The first ever Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival is drawing to a close. Launched early this month, the festival has brought the young and young at heart together in a literary affair which has involved international writers such as Eoin Colfer, Mem Fox and Christopher Cheng. As the fest wraps up on Mach 18, children's author Sarah Brennan, writer of Tale of Pinyin Panda, talks to Time Out. The book was launched at Edinburgh Zoo at Chinese New Year. A former medical lawyer, Brennan is also the author of A Dirty Story and the adult’s book Dummies for Mummies.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in Tasmania, which is Australia's best kept secret! It’s a very beautiful island state, mountainous, green and with spectacular scenery. Our house was set in the middle of the bush on the slopes of Mount Wellington just above Hobart and we kept a big menagerie of exotic animals like peacocks, pheasants and guinea fowl, goats and even bees! My memories of childhood are filled with animals, our huge garden, walking trips up the mountain, going for long country drives, camping on farms and swimming at pristine white beaches with nobody there but us! And school of course! I attended a Quaker school where the teachers were fabulously eccentric and the headmaster brought in amazing inspirational speakers, like Sir Edmund Hilary and Mother Theresa. I then worked as a lawyer for many years in Queensland, then in London, all the time wishing I could run away and become an author! But it wasn’t until my husband and I came to Hong Kong and I had my two daughters that I was able to focus on my writing.
What’s your favourite book that you’ve written so far? Why?
Now that’s a question that kids often ask me, and I always say the same thing: would you ask a mother which of her children is her favourite? You see, for me, my books are like my children – I love them all for different reasons, and I wouldn’t dare to choose between them. Though just like a mum, I tend to be most protective of my youngest book, which at present is my Tale of Pin Yin Panda, published just at the end of last year. That’s been a fabulous book for many reasons! I was invited to launch it at Edinburgh Zoo at Chinese New Year this year to help them celebrate the arrival of their new pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang. I was able to meet Lord Chris Patten at the House of Lords to say thank you for writing a blurb for the back of the book. It retells the story of the Great Race and, for the first time, one of my books has stickers in the back!
If you could be any character from any book that you’ve written, who would you be?
Hmmm…can I choose two? First up, because I was born in the Year of the Rat and I’m a typical Rat, I’d have to say Run Run Rat. Like Run Run, I’m energetic, ambitious and I hate being bored! But I’d also love to be Princess Precious in The Tale of Temujin – she’s pampered, spoiled rotten and gets to play all day. Now that would be fun!
Tell us about the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a writer so far.
The most rewarding experience I’ve had so far is when I received a letter from a grateful mum who told me that her little boy had hated reading until he started reading my books, and now he loves reading – that made me cry! Runner-up would have to be the day a little boy in Singapore, during question time, asked me with a completely straight face: “Excuse me Sarah Brennan but did anyone in your family ever die of the plague?” That was classic!
Tell me about Pinyin Panda!
Pin Yin is a very special panda! She’s beautiful, brainy and talkative too, unlike most pandas who don’t say a word because they only meet up once a year to have babies. But Pin Yin is determined to be famous, so she decides that this Year won’t be Year of the Dragon – it’ll be Year of the Panda instead! Naturally all the other Zodiac animals are incensed and challenge her to a re-run of the Great Race – and pandemonium ensues...
For more information and booking details on the fest this week, check out www.youngreadersfestival.org.hk.