Important themes in children’s literature like “fitting in”, belonging, what is home? and finding “hidden potential” are the threads that weave themselves through the fantasy novels of Chinese Australian author, Gabrielle Wang. What a talented woman she is writing magnificent stories for the middle grade audience ( 10-13 years) With 26 novels behind her, it is fitting that today’s workshop held in the Brisbane City Square library was going to be good.
Leader Sheryl Gywther of SCBWI ( Society of Children’s books and illustrators) welcomed Gabrielle to about twenty plus eager aspiring and published writers. We listened to her story arcs, plotting methods, use of voice, the hook, setting, characters and emotional journey. Above all, we discovered more truth about her story boarding, pushing boundaries, similes and the multi layering of the story.
In story structure the idea of page turners is very important because it drives the story forward. In her latest book called Ting Ting and the Ghosthunter the author uses characters who make major mistakes then redeems themselves. The Wishbird is about two extraordinary heroes and one magical journey. Oriole’s beloved Whisbird is dying and she must leave the Forest to save him. In The Beast of Hushing Wood, Ziggy Truegood lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. Many of her books are illustrated by her as she started her career as a graphic artist, not a writer.
Ramping up the story, says Gabrielle is about sometimes adding a gruesome scene, or making a flip side happen, that is, when the reader is least expecting it, the character can react differently. I love it when she says, it’s vital to teach the reader “how to cope with different situations. take them on an emotional journey!”
Because this was a workshop we were given some interesting writing exercises, for example, look closely at this photograph of the family and choose one person and write about what they are thinking. Who did I pick? The crying baby of course. It was a fun thing to do and challenging. We were also asked to think of a treasured possession that we owned. To write and create a storyboard based on the object. I chose a wedding dress that belonged to my mother. In the class we were invited to read aloud our pieces of writing. So much talent in one room.
Gabrielle loves to go with the flow when she plots. Most authors might try both – planning from beginning to end and letting the story find itself. We all liked the quotes on a slip of paper that she gave to us; something that we had to add to our “dream” story.
In The Ghost in my Suitcase there is a poetical charm “where the rhythm of your heart beats in your voice.” It takes a “star” and humble author like Gabby to know her character’s voices and make them so appealing to children. What a privilege to meet her again, and thank you to SCBWI for this literary treat.