This week, we were excited to chat with Australian writer Gabrielle Wang—Guest Judge for our Historical Fiction Competition In her acclaimed novel Little Paradise, Gabrielle tells the story of a young Australian-Chinese couple during World War II. In our interview with the celebrated author, she shares how she achieved the perfect blend of fact and fantasy through careful research, interviews, and even a trip to Shanghai! She also offers fabulous advice on writing a standout piece of Historical Fiction and what she’s looking for in a winning competition entry.
Your YA book Little Paradise is based on your mother and father's love story in 1940s Australia/China. How much of the book was based on their actual experiences?
About 50% was factual. I made up most of the characters in the novel and ramped up the action especially at the climax and towards the end. I'll give you an example. My mother and father left China well before the Communists took over Shanghai. In the book though they're escaping by the skin of their teeth. Another example where I made a big change was having Mirabel travel with her baby alone to China. In real life she was accompanied by her father. Can you imagine how safe and boring the story would be if I'd stuck to fact and had her dad accompany her? Without a parent, Mirabel has to face the perils alone. You'll find that in most books for children and teens the parents are conveniently out of the way.
During the beginning stages of planning this book, where and how did you conduct research on this particular time period?
I interviewed quite a number of people, the main one of course being my mother. My father passed away many years ago so the only way I could get his side of the story was through her and my father's younger brother. My aunt and uncles provided further info about growing up in Australia during the war. Looking at photos of the day really helped get a sense of the clothing, the styles and atmosphere. Also old newspapers, even the advertisements in the newspapers were illuminating. While I was writing the story, I visited Shanghai to research the location.
Have you always wanted to be a writer or did your love of the written word come later in life?
I always wanted to be an artist so when I left school I studied Graphic Design. It was much later in life that I began to write and it was only because of a dream I had one night.
The format of our competition is short story. Do you have any advice on how to establish a time period and tell a complete story in only 1,000 words?
That is a hard question to answer. There is no formula for writing a short story. I recommend you read Ray Bradbury's short stories. He was a master. Also Roald Dahl. Here's one of Ray Bradbury's quotes— “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves—you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.”
What are you looking for in a winning entry?
An ability to handle language, an engaging story, and a piece that avoids cliches and stereotypes.
In addition to your book Little Paradise, are there any other pieces of Historical Fiction that our writers can turn to for inspiration?
Georgette Heyer, some of Neal Stephenson's novels, Robert Graves, Mary Renault, Hilary Mantel