Today we are thrilled to have Gabrielle Wang visiting Alphabet Soup again — we’ve talked to her before about her Poppy books (in the ‘Our Australian Girl’ series). Her latest ‘Our Australian Girl’ series is about a girl called Pearlie who lives in Darwin in the 1940s.
Our editor Rebecca was enchanted by one of Gabrielle’s books published in 2013 — The Wishbird. And Gabrielle was kind enough to take time away from her writing to talk to Rebecca about writing and illustrating the book.
The Wishbird is woven like a fairytale or folktale. As a child did you have any favourite fairytales, folktales or fables?
My favourite fairytale was The Little Green Road to Fairyland by the Australian sisters, Annie R Rentoul and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. They were born in the late 1800s. I loved and still do love Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s illustrations. As a child I was forever copying them.
The pen-and-ink illustrations in The Wishbird are intricate — how long would it take you to do one of these drawings for the book?
At first I didn’t know what style to use. But then I saw some Indian folk art and I loved it.
I did many roughs in pencil on layout paper.
When I was happy with a drawing I traced it onto lunchwrap. This is much cheaper than buying tracing paper.
For the final illustration I used water colour paper, a rapidograph, which is a pen with a fine nib, and a lightbox.
The lightbox has a light inside it.
Mine is very old. I had it made when I lived in Taiwan many years ago.
I placed a sheet of water colour paper on top of the traced drawing and used a rapidograph to make the linework.
Because The Wishbird illustrations are so fine I had to look through a sewing magnifying glass.
Some illustrations took longer than others because when I made a mistake, I’d have to start all over again. Probably on an average, from concept to finished product, each one took about a week to complete.
Was it your own idea to include illustrations in The Wishbird or did the publisher suggest it?
I wanted to include illustrations not only because I like to draw, but also because these were the types of books I used to love reading as a child, especially books like The Magic Faraway Tree.
Do you sing or play an instrument yourself? What led you to write a book where music features so strongly?
I learnt the piano and took piano exams up to Grade 5. I began to love classical music then especially the works of JS Bach. In high school I took classical guitar lessons. I still play the guitar and used to compose my own pieces. When I was living in China, I also learnt the Chinese bamboo flute but I’m not very good at it.
Imagine if all the singers and musicians disappeared, never to be seen again. Music is outlawed. Even birds are killed because they sing. And because birds live in forests then the forests all around are burnt to stumps.
Music is an integral part of human existence. Every culture in the world makes music. Without it, the soul dies. This is at the heart of The Wishbird.
Did you write a plan before you began writing The Wishbird, or did you just start writing and see where it led you?
I hardly ever write plans for my novels. I like my story to grow organically. The only books I have written plans for were the Our Australian Girl books. Because they are historical fiction and in a series of four books I had to know where each story was going and how it fed into the next before I even sat down to write them.
Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?
I’ve just finished the final edit for Pearlie’s Ghost, which is the fourth and final book in the Pearlie series.
I’m glad to have finished the series because they are hard work. But I’m also sad to leave Pearlie. Now she will have a life of her own out in bookshops and libraries.
I have started a new novel with another author. This is a new experience for me. It’s a very exciting way to write and we’re having lots of fun together. I can’t reveal much about it yet except to say that the working title is The Map of Tiny Coincidences and it will be filled with maps and drawings.
And LOOK! LOOK! You can even LISTEN to Gabrielle Wang reading the first two chapters of The Wishbird here.