy which is loosely based around the time of European conquest of South East Asia and set in a mythical island. I love epic fantasy, and believe it is time we had epic fantasy from other corners of the world.
9. Lastly, what’s your message to authors and readers out there, especially Asian writers and readers?
A university lecturer once asked me how I could live with myself.
In his words: I was Asian. Female. Short.
I was too stunned to reply, but afterwards I thought about what he had said.
Asian. Female. Short.
Those were the things that made me ME!
I had always had a dream to go abroad to study. I did not realise my dream would be challenged by others.
The lecturer was not the first person to tell me to give up. In my second year at university, I was told by a classmate:
“What are you doing here! Go home!”
This was because I was pretty much at the bottom of the year. I was struggling.
But I didn’t give up. And the reason for that was my grandfather. He always told me:
“Theresa, you can do anything.”
I believed him.
And in the end, I accomplished my dream – I got my degree.
When I first dreamt of going abroad to study, I had no support. My parents had divorced years ago. There was no money.
I worked and saved and finally when I did get to university, I was an older student. But I got there in the end, and that is all that counts.
I write about girls who save the world, but the first girl I had to save was myself.
Free yourself to dream. Follow your dreams. Fight for your dreams.
With that, I conclude the interview session. I just love how Theresa answered these questions through stories and I also love her reason to why she wrote this book. I hope that everyone including her kids appreciate Asian folktales more because honestly, they are very special and unique, very surreal indeed!
I’ll see you in the next Author Q&A!